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Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Thesis Topics: Ready-Made



The keeping of a diary, for short or long periods of time, is primarily a private act. It is not unusual for a child to attempt to keep a diary of private thoughts, often kept from prying sibling and parental eyes in a volume with a clasp and lock. Other diaries are more public, written to create and maintain an historical record for all to read. The use of diaries or journals, as the words are often used interchangeably, as important sources of information is well known to historians, political scientists, literary scholars, and students of the humanities and social sciences. Recently, the study of diaries has enabled medical practitioners to learn more about the families of patients being treated. Then, too, there is a growing interest in the diaries of women from all social and economic levels to gain a better understanding of their lives where there is often little other information but the diaries available.

While diary-keeping is often a brief attempt to record daily affairs, there are a number of individuals who have maintained diaries over long periods of time. Colonel Ernest Loftus of Zimbabwe, for example, began his diary in 1896 and maintained it until 1987. George C. Edler of Bethesda, Maryland, began a diary in 1909 and continued the practice until 1987. [1] John Evelyn, the seventeenth-century scholar-courtier, began his diary in 1660 as memoirs from his birth in 1620. He then continued the work as contemporary notes until 1684 when it became a daily record until his death in 1706. [2] When published, the two manuscript volumes became six volumes of printed matter with 12,000 footnotes and 1176 columns of index. [3] Not all diaries merit such treatment, but a great many of them deserve to be preserved, studied, and used in research.

Reading the diary of another individual is often a fascinating look at the person and her insights into her life. If looking at a diary as a source for a research paper or thesis is a possibility, then an excellent place to begin is with Thomas Mallon's delightful and not particularly scholarly essay A Book of One's Own.[4] Mallon introduces the reader to the varities of diaries, the rationale for keeping a diary, and points to some interesting diaries that can be read with pleasure.

The range of diaries, published and unpublished, is astonishing. Political diaries are of great interest to both scholars and the reading public for the behind-the-scenes look at public events. Senator Packwood learned this the hard way several years ago. At the same time, such political diaries are an important source of information and are very interesting to compare either across a span of time or across political boundaries. The diaries of the Earl of Derby, Foreign Secretary in two Conservative governments (1866 to 1868; 1874 to 1878) are very different from the diaries of Richard Crossman, who served in several cabinet posts in Wilson's Labour goverment (1964 to 1970). [5] These, in turn, provide fascinating comparisons with the gracefully written diary entries of Harold Nicolson, who also served in various governmental posts in the United Kingdom. [6] The diaries of the two twentieth-century figures caused great consternation when published. In fact, there was a serious attempt to block the publication of Crossman's diaries as there was fear that he would embarass the government.

Some political diaries are self-serving and odious. The volumes of the diaries of Joseph Goebbels chronicle the rise and fall of Nazi Germany in great detail. In the diaries, Goebbels provides many details about the inner workings of Hitler's party, the growth of Nazism, the horrific extermination of 'undesirables,' and the final collapse of the Third Reich. [7] This ongoing editorial project will permit the student and scholar to gain a better understanding of one of the darker periods of world history. On a somewhat lighter note, if that is possible in dealing with this period of German history, is the Hitler diary hoax that was foisted off on a gullible public. This forgery was purchased by a German news magazine for a very high price and then proved to be a complete fabrication. [8] Perhaps faked, forged, and altered diaries would be an interesting thesis topic.

The diaries of explorers can also provide fascinating insight into both the expedition and the individual involved. Those of Sir John Franklin, a noted explorer who died in the Arctic at some time around 1849, detail his early career as an explorer. Interestingly, the first modern edition of his first expedition journal has only recently been published. [9] This record of a British naval officer in Arctic service would make an interesting comparison with the unpublished 1923 diary of Ada Blackjack, an Inuit member of the Wrangel Island Expedition. [10]

Using diaries to study events, personalities, interrelationships, and lifestyles in women's studies has proven to be of great interest and of exceptional value. A recent edition, and one that may well provide a framework for a thesis, is that of a mother and four daughters in nineteenth-century Canada. These diaries show the intricate relationships within this family as well as their views on the world around them. [11]

