“What is a diary as a rule? A document useful to the person who keeps it. Dull to the contemporary who reads it and invaluable to the student, centuries afterwards, who treasures it.”
Sir Walter Scott.
Journaling is not a modern phenomenon; there are recordings traced back to 55AD China. During the Renaissance period, the Western world began journaling regularly and the diary, began to have some literary value as the importance of the individual began to come to the fore. Ladies of the court in tenth century Japan used pillow books to record their dreams and thoughts with images and poetry. Throughout history, travel logs were also used as journals in both the Eastern and Western worlds. They were used to record details of places, people, navigational insights, botanical and other information. Since then it has often been used by the historian, not only as a supply of factual information, but as a picture of the daily life and personality of its writer.
The most poignant records of recent years was the wartime diary of Anne Frank. Broadly translated, it is one of the most widely read pieces of literature in history. It was begun when Anne was 13, just before she and her family went into hiding from the Nazis in a small apartment annex in the city of Amsterdam, and ended shortly after her 15th birthday, when the Nazis raided their hideout. After the war, her father, Otto, the only survivor in the family, decided to publish his daughter’s heart-rending diary.
Distinguished diaries have also come from literary figures, such as Virginia Woolf and Emerson, religious leaders like Pope John XXIII, statesmen: George Washington, Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson, and a host of nonpublic figures whose personal dramas have become historical classics. But diaries should not be seen solely as literature; as Henry David Thoreau once said, ”the journal is a record of experience and growth, not a preserve of things well done or said.” In studying the lives of great men, one might notice a common trait: they were all consistent journal writers. If it weren’t for their journals, we probably wouldn’t know much about their great lives and deeds.
In the 1960’s the idea of journaling really came into play, when an American psychotherapist, best known for his development of the Intensive Journal Method, began offering workshops and classes in a method using reflective writing as therapy with the ultimate goal of psychological healing. It is believed that by recording and describing the significant issues in one’s life, one can better understand these issues and eventually diagnose problems that stem from them. Today that method has been taught to over 250,000 people.
Journal therapy has been used effectively for grief and loss; coping with life-threatening or chronic illness, repairing troubled marriages and family relationships; increasing communication skills; developing healthier self-esteem; getting a better perspective on life; and clarifying life goals.
Still, people journal for a variety of reasons; to record memories, to improve their writing, to develop self-discipline or help change bad habits, to reach new levels of self-discovery. The reasons are endless, but overwhelmingly journaling gives people a space to develop their thoughts. The diary is, first and foremost, a psychological tool, an instrument for self-understanding. Those who recognize it as such look upon their journals as companions and confidants. Like a good therapist, the diary is the perfect listener.
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