William & Mary

Unlocking the diaries

  • Legacy of words
    Legacy of words  Swem's exhibit, "Unlocking the Diaries," was curated by students Kaitlyn Adkins, Greg Benson, Kimberly Clark, Caitlin Finchum, Greg Glazier, Katelin Hill, Shaunna Jardines, Katherine Perkins, Cassie Adair, Ryan Morris, Kali Murphy, Taysha Pye, Sta‚Äôsean Ridley, Casey Sears, and Errin Tom; Exhibit design and installation: Chandi Singer, Burger Archives Assistant, Justin Ferrell '11, SCRC Student Assistant, Fred Haskell '11, SCRC Intern, Staci Chapman '11, SCRC Intern, Kerry Browder, SCRC Volunteer.  Photo courtesy of Swem's SCRC
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For many people, diaries are the province of young girls, who pour out their secret sorrows and then lock them away from the prying eyes of friends and relatives. An exhibit currently on display at Earl Greg Swem Library at the College of William & Mary unlocks the mystery of the diary, demonstrating the multiple forms and uses of the diary in the United States. The exhibit is on display through March and may be viewed during the Library’s normal operating hours. Hours are available online.

Some of the exhibit’s diaries may have once been secret, others were family documents and some were intended for publication. One of the diarists featured in the exhibit is a staunch Confederate woman who carefully documents the Union occupation of Winchester, Virginia during the Civil War. In another, a young William & Mary undergraduate describes her day to day life at the College in the first years of female enrollment. A thirty-nine-year-old man with HIV, uses his diary to wrestle with his fears of abandonment and death in the late 1990s.

The diaries on display span the 19th and 20th centuries, coming current to present day. The exhibit’s first case, “What Counts?,” introduces the viewer to the range of forms and styles of the diary. “Life in Transition,” the second case, demonstrates how the diary has been used throughout the life cycle by both women and men. “Through Their Eyes: Diarists in Virginia” looks specifically at diaries written by 19th-century Virginia women and the final case, “DiaTribe,” features diaries written by William & Mary students, from the first years of female enrollment at the College to the present day.

The exhibit was curated by students in Associate Professor of English and Women's Studies Jennifer Putzi’s “Gender and the American Diary” class and the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) staff. All of the diaries and artifacts featured in the exhibit are from the SCRC's collections.