The word diary is defined as a book or text in which one records one’s own events and experiences, over time, most often on a daily or regular basis. The word diary comes from the Latin diarium, which is translated to mean “daily allowance.”
There are no rules to diaries, as they include a personal collection of whatever suits their author: thoughts, feelings, complaints, poetry, art, and so on. Because of the private nature of diaries, individuals may be more candid about their feelings, relationships, and innermost thoughts.
To some extent, the words diary and journal have come to be used interchangeably, although many agree there are inherent differences. The largest difference between the two is probably that diaries, at least during their time of use, are intended more to be private, whereas journals, while personal, are often meant to be read by others.
Diaries have long been a part of human history, but in their beginning they were written only by those in the higher classes. Before the turn of the 20th century, only the highest-class citizens were literate and therefore were the only ones writing diaries. With greater industrialization and education, higher literacy rates meant more diaries were being written.
Over time, more and more diaries have been published. Published diaries offer a somewhat exclusive glance into the past. In addition to allowing a particular event or era to become timeless, published diaries can be one of the most intimate ways for history lovers and researchers to better understand the differences between contemporary living and times past. Diaries also offer a firsthand look into attitudes, feelings, and untold stories in times of economic depression, war, and other significant events. This may allow another side of the story to be told, offering a more complete glimpse into times of historical importance. One of the most famous diaries in this category is undoubtedly Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, first published in 1947, as it offers a personal story and helps its readers gain a more complete understanding of the effects of the Holocaust.
More recently, the practice of writing “diaries” for immediate publication has become popular among political figures and celebrities. Many such works would be better categorized as memoirs or autobiographies, as they rarely are republished versions of actual diaries kept.
Reflective journals have become a popular teaching method throughout all levels of schooling, helping students to organize their thoughts and hone their writing skills.
Diaries have expanded well beyond the binding that once held them and have been transformed into more public than private texts. With the rapid growth of the Internet, online diaries quickly followed. Web logs, or blogs, are a popular place to capture one’s own thoughts, opinions, experiences, and events. Although these certainly are not as private as diaries once might have been, they are growing in popularity, with as many as 8% of Internet users having created their own blog, and another 39% regularly reading blogs.
Blogs have allowed writers to reach a much wider audience, yet may still have the benefit of anonymity. Through the use of usernames or screen names, people can easily hide their identity but share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
As with most other media, the existence of diaries will likely continue, but with a change in times, education, and technology, they too will continue to evolve over time.
See also Consciousness; Education and Time; Memory; Novels, Time in; Proust, Marcel
Eicher, D. J. (2007). Primary sources: Handle with care—but DO handle. Writer, 120(4), 35-37.
Mallon, T. (1984). A book of one’s own; people and their diaries. New York: Ticknor & Fields.
Sherman, S. (1996). Telling time: Clocks, diaries, and English diurnal form, 1660-1785. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.