What will we leave behind for historians?

A couple of Monday’s ago, a post caught my attention on Twitter’s #MondayBlogs. The author, Samantha Tonge, found a bag of old love letters and spent an afternoon re-reading them and reconnecting with the emotions written on the pages. She wondered about today’s generation, reliant on their texts and email, which will never have the experience of re-reading old letters.


Looking at my generation, we’re probably the last of the letter writers, and I’m shocked when I contemplate this. My sons’ generation have never known the anticipation of checking the mailbox for a reply to a personal correspondence, the anticipation made sweeter for the wait. But the demise of letter writing has implications for history as well—our history. What part of ourselves will we leave behind for future historians?

While historical dates and facts are recorded in official records, they are sterile records. Without anecdotes, diaries, or letters, we can never fully get a sense of the people behind the events. What they did is less compelling than the question of why. Layer in the accounts of daily life, and a rich cross-section is preserved, allowing us to fill in the nuances of past cultures.


But today, people connect and record their thoughts and experiences through social media. I’m not knocking this; in fact, I’m delighted with the long-distance connections I’ve made which would have been impossible otherwise. But what happens when an email account or Facebook account is closed, or the owner passes away? What about the website when the blogger is gone? What have we left for the future?

Historically, our knowledge of the past has come mainly from the elite upper classes, as they were the most likely to be literate and have the leisure time to keep up a diary. This has limited our perception of the past. But today, with literacy at its height, even with the explosion of blogging, what is preserved one hundred, two hundred years in the future may  be limited to popular media. Back episodes of news programs that documented world events? Check. But consider the endless loop of sensationalized ‘newsworthy’ stories that appear hour after hour on mainstream news. How much of it is relevant? Entertainment programs? Check. Do the Kardashians resemble any family you know? A historian might look back on these programs and infer the wrong conclusions.

Where does that leave us?

Hopefully paper and pen will not entirely disappear. People will continue to fill their journals with thoughts and observations of the world around them, and not rely on the digital world to remember them.

Who can we count on to do this? A writer.


  1. Hi Cryssa
    Well one thing I do is periodically print my blog posts and collect them in a large binder. It’s a little bit self-congratulatory or something but I like to be able to see my words. This also saves me with my manuscripts. When every rough chapter is finished I print it even though it may change drastically in the rewrites. I’ve lost my stuff before and I don’t want to do that ever again.
    So. I am doing print copies, binding them, and keeping them on my closet shelves. I think your reasoning is right on the money if people are not doing these things. Of course then we have to consider how long paper lasts, don’t we? Or the machinery to play our digital saved versions of treasures. Pictures are another part of this but I periodically do small collection books themed with about 24-30 pages. They don’t take up much room and they’re more fun to look at than finding pics on my Mac.
    It’s interesting to me that my mania for preserving the past has come to be so important in this second part of my life. Perhaps that’s because I have more time to reflect (ha!) or I feel that Grim Guy just that much closer. We have such a yearning to live on. Our books and our journals and our pictures can help us there.
    Thanks for a thought-provoking post today!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comments, Elaine. I’m thinking of old technology that we’d use to store things (remember the floppy disks?) and even current technology (flash drives) which are not forever. Links get broken and there has been a number of instances when I tried to find an article from an old link only to find that it was removed. Paper isn’t forever, but we do have more control over how we store it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh. I forgot to mention how thankful I am for the personal account stories about life here in Ontario 200 years ago. So helpful to me for getting the details right in the Loyalist trilogy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Those are the stories that make history come alive. Where would we be without them?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Cryssa ! Absolutely agree with this. Like Elaine, at some point I always print off my pieces and file them and everything gets worked on/out on paper first anyway (and I never throw note books away !) …. manuscript is my ‘default’ setting as a poet …. and like the original post, I have a large tin box full of old letters (some of a romantic nature) but mostly things from friends I don’t want to part with, even if I have to part with the friends ! ……..You say that paper isn’t forever but the earliest printed book (actually a scroll) ever found was printed in China in 868 AD and is a copy of the Buddhist work known as the ‘Diamond Sutra’ and was found in some caves on the edge of a desert …. so if conditions are right maybe paper can last a good while at least ! Love, Moonie. xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, and lets not forget the dead sea scrolls. Kept in the right conditions, the paper will endure. Perhaps the same can not be said for a computer, especially in the face of a Microsoft system upgrade. I wonder how much paper the next generation will keep or if they think that computers and servers are forever. Thanks for chiming in, Moonie. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. P.S. the old romantic in me loves the picture by the way ! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s nothing quite like parchment and ink. .:)


  5. P.P.S. !! Just remembered … I once read someones description of handwriting as being “the written equivalent of the sound of someone’s voice” …… and while we all talk about ‘Global village’ today, I think that sums up the closeness felt when you receive something in someone else’s hand and when your hand is touching the same surface they touched. x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is SO TRUE and not just for handwriting. One of my favourite masters is Eugene Delacroix. I’ve read his journals and consider him an old friend. When I saw one of his paintings hanging at our art gallery, I sneaked a touch just the brushstrokes he applied on the canvas (fortunately no bells went off). It is the same as connecting through the ages with the person.


  6. Beautifully put. I’ve thought the same thing about photos – I used to love looking through all my grandparents black and white pics stored in envelopes and shoe boxes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Ruth. I never even considered photos but it’s horrible to think of how many memories will be lost if we don’t print them. My winter project!


  7. Last night, our niece pulled up a scanned copy (technology meets pen and paper) of a letter her great-aunt sent to her grandfather back in the 40’s. We laughed at the glimpse we received of a then teenage boy and their brother/sister relationship before marriages, divorces, children and grandchildren had happened. A true treasure. Sad to think future generations won’t have the same window into the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And to think that that letter still has the power to make people smile 70+ years later. Thanks for the comment, Sharon.


  8. The points of this article are well taken. I started my letter writing blog : “Lost Art Of Letter Writing Revived” for this exact purpose, five years ago. I feel like I am on the front lines in encouraging others to pick up a pen and to simply write a letter! I also save all of my letters — no easy feat, but I believe it will be valuable to a future who may be even further removed from the art of writing a letter!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the comment. I also have a box of old letters but sadly I don’t write them anymore. I have a regular email correspondence with a very old friend (old as in how long we’ve been friends) and this was in the back of my mind when I wrote this. We’ll have nothing of that correspondence when our email accounts are closed, and that really saddens me. I’ll pop over to your site to check it out. Thanks again.


  9. samoore777

    I recently attended a bbq with at my mom’s cousin’s, and people were there whom I had not seen for years. They reminded me so much of my Granny and her sisters, and my late uncle whom I still sorely miss. My mom’s cousin gave me a scrap of paper found amongst some things my uncle left at their place, and it had several generations of our family scribbled on it! I now have names and dates of birth for grandparents, great grand parents and great, great grandparents back to the early 1800’s. What a wonderful piece of heritage, and a great insight into our family’s past. Ancestry.com here I come!


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