In support of all my fellow teachers who are assigning diary or journal writing to their students during the corona virus crisis, I am making one chapter of my book, How to Read a Diary: Critical Contexts & Interpretive Strategies for 21st-Century Readers (Routledge, 2019), available here as a downloadable pdf. The chapter introduces numerous instances in the past when ordinary people found themselves caught up in extraordinary times, and used their diaries as sites of witness, creating invaluable historical records for the future. It also discusses the mental health benefits and challenges of diary writing. It’s only 10 pages and accessibly written — meant for a wide audience. I hope that both teachers and students will find it useful. Stay well everyone!
My essay, “Reading Digitized Diaries: Privacy and the Digital Life-Writing Archive,” is now out at a/b: Autobiography Studies. I am really proud of this essay, which was the first scholarly writing about diaries I ever completed. It’s strange because my research in this area has really taken off and I have published a few other essays on the genre already, while this one worked its way slowly through the editorial process at a/b. While published later, this essay represents where I started. Looking at it now, I can already see how my thinking has evolved but I remain proud of the work and excited to have produced something out of this index — which I initially designed as a resource for my students, but which has really impacted my thinking about diaries and how modes of access shape our understanding of the genre. I hope you’ll check it out.
I created this blog to host the list of Digitized Diaries (linked above) as a research tool for my own scholarship and for other scholars and students interested in studying diaries in digital form. Initially, I experimented with blogging about diaries — an early stage in my own thinking about the genre — but eventually this slacked off. I may return to the blog occasionally, if I find I have something to say, but this site will primarily be designed to serve as a resource for the study of the diary.
I hope you find the Digitized Diary Index useful!
Really excited that my essay “Reading Digitized Diaries: Privacy and the Digital Life Writing Archive” is forthcoming in A/B: Autobiography Studies!
Anne Frank’s diary is arguably the best-known, most-widely-read diary in the world. I suspect that for many readers Frank’s diary is an introduction to the form, perhaps an inspiration for writing their own diaries. From Frank’s diary, they would learn about dailiness, about the letter-diary hybrid, and, of course, about the powerful combination of ordinariness and pathos.
Frank’s Diary has been in the news recently because of two intertwined controversies: the question of whether or not her father, Otto Frank, can legitimately be considered co-author of the Diary; and the question of whether or not the copyright on the Diary has expired, allowing the text to enter the public domain.
That Otto Frank played a significant editorial role in the production of the published Diary has long been understood by both scholars and general readers. My copy of the Diary identifies him as editor on the cover (along with Mirjam Pressler). But Otto’s editorial role has come under further scrutiny around the question of whether “editor,” in this instance, equates with “co-author.”
While the debate may be new to Frank Studies, this is a question commonly confronted by literary critics, particularly around texts in which an editor/amanuensis possessed greater power or social status than the author/subject. In my Life Writing classes last semester, we studied the Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge (1838), which precisely exhibits these conditions: authored by a white woman, Frances H. Whipple, the memoir recounts the life of a mixed race (indigenous, African American) woman, Eldridge, who appears to have been illiterate. The contemporary editor of this recovered text, Joycelyn Moody, makes the provocative claim that Whipple and Eldridge should be considered co-authors, thereby upsetting the expected characterization of the (white, powerful) editor stealing and suppressing the voice of the (non-white, disempowered) subject (which is how texts of this kind have often been interpreted by literary critics). My students and I struggled with this characterization — we had many productive but unresolved conversations about what it would mean to consider these two women co-authors, what the implications were for the definition of authorship, whether or not Eldridge could be considered to be “speaking” through the text, etc. These discussions have been on my mind as I’ve been reading about the Otto Frank issue: What does it mean to view Otto as Anne’s co-author? There are similar issues regarding power and authority: Otto is male, adult, and living; Anne is female, young, and deceased; obviously, she does not have the ability to control or craft her text. To move Otto from editor to co-author appears to reinforce this power dynamic, to further Anne’s marginalization within or through her own life writing. It also calls into question the accuracy and legitimacy of the text itself — a question that always hovers around published diaries, but one that is particularly exacerbated when an editor (or co-author?) has played a role in bringing the text to the public view.
The claim that Otto is co-author is made by the Swiss foundation, Anne Frank Fonds — a fact steeped in irony. You would think that the Fonds would have the strongest stake in affirming the authenticity of Frank’s Diary, which appears to be eroded by the “co-authorship” claim. Yet, the Fonds also has a strong financial interest in extending the copyright of Frank’s book. According to European law, copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author. As a result, Frank’s Diary should enter the pubic domain on January 1, 2016. But, if Otto is a co-author, the copyright would be extended until 2050. Hence the counter-claim, the lawsuits, and the controversy.
As I understand it, the co-authorship claim did not prevent several Dutch editions of Frank’s Diary from being posted on the internet on January 1, 2016. English (and other language) editions remain copyrighted according to the date of their translation and publication.
It’s the interpretive questions that this debate raise that interest me: If a diary is edited after the diarist’s death, under what circumstances can/should the editor be considered a co-author? And, if the diary is considered co-authored, is it still a diary? Does it still possess the status of truthful authenticity that diaries are expected to have? Extending these questions from Frank’s Diary to other published diaries is, I think, a necessary step for those of us interested in the past and future of the diary genre.
For further reading:
Are diaries art? Each of these books treats the material object of the diary as a form of visual art.
Beyond Words: 200 Years of Illustrated Diaries by Susan Snyder (Bancroft Library, 2011)
Un Journal A Soi: Histoire d’une Pratique, Philippe Lejeune and Catherine Bogaert (Textuel, 2003)
It’s so cute you just want to pinch its cheeks, right?
I spent the past few weeks doing archival research on (naturally) diaries. This is one of the many different varieties of nineteenth-century diaries I encountered: no bigger than a matchbox, but with an ornate latching mechanism. The author used it to record major life events: a single line on each tiny page commemorating the date of her marriage, birth of her children, etc. It’s the antithesis of the typical diary — though this research has driven home for me the fact that there is no such thing as a “typical” diary, despite the fact that so many of them follow recognizable formulas or are written in pre-formatted notebooks. I have a soft spot in my heart for this one, which is such a beautiful artifact and a testament to the durability of small, precious objects.