J is for Journals

Journals or diaries are another of my favourite archive finds. What gives more insight into an individuals life than a journal? Here, for example, is an extract from the diary that Evelyn Jackson, a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, kept while nursing in a military hospital in France in 1916 (you can read a transcription of the whole thing here):

Friday 2nd June
Very slack in morning. Brodie & I had a half day so walked into Etaple, very hot day. Did shopping then had tea at one of the 2 tea shops, oilcloth on table & a cup of tea out of their own teapot! We got a lift back in McAlpines Ford car.

Saturday 3rd June
Another evacuation last night so we are reduced to only 6 patients. Sister Roberts took a half day so I was alone. Played tennis all evening.

Sunday 4th June
Found the ward full of patients, we took in 29 last night, all Canadians. There must be some big fighting going on, they say there are heaps more to come down. We were fearfully busy doing dressings all day & only had one hour off duty. The Colonel came round and marked 15 up for Blighty. Fearful naval disaster, the Indefatigable, Invincible, Queen Mary, Warrior and several others all sunk.

Not all diaries are so interesting – some are little more than a list of appointments, and even detailed ones can get a bit tedious if there are long spells of “same old, same old” and nothing much happening in the author’s life. One of my favourites records what the 18th century author had for dinner every evening.

Interpreted a little more widely, “journals” can relate to far more than just the day-to-day lives of individuals, with war diaries, ships’ log books, and school log books all being fantastic sources of information. Even the masters of poor law union workhouses kept journals which give an insight into daily life in the workhouse. The uses journals and log books can be put to are quite varied. For example, the Old Weather project asks for volunteers to help transcribe old ships logs; the information they contain makes it possible to identify historic weather patterns and can be used for climate modelling. Journals, diaries and log books may make up only a small part of an archives collections, but they are a disproportionately valuable resource.

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5 thoughts on “J is for Journals”

  1. I kept a diary when I was young and it was all written in code (I was very much into Egyptology at the time). I fear the poor translator in the future will find “Nothing happened today” written fairly often!

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