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Keeping and making diaries: historical sources and perspectives: a two day international conference


24 Mar 2022

  • Start: 09:00
  • End: 17:00

Churchill College & online

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French language version.

Conference language: English

Conference organisers
This conference is co-organised by Myriam Boussahba-Bravard (GRIC/ Université Le Havre Normandie; LARCA-CNRS 8225/ Université de Paris, France), Eve Colpus (University of Southampton, UK) and Allen Packwood (Director of Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge University, UK).

Join us in-person or online for this two day conference.  See ticket options for the two types of registration. Attendance online is free. For students and those speaking at the conference there is no charge. For those attending in person who do not fall within the above groups, there is a charge of £10 per day.

Tea and coffee will be provided free of charge. Lunch will be available for attendees on a PAYG basis in the Dining Hall. There will be a reception on the first evening (23 March) for all those who are attending in person.

If it is necessary to move this event wholly online an appropriate refund will be arranged for those who have paid to attend in person.

Conference theme and questions

Keeping a diary or diaries is a practice – the making of an artefact – that can take many different shapes and forms, not only through time, but also through the methods used to create and maintain a diary. Making diaries often involves a process of dialogue, as diary-keepers usually expect readers of some kind or at some point. Is there a geography of diary-keeping, or different genealogies and histories of keeping a diary that varies across time and place? Taking these questions as a starting point, this conference will focus on the period between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries in European or global contexts. Over this period, the materiality of diaries as objects and the formats of diary-production underwent deep changes, ranging from paper-based and visual to digital formats, but diaries, as a genre of life-writing, have continued to centre on a dialogical dimension. Moreover, diary-production, while very often centering the individual, is not always exclusively a personal endeavour: diary-keeping as a time-consuming activity may rely on shared peer group production or on support staff that are employed by diarists (secretaries, assistants and others). Historical and social categories of gender, class, race, age and ableness, therefore, need to be addressed in the analysis of both diary contents and diary-keepers and creators.

In diary-production, the political self, specifically, is in interaction with other facets of diary-keepers’ lives. The political self is expansive: it includes institutional politics but also modes of activism and emancipation as animating forces of both political and personal histories. Diaries generally produce one or more senses of life rhythms that can occur in different and multiple fields: work (working activities in science or in media industries, for instance, can shape diary-keeping in content and form); private and family life (couples’ intimacy and leisure activities by building lives also construct life records and expansive narratives at the heart of diary-keeping); culture (inter-connected with social organization, diary-keeping might speak to national and transnational questions or strands of popular culture). In these contexts, we are interested in complicating assessments both of diaries as monolithic sources and as unstable writing of the self.

As well as probing the working of diaries as historical sources, the conference also seeks to extend conversations about diaries as archives. How does a diary become an archive? When is a collection or item named a ‘diary’ for an archive catalogue? Cataloguing through establishing a link with users often refers to the category ‘diary’ as if it is stable. Yet issues of preservation and storage of material or virtual diaries put pressure on acquiring particular objects or data that will be transformed into an archive. Discussions of the practices and politics of archival collecting, therefore, will be particularly welcomed.


Day 1 – 23 March 2022

1000-1015:                 Welcome by Professor Dame Athene Donald, Master of Churchill College, University of Cambridge 

Introduction by the Conference organisers

1015-1130:                 Session 1: ‘The making of an archive’

Chair: Allen Packwood (Director of Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge)

Polly North (The Great Diary Project), ‘Practices and politics of archival collecting: how does a diary become an archive and what is a “diary”?’

Victoria Oxberry (Durham County Record Office), ‘What can I tell you? The value of diaries in archives’

Helen McCarthy (University of Cambridge), ‘The self of record: revisiting the diaries of Beatrice Webb’

1130-1145:                 Break

1145-1300:                 Session 2: ‘Series of diaries’

Amanda Jones (Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge), ‘Diary writing, war and witness: how two women writers used their diaries to explore war and memory’

Colin G. Pooley and Marilyn E. Pooley (Lancaster University), ‘Diaries as records of everyday mobility: examples from unpublished personal diaries in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain’

Rebecca Rogers (Université de Paris Cité), ‘The Bachellery family diaries (1835-1851): pedagogy, politics and practices’

1300-1415:                 Lunch

1415-1530:                 Session 3: Keynote

Chair: Myriam Boussahba-Bravard (Université Le Havre Normandie)

Denis Peschanski (European Center for Sociology and Political Sciences, Paris-Sorbonne, EHESS and CNRS), ‘The paths of memory and history’

1530-1545:                 Break

1545-1715:                  Session 4: ‘Professional Lives’

Chair: Orla Smyth (Université Le Havre Normandie)

Sharon Ruston (Lancaster University), ‘Examining one of Humphry Davy’s 1800 notebooks, RI MS HD 13D’

Judith Rainhorn (Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne/Maison Française d’Oxford), Alice Hamilton’s diaries, helpful items for staging herself’

Frank A. J. L. James (University College London), ‘When do notebooks become a diary? The example of Michael Faraday’

David Brown (University of Southampton), ‘Making sense and use of Lord Shaftesbury’s diary’

1730-1900:                 Session 5: Drinks reception & display in Churchill Archives Centre

An opportunity to network with delegates and to see some of the many diaries and other sources for life writing within the Centre’s collections.

