By Nina Kendall
Are you looking for a more intimate
glimpse into history? Diaries and Letterbooks are unique entries into the
historical record. Diaries are running accounts of individual lives while
letterbooks are running accounts of enterprises or businesses. These records,
often created for personal not public reasons, reveal the experience of
ordinary people in different periods of time. Stories of individuals unfold
against the backdrop of state and national events engaging the reader with new,
relatable detail. The Diary of Young Girl
by Anne Frank is the most famous of these published works. Many other
diaries and letterbooks are available to readers of history.
One interesting book to consider is the Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney,
1739-1762: Intriguing Letters by One of Colonial America's Most Accomplished Women.
Her letters offer interesting insight into the colonial frontier and life on a
plantation. The struggles of the new colony of Georgia and the challenges with
Native Americans in the region are revealed with engaging detail in her
Another work to consider is Camping with the Sioux: The Fieldwork Diary of Alice
Cunningham Fletcher. This
online of edition of her diary of living with and studying the Sioux is
available from the National Museum of Natural History. Her work reveals as much
about her life, and 19th century attitudes toward Native Americans. A
more extensive version of her work was recently published in Life Among the Indians: First Fieldwork
among the Sioux and Omahas.
The Princes of Cotton: Four Diaries of Young Men
in the South, 1848-1860 compiled by Stephen Berry provides a separate view
of the Antebellum Era. The diaries of four young men of the South reveal more
depth and variety in the experience of men. These accounts offer a look into
the private thoughts of men who would go on to fight in the Civil War.
Want to read unpublished historical
diaries? Check out the online collection available at Women Working, 1800-1930
from Harvard University Library Open Collections Program. These works give you
the opportunity to look into the life of working women in the 19th
and 20th century. Among the works, you will find the diary of
Josephine Sherwood Hull. Hull was an actress who starred in the film Harvey with Jimmy Stewart. Read Hull’s thoughts and gain insight into
the life of women in film in the early 20th century.
Interested in a different era? Look
for a diary or letterbook in an era that interests you. These works offer the
combination of private thoughts and public events that draw readers and have
sparked epistolary fiction.