Much has been written about the importance of history, but the idea of individual life stories is often given less significance. There is a focus on the role of events themselves, groups, or institutions. The individual stories collected by genealogists, oral historians, and others offer much evidence about the functions of society. These stories should be cherished by the archivist and the idea of the value of individual stories should be presented to our audiences.
Much of what people think and act upon is never recorded. Documented history is often based on what is found and this includes materials created during day-to-day activities that often exhibit surface details - who was involved, what was the event, and what was the product. Many times the information about why decisions were made, how many concepts were rejected until the solution was accepted, and how individuals dealt with conflict are not recorded. These details relate directly to individual stories that can be gathered for history through supplementary oral histories, as well as writing projects. Much is being done by institutions in the oral history department, but not so much in the journaling arena.
Diaries are a boon to the historian when they are found, but people often do not keep journals. Can and should an archivist encourage local community members to record their own personal life stories to boost the evidence we can leave for posterity? I think that encouraging journal writing (or the creation of personal recordings for those who don't like to "put pen to paper") can be an integral part of an archives program. Individual stories that are recorded when a person is comfortable can help individuals bring out information about themselves that they cannot access in other ways. Whether one likes to silently contemplate, listen to music, be among a group of other writers, sit outdoors, or in one's room, the act of sitting and recording one's thoughts can bring out ideas that are not expressed in other ways or in other circumstances.
For motivation to start your own journaling projects to promote community documentation, the following links are useful. Please add more links if you have some or comment to promote your own diary documentation projects