19.30:                          High Table for Speakers

Please feel free to assemble in the Senior Common Room from 19:00.

Day 2 – 24 March 2022

0945-1100:                 Session 6: ‘Empire and women’

Chair: Rebecca Rogers (Université de Paris Cité)

Aparna Bandyopadhyay (Diamond Harbour Women’s University, West Bengal), ‘Diaries as a source of intimate history in colonial Bengal’

Angelina Giret (Université Le Havre Normandie), ‘The journals of Honoria Lawrence (1837-1854): between domesticity and travelling, the adventures of a British woman in India’

Kathryn Carter (Wilfrid Laurier University), ‘Reconsidering a genealogy of diary writing in Canada’

1100-1115:                 Break


1115-1245:                 Session 7: ‘20th century women and men’

Chair: Helen McCarthy (University of Cambridge)

Kate Bredeson (Reed College), ‘Judith Malina’s lifetime diaries as historical chronicle, company history, and personal poems

Sophie Bridges (Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge), ‘“To explore the past as I live my present”: the diary of Phyllis Willmott’ 

Jérôme Ordoño (Université Le Havre Normandie), ‘Diaries and male homosexuality: a confidential matter?

Charlotte Tomlinson (University of Lincoln), ‘A space to negotiate: citizenship, diary writing and femininity in Second World War Britain’

1245-1400:                 Lunch

1400-1500:                 Session 8: Diaries and historical perspectives

Chair: Andrew Webber (Vice-Master Churchill College)

Cherish Watton (Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge), ‘“Keep the cutting for the scrap-book”: Adeline and Maurice Hankey’s scrapbook diary collection’

Kirsten Mulrennan and Rachel Murphy (University of Limerick), ‘Opening a window to the past: creating an online research guide to using diaries for historical research’

1500-1530:                 Session 9: Provisional Conclusions (before Conference Day 3)

List of Abstracts


In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the conference is planned in a hybrid format, to accommodate both in-person and remote participation. We favour in-person participation if international regulations permit this at the time of the conference.

Please send general enquiries to:

Tenir et construire un journal intime: sources et perspectives historiques

Tenir un journal (ou plusieurs) est une pratique et une production qui peut prendre différentes formes et formats, non seulement à travers le temps, mais aussi selon la méthode choisie. Tenir un journal inclut souvent le développement d’un dialogue car les s’attendent à être lus d’une façon ou d’une autre. Existe-t-il une géographie, différentes généalogies ou histoires du journal, qui varient dans le temps et l’espace? À partir de ces questions, ce colloque se concentrera sur la période entre le XIXe et le XXIe siècle, en contexte européen ou mondial. Le journal comme objet et comme production matérielle a changé au cours du temps, notamment passant d’un format papier à un format visuel ou numérique, mais continue à être un genre d’écriture de soi centré sur une dimension dialogique. Par ailleurs, produire un journal sur l’intimité de soi n’est pas toujours une entreprise individuelle: tenir un journal prend du temps et peut se réaliser grâce à une production partagée entre pairs ou le soutien salarié de personnel dédié (secrétaires, assistantes et autres). Les catégories historiques et sociales du genre, de la race, de l’âge et du validisme devront nourrir l’analyse à la fois du contenu du journal et des personnes qui le produisent.

Dans la construction du journal, l’écriture de soi est politique, au sens large, c’est-à-dire en interaction avec d’autres facettes de la vie des diaristes. Elle inclut la politique institutionnelle, mais aussi le militantisme et les modes d’émancipation comme des forces qui animent l’histoire politique et l’histoire personnelle. Le journal narre généralement un ou plusieurs rythmes de vie qui peuvent se produire dans de multiples champs: le travail (l’activité professionnelle dans les sciences ou les médias, par exemple, nourrit la construction du journal en termes de contenus et de formes); la vie personnelle et familiale (l’intimité des couples et leurs loisirs construisent les vies tout autant que le la  narration inflationniste du fait d’exister, au cœur de l’activité diariste); la culture  (indissociable de l’organisation sociale, tenir un journal peux entrer en résonnance avec des questions nationales ou transnationales ou des secteurs de la culture populaire). Dans ces contextes divers, nous nous intéresserons au journal à la fois comme source monolithique et récit instable de l’écriture de soi.

Ce colloque cherche à examiner le fonctionnement du journal comme source historique, mais aussi à réfléchir à la construction du journal en une archive. Quand qualifie-t-on une collection ou un item de « journal » dans un catalogue d’archives?  Le catalogue à destination des utilisateurs se réfère souvent à la catégorie « journal » comme univoquement stable. De plus, la question de la conservation et du stockage du journal, objet matériel ou virtuel, pèse sur les acquisitions à transformer en archives. Nous sommes donc particulièrement intéressé.es par l’examen des pratiques et politiques archivistiques des collections.


Dû à la situation pandémique, le colloque est conçu dans un format hybride, pour accueillir la participation en présence comme à distance. Nous préférons que les intervenants participent en présentiel si les règles internationales le permettent à la date du colloque.

Informations et renseignements à