My Incredibly Unremarkable Life
A Journal (more or less)

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31--the most days any month can have, and the final day of Holidailies 2006.

I wrote this two years ago, and it is still applicable. The work I have been doing this past year in the archives underscores the need for people to "scrapbook" their casual thoughts--and to print them out every once in a while. (This last is a reminder to myself!)

Holidialies ends today, but it shouldn't be an ending of sampling (and bookmarking) new journals. Each year I've done Holidailies I've bookmarked several journals of really interesting-sounding people, but within a couple of weeks I discover (sadly) that too many of them are really infrequent journallers. Hey folks--you don't have to write a piece of deathless prose every day. It's the ordimary stuff which makes up your lives which will make you interesting to future historians who are trying to reconstruct the lives of "ordinary" people.

I'm a historian--and I quickly learned that for most of the historical period the only lives with anything much written about them are the lives of the "movers and shakers." As they say, it's the winners who write the history. And, the vast majority of humanity is unrepresented in the historical chronicles. What were the lives of all those soldiers who made up the conquering armies? What were their familes' lives like? What about all the lowly workers who slaved (usually literally) on the vast agricultural tracts needed to feed the populations who could not grow their own food--the military, the government, etc.? What about the "moved and shaken"?

My major historical interest is women's history--and there we quickly find that half the world's population has gotten extremely short shrift in the historical record. "Doing" women's history often involves seeking out the papers and records of the man to whom a woman was married--because until something over 100 years ago married women in the Western world had NO legal identity--it was subsumed under that of the husband--the head of the family.

Around the 1960s more and more new scholars started asking new questions--and looking beyond public records to find the answers. In the case of women it was looking for their personal journals and private papers. And this leads me to why mundane journalling is important. You are providing a resource for future historians. Several years ago I read a letter in Dear Abby from someone wanting to know what to do with "Grandma's" diaries. Abby said (more or less) that if nobody in the family wanted them to toss them. Wow but did that set me off. I zipped off an impassioned plea to get journals etc. to an academic center specializing in women's history--and gave all the above arguments. The only one I could think of quickly was the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women here in New Orleans, and I named it as an example. A couple of weeks later I had a call from the Abby office verifying that I had indeed written the letter and was willing to have my name on it. They were going to publish it in a couple of weeks.

The morning it was in the paper was one of my work days. The New Orleans Times-Picauyune used the Newcomb link in its headline for the Abby column. As soon as it got to be 9 AM I called over to the NCCROW office and alerted them to the letter, so that if there were any calls the office would know what they were talking about. Well, in the coming weeks there were more than a thousand calls and inquiries about archiving women's journals and diaries. In many cases, NCCROW was able to steer the people to a women's history research facility closer to their home, but the NCCROW archive had a big growth spurt. And people became more aware of the value of records of the lives of "ordinary" people.

And that is why I urge you to continue writing about the little things that give meaning to your lives--whether it be earth-shaking or not. AND keep records. Electronic is good, but also try to have a hard copy. I try to do this myself, and my kids know that all my personal papers are to go to NCCROW, and that they also get first crack at my library. Let's have more records in the future of "ordinary" women and men.

(A side note: the NCCROW archivist was at a conference when the Abby letter hit the papers. She went down for breakfast before reading the paper, and didn't know what the others were talking about when they (delightedly) told her that her college had hit Dear Abby.)

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