Call for paper: ‘Keeping and making diaries: historical sources and perspectives’ – Churchill College, University of Cambridge, UK – 23-24 March 2022

Posted on May 18, 2021

A two-day international conference (language: English)


Churchill College, University of Cambridge, UK.


23-24 March 2022


  • Myriam Boussahba-Bravard, Professor in British History, GRIC – Université Le Havre Normandie / LARCA – Université de Paris, France.
  • Eve Colpus, Associate Professor in British and European History post-1850, University of Southampton, UK. 
  • Allen Packwood, Director of The Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, University of Cambridge, UK.


Keynote speakers

  • Denis Peschanski, CNRS Research Director, CESSP – Université Paris1-Panthéon Sorbonne, France.
  • Claire Langhamer, Professor of Modern British History, University of Sussex, UK.


Keeping a diary or diaries is a practice – the making of an artefact – that can take many different shapes and forms, not only through time, but also through the methods used to create and maintain a diary. Making diaries often involves a process of dialogue, as diary-keepers usually expect readers of some kind or at some point. Is there a geography of diary-keeping, or different genealogies and histories of keeping a diary that varies across time and place? Taking these questions as a starting point, this conference will focus on the period between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries in European or global contexts. Over this period, the materiality of diaries as objects and the formats of diary-production underwent deep changes, ranging from paper-based and visual to digital formats, but diaries, as a genre of life-writing, have continued to centre on a dialogical dimension. Moreover, diary-production, while very often centering the individual, is not always exclusively a personal endeavour: diary-keeping as a time-consuming activity may rely on shared peer group production or on support staff that are employed by diarists (secretaries, assistants and others). Historical and social categories of gender, class, race, age and ableness, therefore, need to be addressed in the analysis of both diary contents and diary-keepers and creators.

In diary-production, the political self, specifically, is in interaction with other facets of diary-keepers’ lives. The political self is expansive: it includes institutional politics but also modes of activism and emancipation as animating forces of both political and personal histories. Diaries generally produce one or more senses of life rhythms that can occur in different and multiple fields: work (working activities in science or in media industries, for instance, can shape diary-keeping in content and form); private and family life (couples’ intimacy and leisure activities by building lives also construct life records and expansive narratives at the heart of diary-keeping); culture (inter-connected with social organization, diary-keeping might speak to national and transnational questions or strands of popular culture). In these contexts, we are interested in complicating assessments both of diaries as monolithic sources and as unstable writing of the self.

As well as probing the working of diaries as historical sources, the conference also seeks to extend conversations about diaries as archives. How does a diary become an archive? When is a collection or item named a ‘diary’ for an archive catalogue? Cataloguing through establishing a link with users often refers to the category ‘diary’ as if it is stable. Yet issues of preservation and storage of material or virtual diaries put pressure on acquiring particular objects or data that will be transformed into an archive. Discussions of the practices and politics of archival collecting, therefore, will be particularly welcomed.


We welcome papers from early-career and established scholars that consider one or more of the following themes, though the list is not exhaustive:

  • Practices of diary-keeping: traditional and ‘new’ diary formats through time
  • Diaries as historical sources
  • Notebooks and diaries, including professional, political or scientific activities
  • Diary-keeping as an activity and mediation
  • Diaries as political participation or citizenship
  • Gender, class, race, age, ableness and diaries
  • Diaries as selected information and factual record
  • Diaries as sites of European or world culture
  • Voices and historical narration in diaries: authors’ and others’
  • The making of an archive from various perspectives (archivists, families, historians)
  • Hidden and recovered diaries


Please submit paper abstracts of 250 words, together with a list of main sources and a short biography, by 5 July 2021 to:

Papers will be selected by the end of July 2021.


In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the conference is planned in a hybrid format, to accommodate both in-person and remote participation. We favour in-person participation if international regulations permit this at the time of the conference.


Please send general enquiries to: