The History of Journaling and Famous Journals

Journaling Badge, Step 1

This week we are excited to learn all about the long history of journaling, the many benefits journaling provides, different types of journals, and some very famous journals that have been turned into books and movies! Later we will be taking a lettering class to incorporate some new skills into our bullet journaling repertoire. To finish off the Journaling Badge, we will select the perfect journal to gift to some very special people!

We have been journaling in one form or another for many years. Recently, we have been obsessed with Bullet Journaling and its creative and flexible format. A recent trip to our local bookshop introduced us to the many different types of journals available today. There seems to be a journal for every personality type out there! This post will cover the history of journaling, famous journal keepers, and books and movies inspired by journals.

Earn the Journaling Badge

If you are interested in earning the Journal Badge yourself, you can see the Journal Badge Guide, or “recipe” for the badge here. Each Badge Guide contains three steps to be completed in order to earn the badge. These steps can be done on your own, but we encourage you to grab a few friends and learn together!

Step 1 is always focused on research. Look up the topic online, watch videos to learn a skill, or visit your local library.  You can read about the resources and fascinating facts we found below.

The Old Timey reports that the word “diary” comes from the Latin word dies which means “day”.  Personal diary keeping or journaling rose to popularity during the Victorian Era. Although these diaries were intended to be kept mostly private, the diaries that have survived through the centuries give us valuable information about the writers’ daily lives and historical events.  

Diary vs. Journal

Before we dive into the history of journaling we must address the age old question of the Journal vs. the Diary. In my mind, a diary is kept by an angsty teenager, but a journal is something more. I was half right.

According to Merriam-Webster, to journal is to record daily thoughts or experiences in a journal or diary.  Although many use the word journal and diary interchangeably, this site claims that a diary differs from a journal as it contains events as they happen. A diary is used daily to record the events of the day. A journal is used to explore ideas as they unfold. So journals often contain more than a recap of the day, and diaries definitely aren’t just for teens!

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Whether you choose to journal in a diary or journal in a journal the benefits are the same. For the purpose of this post and badge we will be using the words diary and journal interchangeably. We feel that both journals and diaries can benefit those that take time to reflect on their lives.

As Socrates famously said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The true beauty of journaling (in a diary or journal) is that the writer is free to make it what they want. They are free to be creative or simple and to the point. What they choose to record is their personal choice!

Journaling History Timeline

People have been recording thoughts and details as long as there has been handwriting.  Because most diaries are written on paper we must assume that many have not survived the elements of time. The website In Breathe reports that early diaries were often kept as public records.  Gradually, the diary shifted from a public to a more private recording of life.

Photo by Wendy Wei on
  • 1600’s – Diaries were used for accounting and recording of public records. 
  • 1660’s – The earliest known diary as autobiography is written in England by Samuel Pepys.  He recorded many events including the Great Fire of 1666.  You can still purchase this diary today.
  • 1700’s – World travelers record their discoveries in journals.  Some of these include Lewis and Clark and Darwin. Travel diaries actually predate these famous men as they have been around since the early Christian Pilgrimages in the first century.
  • Beginning in the late 1700’s – Many writers, artists, and other creative people began to use diaries as part of their creative process.  These include Tolstoy, Kafka, Woolf, Mansfield, Nin, and Plath. Many of these journals were published and widely read. See Youtube video below for more details.
  • 1800-1900’s – We see the rise of war journals, although the therapeutic benefits were not yet recognized.
  • 1960’s – Psychologist Dr. Ira Progoff begins offering classes in the Intensive Journal Method in NYC.
  • 1978 – Three books were published which promoted journal writing for personal growth: At a Journal Workshop by Dr. Ira Progoff, One to One: Self Understanding Through Journal Writing, by Christina Baldwin, and The New Diary by Tristine Rainer.
  • 1980’s – Many public schools began to use journals in English classes.  Although these journals were academic, many teachers began to notice therapeutic benefits for students. Journaling began to be recognized as a holistic non-medical method of wellness and mental health professionals began offering journaling workshops.
  • 1990-present day – Journaling becomes more public as Digital Diaries, Blogging, Facebook, Vlogging on Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter rise to popularity. These are all types of online public journaling.
  • 2013 – Bullet Journaling emerges as a quick way to record and track daily events. Pinterest is overflowing with Bullet Journaling ideas. Check out our journaling board for some of our favorites.      

If you keep a journal you are in good company! Albert Einstein, Leonard Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin and Marie Curie are a few famous journal keepers.

Books & Movies Inspired by Journals

If you are looking for some journaling inspiration check out these books and movies inspired by journals and diaries. 

Published personal diaries offer a first hand account of moments in history.  The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is a great example and possibly the most famous diary every written. Find out more about Anne Frank’s tragic story and how her diary was published here.

Below is an interesting Youtube video dedicated to diaries and journals of writers.

Check out this list of published personal diaries put together by  Pick out a few to read! Anne Frank’s diary is on the list as well as Nelson Mandela’s Conversations with Myself. If reading isn’t your thing, Book My Show has a great list of movies based on diaries.

Join us for the second research post of the Journaling Badge later this week. We will be covering the myriad benefits of journaling as well as the many types of journals available!

Do you keep a journal? Have you ever read a book that was made from a journal? We want to hear from you! Message us on Instagram or Facebook or drop us a line here.

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