The Spring issue of Archivaria contains an interesting article by Richard J. Cox titled “Lester J. Cappon and the Creation of Records: The Diary and the Diarist.” The article focuses on the Lester J. Cappon’s use of a diary for various functions including: a mnemonic device, documentation of scholarly activities, and a place of personal reflection.
Cappon’s diaries serve as an interesting example of a diarist who was well aware of how historical sources are created, preserved, and used by archivists and historians. This awareness is seen in Cappon’s early decision to donate his personal papers and the initial access restrictions applied to diaries which contained opinions about colleagues. Cappon seemed aware that his dairies were going to be read and used by people other than himself.
In addition to Cox’s examination of Cappon’s diaries, Cox also draws linkages between the act of blogging and the act of keeping a diary. Despite the somewhat obvious similarities of blogging and journal keeping I have never previously made the connection. Perhaps the popularized connotation of diaries being the domain of teenaged girls and contain deeply personal secrets created a disconnect between blogging and diary writing in my mind. However, many diarists (including Cappon) have used diaries to record information about professional and scholarly activities and as a place to sound out early research ideas.
Personal diaries no matter what their content or form have the potential to be interesting and insightful historical sources. Like all sources they have inherent flaws and biases and need to be examined within their societal and historical context. What about blogs? How do personal or professional blogs fit within the framework of historical sources? The somewhat tenuous hosting of many blogs draws into question the long term preservation of these potential sources.
Personal reflection and the stories of individuals have the potential to bring moments of history alive and to illuminate history in way mass produced sources don’t. With more people blogging and fewer handwritten lifetime spanning diaries being produced how do archivists capture this new form of personal history? Today, many collections of personal papers might be well complimented by a collection of born digital material.