booknotes: the accidental diarist

The latest issue of NEHA News (PDF) arrived in the post earlier this week. Actually, four copies arrived because for some reason Hanna and I are listed on the membership rolls twice each and can't get the organization to fix the glitch.

Anyway. I have a review therein of Molly McCarthy's most entertaining new monograph The Accidental Diarist: A History of the Daily Planner in America (University of Chicago Press, 2013)*
For nearly two decades, I have habitually carried a day planner in which to note future tasks and appointments, track expenses, and mark the passage of time. At the end of every year, I add the used-up planner to a box in the back of my closet before opening a fresh volume and starting anew. Until reading Molly McCarthy’s The Accidental Diarist, I had never considered this habit in historical context. Now I have. 
In five thematic chapters, loosely arranged in chronological order, McCarthy (Associate Director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute) explores the development of the modern day planner from early Colonial almanacs to the advent of the Wanamaker Diary in 1900. Combing through centuries of daily records kept by American men and women in pre-printed “blank” books, McCarthy documents the way in which Americans learned to use almanacs, diaries, and planners to both reflect on the past and plan for the future. She argues convincingly that the daily planner was a training ground for modern ways of organizing life. 
Read the full review at the NEHA website.

In the interest of full disclosure, Molly McCarthy is a former MHS research fellow, although her residence at the MHS was before my time, and I assisted her on obtaining images of materials at the Society to illustrate the book. Her project is, I would argue, an excellent example of the work historians can do with the seemingly opaque objects of history that, when put in context, are much more revealing than they first appear.

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