Exploring diaries in the IHR library

This blog post was written by Susie Tucker, Graduate Trainee Library Assistant in the IHR Wohl Library.

Since I started working at the Wohl Library a few months ago, I have been fascinated by the wide range of titles that cross my path on a daily basis, so I leapt at the idea of putting together an advent calendar for the library’s social media accounts. After discussing it with colleagues, we decided that this year we’d share specific entries from published diaries in our collection for each day of December

I started by simply searching ‘diary’ in our online catalogue, which brought back over a thousand results! I spent some time working my way down this list, making a note of any titles that caught my eye. I was keen to share a wide range of perspectives from different periods and locations, so it was helpful to have an overview (or at least an approximation) of all the diaries we hold before getting stuck in at shelf-level. Based on this search, I put together a longlist of volumes that I wanted to look at.

Books stacked on a trolley

I fetched a few of these books at a time, and then flicked through each one, looking for entries from December that were particularly festive or notable in any way. I accumulated quite a big pile of books, which was further expanded with items that had caught the eye of my colleagues or myself when carrying out other tasks around the library. These were all incredibly rich sources in their own ways, but some were a dead end for advent calendar purposes, whilst others had a wealth of possible entries to share. This gave me lots of potential options pencilled into the calendar, which I was able to firm up over time. As the calendar filled up, my searching became more targeted, as I was left with a few specific dates and parts of the collection to cover.

Once I had selected an entry from a diary, I took photos (I’m indebted to the wonderful decorations in the South Block of Senate House for serving as the background to most of them!), composed a post, and scheduled it to be shared across the library’s social media accounts.

There were various reasons why I chose not to include an item in the calendar, which came down to both form and content. Some items which came up in my initial searching did not have a structure clearly segmented by dates that could be mapped on to the calendar that we use today, often because the work predated the Gregorian calendar, or originated from a non-Christian or non-European perspective, or because they were retrospective memoirs rather than strictly contemporary diaries. Many of the diaries that did use our calendar varied widely in their regularity and detail, with some containing few or no entries dating to a December. In some cases where there were entries for relevant dates, they weren’t appropriate to be shared as short-form, relatively light-hearted content, where there was extremely limited room to give historical context or analysis.

Here are just of the few of the diaries that I wanted to share but didn’t, for some of the reasons listed above:

An Astrological Diary of the Seventeenth Century is an interesting twist on the standard diary as it also records the astrological circumstances in which each entry was written. Whilst it has very regular entries, many of them simply note the symptoms of the author’s ill health.

A view of the spine of 'An Astrological Diary of the Seventeenth Century' A view of the front cover of 'The Diary of 1636: The second Manchu invasion of Korea' being held up in between two bookcases

The Diary of 1636: The Second Manchu Invasion of Korea is a narrative written by a demoted member of the Korean court, and is made up of a mixture of contemporary observations and later composition. Whilst the first part of this diary records events as they happened day by day, the author uses a lunar calendar, which I had difficulties converting to the Gregorian calendar, though this was perhaps a case of sticking to the brief a little too strictly!

The Diary of Elizabeth Richards 1798-1825 recounts a woman’s experience of the Wexford rebellion in Ireland, and her subsequent emigration to the Netherlands. I felt like this would be a very unique voice and story to share, but I found it quite late in the month and none of the dates I had free corresponded with entries that were suitable for the advent calendar, as unfortunately many related to illness and death.

A view of the front cover of 'The Diary of Elizabeth Richards' being held up in between two bookcases A view of the front cover of 'Memoirs of a Black Englishman' being held up in between two bookcases

Memoirs of a Black Englishman tells the life story of Paul Stephenson OBE, a leading Black British civil rights activist. I wanted to include a wide range of voices and experiences in the advent calendar, reflecting the collections of the library, and though the title of ‘memoirs’ suggested that it would be unlikely to contain diary entries in the form that I was looking for, I had still hoped that it might have something suitable.

A Traveller in Thirteenth Century Arabia is a translation of an account in Middle Arabic of a journey made by a businessman in the Arabian Peninsula. This was another instance where the strictness of the calendar format limited what I could include, as this text has few references to specific dates, and those dates that it did mention were very difficult to match up to a particular day in December.

A view of the spine of 'A Traveller in Thirteenth Century Arabia' being held up in between two bookcases

These diaries, along with the ones that were shared throughout December (listed below), preserve a wide range of voices and experiences. Diaries are just one of the many different types of primary source that we hold in the IHR Wohl Library, and I hope that the advent calendar achieved my aim of sharing some of the diversity of our collection!

To find out more about the library’s collections, and to see updates and advice on the services we offer, you can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Items included in the advent calendar
  • Wool’s Radley College Diary
  • The diary of Beatrice Webb
  • The diary of Elizabeth Lee : growing up on Merseyside in the late nineteenth century
  • Diary of a contraband : the Civil War passage of a Black sailor
  • The diary of Émile de Borchgrave : recollections of a Belgian diplomat in Ottoman Istanbul (1885-1892)
  • Berlin diary : the journal of a foreign correspondent 1934-194.
  • The diary (1689-1719) and accounts (1704-1717) of Élie Bouhéreau : Marsh’s Library, MS Z2.2.2
  • The diary of the ‘Blue nuns’ : or Order of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, at Paris. 1658-1810
  • Partisan diary : a woman’s life in the Italian Resistance
  • The Private Diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai
  • A Vicar’s Wife in Oxford
  • The private diary of Dr. John Dee
  • Diary of the siege of Constantinople, 1453
  • Mass Observation
  • The diary of a Kendal midwife : 1669-1675
  • The diary of Mary Hardy, 1773-1809
  • Charles Brasch: Journals 1938-1945
  • New year in Cuba : Mary Gardner Lowell’s travel diary, 1831-1832
  • The Boer War diary of Sol T. Plaatje : an African at Mafeking
  • The Castle diaries, 1974-76.
  • The arctic journal of Captain Henry Wemyss Feilden, R.A., the naturalist in H.M.S. Alert 1875-1876
  • The travel diaries of Albert Einstein : the Far East, Palestine, & Spain, 1922-1923
  • The diary of Hannah Callender Sansom : sense and sensibility in the age of the American Revolution

The post Exploring diaries in the IHR library appeared first on On History.

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