Diaries in Archives


In research and preservation settings, diaries provide a wealth of historical, cultural, and sociological information to scholars. Especially in the diaries of book authors, personal writing has the potential to display new insights about the authors’ creative public work. However, a diary differs from other personal writing genres such as essays, memoirs, or commonplace books. In Western culture, diaries are usually associated with female subjects and are defined by their private nature. When a diary is given to an archive, often after the subject’s death, the consequences may range from a distortion of the subject’s public image to a breach of privacy on those still living. As defenders of privacy, preservation, and intellectual freedom, information professionals have a moral responsibility to be invested in this issue.

To fully understand ethical implications of keeping diaries in an archive, we must first be aware of the social and scientific functions of diaries, and how diaries fit into the context of archives. In this study, I investigate the privacy of the diary subjects, the stakes of those potentially affected by the content of the diary, and ethics in the archival profession. By using different philosophical groundings, I apply an ethical framework to examine if radical empathy is the best method for keeping diaries in archives. My findings reveal that, like many relevant moral problems of today, holding diaries in an archival setting requires unambiguous consent.

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Special thanks to: my rockstar advisor Iulian Vamanu; Nikki White and Alyssa Varner at The Studio; the smart and lovely Katie Hassman; Janet Weaver at IWA and David McCartney at Special Collections; media genius Lindsay Mattock; superstar alumnae Bekah Walker and Kery Lawson; and to my favorite editors: Chris Willauer, Jill O’Neill, and Luther Moss. I couldn’t have done it without you.

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