The following is a guest post by Jefferson Bailey, Fellow at the Library of Congress’s Office of Strategic Initiatives.
“mr Ballard left home bound for Oxford. I had been Sick with the Collic. mrs Savage went home. mrs foster Came at Evening. it snowd a little.”
So begins the diary of Martha Ballard on January 1, 1785. Marta was a midwife and prolific diarist who wrote in her diary almost every day for the next 27 years until her death in 1812. There are nearly 10,000 entries in the diary; though often brief, they provide a unique, invaluable insight into the politics, economics, family dynamics, and daily life of her era. As one of the only written accounts of female life in early rural New England, Martha’s diary offers us a window into a forgotten and seldom-accessible past and is indicative of the kind of “history from below” that counterbalances the monolithic, overbearing narratives of the rich and powerful that can sometimes dominate historical discourse.
“The problem is not that the diary is trivial but that it introduces more stories than can easily be recovered and absorbed… Martha’s diary reaches to the marrow of eighteenth-century life,” wrote Laurel Ulrich in her 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning book about Martha’s diary, A Midwife’s Tale, parts of which, along with the full diary, are available online.
How, you may ask, did this at-first-glance-unremarkable woman’s diary end up recognized as an invaluable historical resource that led to a prize-winning work of history almost 200 years later? The diary was passed down through generations of the Ballard family until it was donated in 1930, 118 years after Martha’s death, by her great-great-granddaughter to the Main State Library.
Now ask yourself, if one of your parents handed you his or her diary on a 5 1⁄4” floppy disk from 15 years ago, would you even be able to read it?
We talk a lot on this blog about personal archiving, but stories like Martha Ballard’s remind us of the importance of preserving and passing on our personal archives. However, contemporary storage media and even file formats can be outdated and inaccessible in just a handful of years. Due to the fragility of digital information, preserving our personal digital materials requires a level of management that wasn’t previously necessary for paper.
We are excited to announce that in two weeks, in conjunction with ALA’s Preservation Week (April 22-28, 2012), we will be hosting a number of events throughout the Washington D.C. area to provide in-person guidance and help to those interested in preserving their digital collections.
Library of Congress events for Preservation Week 2012
Monday, April 23, from noon to 1 p.m., “Film: Investment in the Future:” Dining Room A, on the sixth of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, April 24, from noon to 1 p.m., “Caring for Your Digital Photos: Strategies to Help You Organize and Save Your Digital Memories:” Dining Room A, on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, April 24, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., “Save Your Digital Stuff: Practical Strategies for Preserving Your Digital Materials:” The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial D.C. Public Library, 901 G St N.W., Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, April 25, from noon to 1 p.m., “Caring for Your Books, Documents and Works of Art on Paper, and Photographic Prints:” Pickford Theater on the third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.
Thursday, April 26, at 2 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Webinar: “Preserving Your Personal Digital Photographs:” Free webinar; registration required at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/666813208
Saturday, April 28, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., “Save Your Digital Stuff: Practical Strategies for Preserving Your Digital Materials:” Arlington County Public Library, Central Branch, 1015 North Quincy St., Arlington, VA.
Throughout the month, Young Readers Center Open House: The Young Readers Center is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., in Room G29 on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.