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Dear Diary exhibition celebrates diaries and their digital descendants

Posted on 12/04/2017

Inigo Rooms, East Wing, Somerset House, 26 May – 7 July 2017

‘Diaries are among our most precious items of heritage. ... No other kind of document offers such a wealth of information about daily life and the ups and downs of human existence.’ Irving Finkel, founder, The Great Diary Project

Dear Diary is a new exhibition that celebrates diaries and the many ways in which diarists capture human experience. The result of a collaboration between King's College London and the Great Diary Project, it offers a unique journey through the life of diaries from c.1400BC to 2017AD.

Revealing the extraordinary and the everyday in individual lives, diaries often provide a safe space for people to confide their successes and disappointments, pleasures and pressures, loves and losses. The exhibition explores what motivates diarists and charts the ways in which paper diaries have been joined by phones and tablets as our means of keeping track of daily life. Bringing together manuscript and online diaries, from pre-modern almanacs to the latest trend of lifelogging, the exhibition considers how digital forms can be seen as descendants of traditional diaries rather than their destroyers.


Highlights include:

  • A child’s view of the 1968 student riots in Paris
  • A famous actor’s ‘bum chart’
  • A day in the life of a UNICEF worker in Yemen
  • A cross-dressing lesbian from Jane Austen’s era
  • Diaries for Druids, anglers, schoolchildren and golden-age film fans
  • Diary apps, blogs and vlogs for fitness fans and mummies

Appointment diaries and apps help us manage time. But what do we do with it? Diaries show how work, health, love, family and friends occupy us in different ways. Diaries from different periods provide comparative material on topics like food, relationships and money, inviting reflections on how people change – or stay the same. Digital forms of recording like fitness apps have turned personal data into a form of self-expression. But is it all really new?

The emergence of blogs and vlogs make digital forms of diary open to scrutiny and change privacy into community. Dear Diary highlights how diaries stage important issues for the individual and society, including those of identity, intimacy, privacy, secrecy, therapy, self-expression, self-improvement, memory and witnessing. For refugees, written and video diaries help restore voiced and visible subjectivity: can we stand in their shoes for a day? 

Celebrating a wide range of diaries past and present, Dear Diary shows the diary form is alive and well in the digital age. Specially-commissioned film interviews with living diarists, by artist Derek Eland, reveal how diaries are meaningful to people now. 

Diarists selected from the Great Diary Project's collection include: an early eighteenth-century, dolphin-eating Cornish tin miner; a post-war, film-star obsessed hitch-hiker; an ambitious amateur actor; a number of girl/boy-mad teenagers; a shop-mad flapper, and an animal-mad school boy. These distinct voices, and the intimate and routine experiences they reveal, are joined by those of the hopeful, grieving, ill, dreaming, happy and sad.'

Profound, prosaic and surprising, diaries give unique accounts of individual lives, offer interpretations of the world and add new and thought-provoking dimensions to social history.

The exhibition is a collaboration between King’s College London’s Centre for Life-Writing Research and The Great Diary Project, presented by Cultural Programming at King’s. It also draws on the expertise of the European Research Council-funded Ego Media research group at King’s, which investigates life writing in the digital age.


Dear Diary: a celebration of diaries and their digital descendants
Dates: 26 May – 7 July 2017,
Venue:  Inigo Rooms, King’s College London, Somerset House East Wing
Time: Weds–Sun, 11-5.30

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