Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Every so often someone stumbles across an interesting diary, composes a meditation about it, or constructs a book around its contents. Lily Koppel, a writer working for the New York Times, discovered in 2003 in an old steamer trunk the diary, 1929-1934, of Florence Wolfson (b. 1915). In this complete and candid chronicle of a teenager coming of age in New York City, Lily had the makings of a good story. More amazingly, Koppel manages to track down Wolfson and re-unite the diary with its writer seven decades after it had been stored away. Even better, Wolfson turns out to be an outspoken confidant and Koppel reconstructs her early years with the aid of the diary and its author’s remembrances. Wolfson’s diary captures the longings of a young woman who wanted to be a writer or an artist, who was flamboyant, and who was concise but blunt in her daily jottings about the meaning and struggles in her life. The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal (New York: HarperCollins, 2008) is an interesting and unusual reflection on the nature of diary writing. This is not a dry, academic examination but the lively and entertaining reconstruction of a young life. I am sure many archivists would love the opportunity to sit down and talk with a diarist the nature of the document they left behind. Reading The Red Leather Diary is the next best thing.