A large number of unpublished American women's diaries, excellent sources of thesis research, can be found in a microform series that provides access by region of the country. [12] There are bibliographies and indexes that will allow the student to find unpublished and published diaries of women. [13] A broad study of the diaries of young women, as reported last year, has produced fascinating results. [14] One very recent publication on women's diaries will also provide the student with an excellent framework on which to build a research project. The fifteen essays in Inscribing the Daily are an important starting point for research. [15]

Other bibliographies treat the study of diaries more broadly. There are tools that will allow the student to locate published and unpublished diaries of individuals of nearly every nationality. [16] While these bibliographies are very useful in many ways, particularly those with annotations, the researcher should be aware that none is complete and that a search of DCIS will provide more diaries. These can be searched by author or by doing a topic search on the words 'diary,' 'diaries,' 'journal,' or 'journals.' In these searches, the student will find many published diaries and journals. Also to be found are unpublished diaries in Special Collections, many of which relate to the College, New Hampshire, and the explorers of the polar regions.

Critical studies on diaries should not be neglected. These can be found in a topic search on diaries. A search in the Wilson Combined Indexes and the MLA Bibliography, both of which are found in DCIS, will provide more critical studies that can assist the researcher. These and other resources within the Library will provide the student with the tools to study this fascinating genre of literature that opens the inner person to the world.

[1] Guinness Book of Records.

[2] Theodore Hoffman, et al., 'John Evelyn's Archive at the British Library,' The Book Collector 44:2 (Summer, 1995), 150-151.

[3] John Evelyn, Diary. Now First Printed in Full from the Manuscripts Belonging to Mr. John Evelyn,, ed. E. S. de Beer, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955). The notes on size and length of index are taken from Hoffman, 'John Evelyn's Archive,' 148.

[4] Thomas Mallon, A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1984).

[5] A Selection from the Diaries of Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby (1826-93), Camden Fifth Series, 4 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Richard Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, 3 vols. (London: Hamish Hamilton and Jonathan Cape, 1975-1977); and The Backbench Diaries of Richard Crossman, ed. Janet Morgan (New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1981).

[6] Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, ed. Nigel Nicolson, 3 vols. (London: Collins, 1966-1968).

[7] Joseph Goebbels, Die Tagebucher, ed. Elke Frolich (Munich and New York: K. G. Saur, 1987-).

[8] See Robert Harris, Selling Hitler (New York: Pantheon, 1986), and Charles Hamilton, The Hitler Diaries: Fakes that Fooled the World (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1991), for excellent studies of this hoax.

[9] John Franklin, Sir John Franklin's Journals and Correspondence: The First Arctic Land Expedition, 1819-1822, ed. with an introduction by Richard C. Davis, Publications of the Champlain Society, 59 (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1955).

[10] Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, Stef. Mss. 8.

[11] The Eldon House Diaries: Five Women's Views of the 19th Century, ed. with an introduction by Robin S. Harris and Terry G. Harris, Publications of the Champlain Society, Ontario Series 15 (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1994).

[12] American Women's Diaries (New Canaan, Conn.: Readex Corporation, 1983-).

[13] See, for example, Cheryl Cline, Women's Diaries, Journals and Letters: An Annotated Bibliography, Garland Reference Library in the Humanities, 780 (New York: Garland, 1989); Patricia Havlice, And So to Bed: A Bibliography of of Diaries Published in English (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1987); and Joyce Goodfiend, The Published Diaries and Letters of American Women, G. K. Hall Women's Studies Publications (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987).

[14] 'Dear Diary: a History,' U.S. New & World Report (23 October 1995), 89.

[15] Suzanne L. Bunkers and Cynthia A. Huff, eds., Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women's Diaries (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996).

[16] Laura Arksey, et al., American Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of Published American Diaries and Journals (Detroit: Gale Research, 1983); John S. Betts, British Manuscript Diaries of the Nineteenth Century; An Annotated Listing (Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975); and William Matthews, American Diaries in Manuscript, 1580-1954: A Descriptive Bibliography (Athens: University Georgia Press, 1974).

Last Updated: 5/3/12