Special Collections Digital Diaries Project

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For the past several months, Special Collections has been hard at work digitizing and creating metadata for several unique diaries in our collection as part of a new collaborative project with the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL). The PACSCL Diaries Project is an online archive that, once live, will contain 100 diaries from PACSCL’s member institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, Temple, Drexel, Haverford, the University of Delaware, and Bryn Mawr. More diaries will be added in the future. All of the diary images will be free to view and download, making the archive a wonderful resource for students and scholars, especially those who cannot travel to the Philadelphia area to see these diaries in person.

Lehigh contributed five diaries to the project. The diaries chosen showcase the diversity of our Special Collections. For example, we digitized the six-volume diary of William Estes, a Lehigh grad (class of 1905) who went on to get his medical degree from Johns Hopkins. Estes served as an army surgeon during World War I, when he was stationed in France. Another fascinating war diary digitized for this project was that of William Herman Wilhelm, who attended Lehigh as part of the class of 1887 but ended up graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 1888. “Billy,” as he was known to friends, served as a captain in the Philippine-American War. His diary entries describe his journey from Tennessee to Cuba and finally, to the Philippines. For those interested in local history, we digitized two volumes of the diary of Estelle Johnston. Her diary records her day-to-day activities as the wife of the prominent Bethlehem Steel executive Archibald Johnston during the 1930's and 1940's. Because of our strength in the history of technology, we also chose to include a diary written by an anonymous mid-nineteenth-century engineer. The engineer’s diary details the construction of the Harlem River Bridge in New York, and contains a number of impressive drawings of the bridge. Finally, we digitized the childhood diary of a former Lehigh Geology Professor, Benjamin Miller. Miller’s diary, written in 1891 when he was growing up in Kansas, testifies to his early love of reading and writing.

In order to participate in this project, Special Collections relied on a group of dedicated student workers and volunteers who helped us scan and edit images, as well as come up with page level metadata for each of the diaries. We also benefited from the assistance of several staff members from the Help Desk. We are very grateful to everyone in the library who helped us make this project a reality.

The PACSCL Diaries Project site is scheduled to go live in the coming months. To follow the project’s progress, go to: http://diaries.pacscl.org/.