Eras Journal – McKay, E: Abstract

Abstract of McKay, E., The Diary Network in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England

During the course of researching sixteenth and seventeenth century diaries for my PhD thesis I was struck by the frequency of diarists who were mentioned in the writings of other diarists. Some of these occurrences were due to a family history of keeping diaries. Certainly many diarists commented upon the fact that their father had kept a diary in his day, or, as in the case of Adam Winthrop, were keeping a diary on behalf of a younger family member. Yet this does not account for the number of other instances of cross-referencing which I came across in a sizeable number of other early modern diaries. This cross-referencing of diaries evolved into a diary network as it became clear that many of the diarists knew one another, knew of one another, or were related.

Apart from family members, the diaries reveal that a number of diarists, principally from the seventeenth century, were in contact with one another. This ‘network’ existed in a number of forms: firstly that some diarists were aware of the other person and recorded having heard of him or her, but do not mention whether they were aware of the other as a diarist. Some diarists were correspondents though regrettably they did not discuss their shared hobby. Samuel Pepys was the notable exception to this secrecy, he recorded having discussed diary writing with another diarist, though he afterwards regretted having shared the secrets of his hobby with another. However, the most interesting aspect of this network which has emerged is what I have termed the ‘northern diary network’. This was made up of a number of Presbyterian ministers living in Yorkshire and Lancashire during the 1660s at a time of persecution by the Anglican Church. These ministers were aware of one another’s existence and were often friends and colleagues during a difficult time for their religion. The existence of this diary network may explain to us why many people decided to keep a personal record of their lives, and hints that many more people kept diaries than we once thought.