Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Records: public and private

Is everyone concerned with fading into nothingness?

I’m taking a brief respite to address why I decided to make this project something public. I believe that this process of reading letters and understanding the past is enhanced by its being shared. This forum is allowing me to create something new with records of the past that are both historical and personal. These are records that I view as valuable to the world beyond my family. On a logistical note I am pushed to continue reading and thinking about this project because the blog posts are time sensitive.  I am regularly making someone else’s work public, piece by piece, causing the events of my own life to play more directly into how I read the documents.

I’m one of those people who has kept journals (on and off, of course) for most of my life. And yet I would be mortified if they were to be made public. Well, not even if they were made public but if anyone read them.  I save, collect, and document the world around me fairly regularly. Who am I keeping these records for? I’m largely keeping them for myself, yes, but having re-read a lot of these journals I’m pretty sure that I was also writing to some imagined audience. Thirteen year-old Molly was certainly concerned that Future Molly (or whoever) might think that she was shallow or naive.  So from time to time she takes a moment to write something “deep” and “thoughtful” with words that she may or may not understand. She does all this  in an effort to assuage her own harsh judgment. Of course, this is all for naught since she ends up sounding, well, even less clever.

Herein lies the danger of a blog.  For many people a blog can become (or is created to be) a personal diary explicitly designed for the public viewer. There isn’t anything wrong with that but it makes me consider how I utilize this blog.  I wonder if I am being hypocritical by sharing private letters that two people wrote to each other while I would never want my own personal writings to be made public. These letters were not written for the public eye. While this presents certain moral ambiguities, I think Alex and Sylvia’s assumption of privacy is part of what makes the letters so important and worthwhile. The confidential nature of the letters contributes a new narrative to the story of an era that is entrenched in myth and lore, a time known for censorship and propaganda but also for democracy and righteousness. And so we persevere.

7 comments on “Records: public and private

  1. kathy
    May 23, 2010

    What an intersting reflection on the issue of privacy. While these letters were private it is also true that they were not destroyed which means that a decision was made to have them seen. Still, it’s a complicated issue. I love your thoughts about recording events and feelings and what this has meant to you in your life. In this I think you are very much like Sylvia for whom writing was obviously very important…not just for the sake of recording but also for its creative possibilities. Keep it up!

  2. Adrienne
    May 23, 2010

    Molly you are doing a great job and putting those times into perspective for me…..Thank you.

  3. Greg
    May 25, 2010

    Mortified! Time to read some journal entries Molly!

    Interesting post here, particularly the assumption of confidentiality in a letter and the intrusion inherent in discovery.

    P.S. I have a layout quibble. There’s no margin on the left side of these posts and I’m finding it hard to read without that little bit of space. It makes me feel like my horizontal scrollbar isn’t all the way over or something.

  4. Jerry
    May 25, 2010

    Hi Molly — You’ve raised some really interesting and fundamental issues in this post about the writing of history. Because we as historians frequently use sources that were not meant to be public — and indeed, as you point out, the fact that such sources were not meant to be public adds to their authenticity. But we also hope, implicitly, if we are not “famous” and explicitly, if we are “famous” that our ideas and sentiemnts, and ideals, and the meaning that we give to our lives will live on . Most frequently, that is through the influence we have on our famileis and close friends, but when we write and save our writings, that is yet another way that this can occur. So when we use these letters or journals, or other private sources we are helping this process to occur as well as giving those who are reading them a way that they (we) can imagine how those before us have lived our lives.
    Thank you so

  5. Jerry
    May 25, 2010

    Sorry — I hit the wrong button — but what i wanted to end with is to say thank you for raising these issues and thank you for producing such a wonderful blog!!

  6. David
    May 29, 2010

    what an interesting discussion of the historian’s role,responsibilities,and limitations!

  7. Zach
    June 14, 2010

    I missed this comment thread, but wanted to echo that this was a very thoughtful post and raised issues around privacy I had not fully considered. You have clearly balanced the concerns well. This blog is a thoughtful, honest and fair use of these letters and is a benefit to all!

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This entry was posted on May 23, 2010 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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