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Research & Collections Programme

Growing research through the convening power of Cambridge’s collections

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


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.


Please send general enquiries to:


Wednesday, 23 March, 2022 - 09:00
Event location: 
Churchill College, Cambridge and online