By Emily Gendrolis, Library Intern
Over the centuries, the human impulse to leave behind a record of our lives has taken many forms. Cave painting is perhaps the first, chronicling successful hunts or bountiful harvests. From clay tablets to illuminated manuscripts to bound diaries to blogs, we have found a way to preserve a bit of ourselves in the records we leave behind.
The diaries of Doris Blackman Merriam in the recently processed collection of the same name in the Brown Library are a shining example of this inherent feature of the human experience. Writing nearly every day from 1975 to 2001, Doris created not only a record of her life, but a record of the world around her – providing a fruitful study for social historians. Entries range from discussions of daily activities like baking treats for a school fundraiser to her opinions of global conflicts to the latest fashion trends. Her diaries not only open a portal into the life of a devoted mother of seven, her opinions and views reflect major cultural and social movements spanning four decades.
A Rockland native, Doris married and raised her family in her hometown. She first began keeping a daily journal at the urging of her son Kendall, who, as Rockland’s Poet Laureate, recognized the value of keeping such a record for posterity. Over the years, Doris became more comfortable keeping a diary, and a strong narrative voice emerges as she demonstrates a flare for describing international catastrophes with the same detail as the latest trend in hair perm techniques. Her unique perspective of the world around her reflects an acute awareness of events occurring thousands of miles away, prompting mindfulness in her readers of the way in which people and events far removed from us still have the power to arouse sentiment and personal reflection in relation to our own lives.
Doris’s diaries offer endless possibilities for anyone interested in social history, with potential research topics including parent-child relationships, fashion, sports, shifting gender roles, political and economic conditions – all set within the context of four decades that saw radical changes in societal norms and major dramas set on an international stage, including armed conflicts and assassination attempts.
As Doris wrote in her opening entry to her 1976 diary, “I hope that whoever reads these in future will enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.” Now that the diaries and supporting materials are available for researchers in the Brown Library, we hope that you will stop by and take advantage of this truly exceptional collection.
For more information, see Coll. 2767 in the Brown Library Minerva catalog.