“To day has bin a memorable day”
So starts the amazing diary of Emilie Davis a free woman of Philadelphia on January 1, 1863.
Memorable Days the Diaries of Emilie Davis, directed by Judith Giesberg provides a transcribed and annotated online version of Davis’ three pocket diaries. A single small page offers space for three days worth of jottings, which means Davis employed a brief notation style, often in fragments.
Details of Davis’ friendships and outings appear interspersed with references to her education at the “the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY),” which the excellent annotation explains was “a coeducational Quaker institution opened in 1837 and located on 900 block of Bainbridge Street.”Among her daily appointments and outings with friends, she drops in monumental historical events such as the Battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln’s assassination. The glimpses, and really they are just that, generally twenty or thirty words in length only, and almost telegraphic in style, show Davis on her way to church, celebrating birthdays, recording the boredom of war, and the round of social calls she makes. The brevity makes them almost ideal for using in a teaching setting, which I plan to do in history of women in the United States
This interweaving of the everyday and the extraordinary offers an amazing glimpse into how a lifetime becomes history. Who is to say that to Davis that the events of her own life didn’t seem more significant than those forces larger than herself? While the identity of the “Nellie” about whom she writes so frequently has been lost to history, she remains central to Davis’ diaries and surely more important to her than figures like Lincoln.
|Font size generated from tags of the posts reveals emphasis in Davis’ diary entries|
The website is beautifully designed by Michael Mafodda. High resolution scans of each diary page appear next to the transcription and annotation. While the digitized images have been available for years, the ability to decipher Davis’ 19th century handwriting remained the realm of specialists I wish the annotations popped up when moused over. While I respect the decision to replicate the format of the diary, 381 pages is a lot to mouse through. However, the ability to view posts by tags and key words is quite helpful. I also appreciate the space for user comments, which I know the editorial team hopes may lead to crowdsourcing some of the information in the diaries. These tiny issues aside, the project is a valuable contribution to digital history and a model for what can be done with relatively few resources and mostly student collaboration!
*The transcription and annotation team included Theresa Altieri ’12 MA, Rebecca Capobianco ’13 MA, Thomas Foley ’13 MA, Ruby Johnson ’13 MA, Jessica Maiberger ’12 MA Preliminary transcription work was also completed by Jacqueline Beatty ’12 MA, Timothy English ’13 MA, Michael Fiorelli ’12 MA, Brent Freedland ’13 MA, Matthew Landis ’13 MA, Colin McNulty ’13 MA, Molly Rigas ’13 MA, Ryan Sheridan ’12 MA, and Kelly Smith ’12 MA. Design Michael Mafodda, Department of Communication, and Samantha Viani