Logs to blogs – exhibition to ebookSeptember 12th, 2013
This blog celebrates the launch of Personal Perspectives: Diaries from the Turnbull Library. It is something new for us – a quickly-put-together ebook based on one of our Turnbull Gallery exhibitions.
Personal perspectives features extracts from the diaries of six very different diarists. They are all featured in our exhibition – Logs to Blogs: Diaries from the Turnbull Library. Going by the comments in the visitors’ book the exhibition has been very well received, and the accompanying series of talks has been very popular.
The exhibition curator, David Colquhoun, gives a talk about the exhibition in the Turnbull Gallery. Photograph by Mark Beatty.
A full house enjoys the first talk in the series – They were listening to Dr Kate Hunter from Victoria University speak about World War I diaries and letters. Photograph by Mark Beatty.
Exhibiting diaries, however, is a challenge. They are fascinating to see, but they really need to be read, and in an exhibition you can only display one page opening at a time. Furthermore the most interesting diary content may actually be found in a very nondescript little diary, quite likely in a very-hard-to-read hand.
The exhibition got around those challenges in two ways. On one hand it uses the rich pictorial collections of the Turnbull to help tell the diarists’ stories. The second way the exhibition brings the diaries to life is by presenting short extracts from six of the featured diarists, which you can read on a tablet screen in the exhibition.
Shaping the ebook
Personal Perspectives features the same six extracts as the exhibition tablet, but adds in wider contextual and pictorial material from the exhibition itself. The result is a small, illustrated ebook. We would have rather liked to reuse our catchy Logs to Blogs exhibition title but, unfortunately, the six diarists chosen did not actually write a log or a blog. But, “personal perspectives” is almost as good.
Very different lives
The extracts have been selected for their variety. All are very different, both in the stories they tell, and in the purposes of the diarists.
To start there is Wairarapa labourer James Cox, whose diaries record half a lifetime of struggle to make a living. His diary keeping became a way for him to cope with a lifetime of disappointment. In the ebook we have selected an account of his experiences as a swagman in 1892.
Very different is the exuberant diary of sixteen-year-old, newly-married, Eleanor Petre, all about her first year in the new settlement of Wellington. It was all a great novelty for her and she loved writing about it. She has left us a fine record of upper-class colonial life.
Alice McKenzie was almost the same age as Petre when she began her diary but the near-subsistence dawn-to-dusk working life she describes in isolated Martins Bay could not be more different. For her a diary was a valued companion, as well as a way to practise her new-found literacy.
Diaries of exciting times
The other three diarists featured here were all conscious that they were recording their part in unusual and interesting times.
L-R: Detail of an entry by Harry McNeish, 1 Aug 1915, MS-1389; German postcard featuring Jack Lovelock, 1936, MSX-2261-076; detail of a portrait of an unidentified Maori chief, from the Thomas Laslett journals, 1833, MS-Papers-8349-1.
Carpenter Harry McNeish began his diary when he set off on the ill-fated Trans-Antarctic expedition with Ernest Shackleton in 1914. No other diary gives quite such a full and level-headed account of what happened.
Athlete Jack Lovelock kept a prosaic training log of his running but also a much more reflective and detailed journal. Here we have selected his intense journal description of the world record mile in 1933.
One hundred years earlier British Navy employee Thomas Laslett found himself searching for kauri spars on the New Zealand coast. He was endlessly curious about all he saw and kept a detailed and lively journal of his experiences.
Diaries like these are the real stuff of history. Few other sources can take you so close to personal experience and motivation. There are thousands of diaries in the Turnbull collection. All are different. This selection gives just a small sample of their richness and variety.
How to read the ebook
To get reading, download the file that works on your device. The epub version works with iBooks on the iPad and iPhone, as well as on many Android reader apps.
Grab the .mobi file to read using Amazon’s free Kindle app, available on many platforms, including iOS and Android, and of course Kindles.
Once you know which file to choose just click the link to start downloading your copy of Personal Perspectives.
See the exhibition
No digital copy or transcript can be quite the same as seeing the real thing. The exhibition’s last day is 28 September. There is still time to come in see it, in the Turnbull Gallery on the first floor of the National Library building in Molesworth Street. Come in and visit!
Some of what you'll find in the Turnbull Gallery. Photograph by Mark Beatty.