Diaries As History

Dr. Irving Finkel is one of my favourite scientists. He is an Assyriologist and a senior curator at the British Museum. His daily work involves the translation of 5,000 year-old cuneiform tablets from ancient Iraq. He is an elegant, impassioned, and amusing speaker, helping to popularize what might otherwise be a rather mysterious period of history. He is perhaps most famous for having found and translated a Sumerian text detailing the Flood story written thousands of years before the same story was adopted in the Bible.

Following another of his interests, in 2007, Dr. Finkel founded the Great Diary Project which collects, preserves, and publicizes diaries of all kinds.

“Diaries are among our most precious items of heritage. People in all walks of life have confided and often still confide their thoughts and experiences to the written page, and the result is a unique record of what happens to an individual over months, or even years, as seen through their eyes. No other kind of document offers such a wealth of information about daily life and the ups and downs of human existence. The Project’s idea is to collect as many diaries as possible from now on for long-term preservation. In the future these diaries will be a precious indication of what life, in our own time, was really like.”

Dr. Finkel can explain the importance of diaries to the historian better than I can:

 

As a social and cultural historian, I would be ecstatic to find the diaries of one or more of the characters who have enlivened Commercial Drive over the last 120 years.  In some ways, the Highland Echo which thrived on the minutiae of local activity acted as the diary of our neighbourhood. But to read the actual diaries of the local players would be so much more valuable in understanding, for example, motivations and prejudices.  I live in hope that some may eventually emerge.

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