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The Great Diary Project

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by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
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Childhood Secrets Revealed

How would you feel if someone read your diary, the place where you keep your inner most thoughts? Not too comfortable I imagine. At least not now that you are alive. But what about in the future, maybe a hundred years from now? Would you like the future generations to learn about your experiences?

Having studied Assyriology at the University of Birmingham, Irving Finkel has a great interest in writing, antiques, and history. He achieved his life ambition in 1976, when appointed Assistant Keeper in the then Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum as a curator for cuneiform tablets. Finkel is a collector of many things - although he does not like to use that term - including instruments and historical board games. The one thing he was never particularly interested in were diaries. That was until a friend handed him a box-load that he had acquired. Finkel tried to donate them to the museum, but they were not wanted, and was told just to throw them away.

These diaries were all written by a man called Godfrey Williams, and realising that someone's entire life story was encapsulated in these books, Finkel decided to buy and read them. It was from that point that he set out on a mission to recover and rescue historic other dairies from oblivion, and began The Great Diary Project.

These are not the diaries of the famous, but everyday people doing everyday things. At the time, they probably wouldn't have been that interesting, but now, they provide insight into the way people lived in the past. These are things that history books don't mention, such as the weather, movement of birds, the price of food, the regularity of the postal service.

Irving Finkel now has over two thousand diaries that need housing, and finding a place for them is part of what the Great Diary Project is about.

One place that is currently storing some of the archive is the Museum of Childhood, which until the 12th October is holding an exhibition on the subject. Discover the diaries of children and teenagers from 1813 to 1996. You'll get to read tales of flogging and bed bugs at boarding school during the Napoleonic Wars, stories from early twentieth century American Scouts, as well as coded accounts of wild teenage behavior during the Blitz.
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Why? Learn about people's pasts
When: Until 12th Oct
Phone: 44 (0)20 8983 5200
Where: Museum of Childhood
Cost: Free
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