Digitising an old diary

diary cover

I have around 70 diaries and these are an ongoing project for exploration – see The Diary for more info.

Digitising them creates the opportunity for some creative hacks, such as running the text through a data extraction algorithm to create new outputs – some of which are quite poetic. Using code has also allowed me to extract all the swear words from 10,000 words of travel emails. That was fun!

I’m also fascinated by diaries generally and visited The Great Diary Project in London to read some of the submitted diaries from the 1980s. I’ve bequeathed my own diaries to this project – better than family and friends reading them! The problem is, most people’s handwriting is pretty awful and it makes reading and deciphering hard work.

There is also some part of me that thinks there might be a memoir in my own travel diaries somewhere, although I’m not sure I have the emotional distance, the staying power or the skill to write them up as such. Anonymous edits and extractions are far more likely.

For all these reasons, I put digitising a travel diary into my list of goals for this year.

I’m happy to say that the first one is done – 26,000 words all about criss-crossing India, west to east and south to north, for four months in 1996/7. I’ve already started extracting and playing with the text.

In all there are around three years’ worth of travel diaries, so it’s an epic challenge, of which this is just the first microchallenge.

For anyone out there thinking of doing anything that involves digital transcription, I highly recommend using speech recognition software or just the dictation facilities on your  phone or computer. It’s been a lifesaver and given me a few laughs with misheard typos. I’ll stick them in another post (and here it is!).