At a garage sale I picked up a book entitled, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird, who, according to the cover blurb was “a Victorian Englishwoman” – an intrepid lady traveler of the late nineteenth century.
These journalized or epistolary (letter based) accounts of the past, primary sources, are a fun way to study history. Their first-person perspective is always a refreshing change from most analytical histories on the bookstore shelf. Such perspectives, untainted by revision or assumptions are the actual thoughts of those who lived the past, warts and all.
I like this genre so much that I have two other books of this type in my reading pile. Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford by the aforementioned Mollie Dorsey Sanford and Daughter of the Regiment: Memoirs of a Childhood in the Frontier Army, 1878-1898 by Mary Leefe Laurence. Neither of which I have finished. For, unlike fiction, journals have their boring days, even historical journals, which tempts me to put them down and reach for something more exciting.
This is a conundrum of historiography (the study of the study of history) – the boring stuff. What do we do with it? Read, skip it, or write about it in painful detail? There are authors who do that!
Acknowledge it. If our lives were daily filled with fast-paced action, danger, and intrigue, we’d be neurotic! The boring stuff lets us live a saner life.
Life is in the details
Maybe boring is too much of a condemnation; call it instead daily life, the details of living. Stopping for a pretty sunset, relaxing in an empty hour with a good book, washing the clothes, fixing a meal, etc. These things go on, even when the danger of wars, upheaval and panic have passed.
I suspect my curiosity will get the best of me and I’ll drift back to Mollie, Mary or Isabella and finish their works. The rich detail of the eras in which they lived adding to a greater knowledge of life in the past.
If you’re stuck for an interesting history read, try an historical journal – your very own guided trip back in time.