What with Facebook, Twitter and confessional blogs, there’s little room for privacy in the Internet age. But thanks to the online publication of historical diaries, Web surfers can now shine that invasive modern light on the darkest pages of the past. The personal diaries we’ve unearthed evoke a sense of personality, society and daily life that is somehow more authentic than the incessant noise of today’s tweets. Explore the diaries below and recapture that increasingly rare feeling of stumbling across something truly secret.
In his harrowing novel “1984,” George Orwell envisions a future society in which a Big Brother state monitors everything, including the minds of its citizens. Readers who loved that book—or perhaps just loved the privacy-free dystopia it critiques—should also love peeking into George Orwell’s personal diary, now available online. The Orwell Prize blog, which also links to things such as an old breakfast menu Orwell might have perused and a Google Map of his travels, includes his diaries from 1938 to 1942 “in real time, 70 years to the day since each entry was originally written.” With tags such as “Anglo-Soviet pact” and “mowed nettles,” the diary offers an insightful glimpse into both the author and the early years of World War II. And, in a retro take on the stereotypical Congressman tweeting how many eggs he had for breakfast, Orwell shares how many eggs his chickens lay each day.
Technological trends may change, but the founding fathers never go out of style. It’s not surprising, then, that the Library of Congress has released the diaries of George Washington online. Stretching from 1748 to the day before he died in 1799, the diaries form a record of “Where & How my Time is Spent,” his oft-repeated goal in writing. Readers won’t find thrilling Revolutionary-era scandal; instead, much of the diary is consumed by agriculture, the weather and his dinner guests. Nevertheless, the diary’s editors admit that though reading them through can be a “tedious exercise,” it is also a “rewarding way to probe the depths… of a man who has come to personify the spirit of America in his time.”
If you were the kid who played Lewis and Clark or Oregon Trail—or if you still play Oregon Trail, for that matter—this is the diary for you. Truly experience the journey West with the diary of photographer William Henry Jackson, which documents his surveying trip in the summer of 1869. Also check out the New York Public Library exhibits “Heading West” and “Touring West” for coverage of the maps and performing artists that characterized westward movement in the U.S.