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Diary of Samuel Pepys and EyeWitness

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Thanks to weblogs, online forums and personal websites, future historians (near future, anyway) are likely to have access to an overabundance of first-hand accounts of the mundanities of daily life - as well as world-changing events. Of course, there's no reason that the same tools can't be adapted to serve observations made before the invention of the Internet -or moveable type, for that matter- and the following examples make a compelling argument that oldies often remain goodies

Our first case is a site which will almost certainly become the most comprehensive example of the first-person historical account available on the Web. Webmaster Phil Gyford has taken The Diary of Samuel Pepys -a diary that spans 10 years of the 17th century- and set himself the task of presenting it over the next 10 years as a Weblog. The first great modern bureaucrat, founder of the professional navy, and through his diary, one of history's greatest unintentional historians, Pepys was a friend to such contemporaries as Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, and even spent a bit of time in the Tower of London. (But then again, who didn't?) His diary's entries -beginning on January 1st of 1660- include such day-to-day routines as government committees, parliamentary debates, and river outings, as well as such historic events as the coronation of Charles II after the dissolution of the Commonwealth, the "Black Death" of 1665, and the Great Fire of London in 1666.

While the diary is already available online in bulk form (enter "Pepys" into the search engine at Project Gutenberg), few would have the stamina to plow through even significant chunks of a 10-year diary at a single sitting. In the weblog format, the work is infinitely more digestible, and also gives visitors the chance to experience the entries in 'real-time' (or should that be 'shifted-time?') - reading a February 1 entry on February 1.

But unlike the typical weblog, which is created for public consumption, Pepys never expected anyone to read his writings (at least while he was alive) - so the work is entirely free of self-censorship, and includes all the author's petty jealousies, insecurities, and infidelities. (This candid honesty in part contributed to the fact that the diary was only published in its entirety in 1970 - as it took a few hundred years for some of the author's more 'adult' entries to be considered fit for public consumption).


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