by Desirée Henderson
Associate Professor of English at University of Texas Arlington, and features editor, Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
The digitization of manuscripts promises to significantly enhance the study of early American literature and especially of the manuscript culture that thrived during the period. As a scholar working on early American diaries, I became intrigued by the wealth of newly digitized diaries available online. These digital surrogates enable greater access to manuscript materials than has been possible in the past – although manuscript studies and digital humanities scholars have begun to present important critiques about the limitations inherent to digital materials. Before you can either read or critique digital sources, however, you have to find them – and I quickly discovered that simply locating digitized diaries was one of the biggest challenges to working with this new archive. If you know that a specific individual authored a diary, you can conduct a keyword search for their diary and easily determine whether it has been digitized. But if you are interested (as I am) in the genre more broadly, or in working with lesser-known writers, there is no reliable method for finding these materials. To address this problem, I created an index of digitized diaries that I initially intended for my own research and to utilize in my classes. But, I realized that it had the potential to serve as a resource for other scholars and students, so I built a website to host the list, which includes links to the relevant archives and websites: https://diaryindex.com/digitized-diaries/ The diaries listed represent the wide historical and geographical span of the genre – but many early American diaries are represented including those by John Adams, Martha Ballard, Samuel Preston, Hannah Edwards Wetmore, among others. I hope that SEA members will find it a productive tool for their own research and teaching.