Journals Logs Notebooks And Diaries

The informal notebooks that collect your personal thoughts have a long and respected history. Documents like journals, diaries, or notebooks have existed ever since people discovered that writing things down helped people remember them better. For travelers and explorers, the journal was the place to document where they had been and what they had seen. Some of these journals, such as those by William Byrd and William Bradford in the seventeenth century, are especially useful for modern historians in reconstructing a portrait of the settlement of colonial America—as are The Journals of Lewis and Clark about the settlement of the west in the early nineteenth century.

Some writers, like James Boswell, wrote journals full of information about other famous people—in Boswell's case, Samuel Johnson. Other writers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Virginia Woolf, kept journals that contained nearly all the germinal ideas and language for their later published manuscripts. And the notebooks of Dostoyevsky and Kafka provide crucial insights into the troubled personalities of these disturbing writers.

Many famous literary figures, of course, kept journals; some became more widely read than anything else they wrote. For example, Samuel Pepys' Diary remains one of the liveliest accounts of everyday life in seventeenth-century London, and Anais Nin's Diaries (all four volumes), which describe life in mid-twentieth-century Paris, have contributed more to her fame than have any of her more imaginative works.

Other creative people have depended on journals to locate, explore, and capture their ideas. In the journal of Leonardo da Vinci, we find a wonderful mix of artistic and scientific explorations, including both sketches and words. Painter Edgar Degas' notebooks of visual thoughts acted as his journal. Photographer Edward Weston's "daybooks" explored all manner of his personal and aesthetic life in Carmel, California, in the 1920s and 1930s. Le Corbusier's Sketchbooks document in detail the emergence of his architectural ideas.

We gain numerous insights through the published journals of noteworthy people. In Charles Darwin's diaries, written aboard the HMS Beagle, we witness the evolution of the theory of evolution. In B.F. Skinner's journals, we locate the rational mind of the father of behaviorism. And in the diaries of Arthur Bremer and Lee Harvey Oswald, we witness the twisted minds of political assassins.

If you want to explore the many possibilities of journal writing, you might investigate one of these published journals in an area that interests you. It would certainly give you some ideas about keeping one yourself.

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