The latest addition to the archive was contained in an old trunk sitting on the table. *"**It's just arrived,”* says Gerhard Seitz, carefully opening the top to remove a stack of notebooks and pictures, which turned out to be the personal journal of a German music hall performer, who had his moment of glory in the 1930s. After his death, the trunk turned up in a Berlin flea market, where someone had the presence of mind to buy it and sent it with all its contents to Gerhard Seitz.

Seitz is the director ofDeutsches Tagebucharchiv, the German archive of personal journals in Emmendingen, a small town in the Black Forest. “People often send us finds like this one," he explained. Since it was founded by Frauke von Troschke in 1998, the archive has collected more than 200 personal journals a year — some of them belonging to people who are still alive. The journals have to fulfill two criteria: they must not have been previously published, and they have to be written in German.

Now housed in three darkened rooms in Emmendingen's old town hall, the archive has accumulated an impressive collection of notebooks and journals, some of which have been professionally bound. The oldest document is a a gaudily colored travelogue dating from the early 19th century, in which the diarist's main focus is the physical attributes of young ladies encountered on his journeys. The most impressive pieces of writing are the war memoirs. “Occasionally, people send in journals, which recount terrible things they did during the war," explains Seitz. "They don't really want to talk about their experience, but they want it to be remembered.”

History not just memoirs of kings

Von Troschke was inspired to create the archive by a visit to a similar project launched in 1984 in the small Italian town of Pieve Santo Stefano — a facility where everyone's memories are allowed to live on indefinitely. The founders of the Italian archive were guided by the idea that history should not be solely composed of the experience of kings, generals, and politicians, but also highlight the lives of ordinary people. “This kind of autobiographical writing adds an everyday dimension to history," points out Seitz. "Of course, we have always collected personal journals, but they were almost always the written by authors or politicians. Our focus is on the more down-to-earth experience of the rank and file.”

There are also a number of personal journal archives in France and Switzerland. In 1992, the public library in Nyon (on the shores of Lake Léman) organized an exhibition of personal journals and unpublished correspondence. In the same year, one of the instigators of the project, Philippe Lejeune joined with a group of enthusiasts to found the Autobiographical Heritage Association (Association pour le patrimoine autobiographique), which maintains a collection of personal journals in the public library at Ambérieu-en-Bugey, near Lyon.

Anne Frank and a host of unknowns

In documenting the lives of ordinary people, the Dutch can lay claim to the status of a pioneers. In 1944, in an iniative later paralleled by von Troschke ou de Lejeune, the Minister of Education, Gerrit Bolkestein, launched a radio campaign to encourage the preservation of texts written about the daily lives of ordinary citizens. In 1946, the newly created Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) called on the population to contribute to an archive of wartime journals, correspondence and photographs. Thousands of people responded to the appeal. The institute still houses a magnificent collection of wartime journals — most notably the manuscript of The Diary of Anne Frank, but also works by a host of unknowns.

The Netherlands has two more similar archives at the Institute for Women's History (ALETTA) and Erasmus University Rotterdam, which began collecting writing dating from after 1918 some twenty years ago. However, the question is: what about personal journals dating from before 1918 that have no direct link to war or women's experience? Where are they stored? Unfortunately, there is no specific Dutch archive for personal journals that do not fit into these categories.