(His)tory’s in the details: Thoughts on the journal of Daniel C. Rand, 1843

I like to think that most people have some experience with journals-whether its the two-sentences a day that your third grade teacher forced out of you, or that tome that you’ve been adding to faithfully since high school. For me, journaling was never a huge interest– instead I kept notebooks of lists; things to buy, things to do, names I liked, artists that inspired me…on and on until life was itemized and I grew bored. Consequentially, my personal past with the art of the not-so-artful journal gave me a special interest in the latest collection I processed.

Daniel C. Rand attended Wesleyan as a student from 1839-1843, and his journal from that time has fortunately made its way into the Wesleyan collection. Now, I hinted before that my own list-making tendencies drew me closer to Rand’s journal and here’s why: as wonderful and informational as Rand’s volume is, it’s not at all what we would define as a journal in 2010.

Rand used his “journal” as a sort of account book; he kept a ledger of every expenditure he made over the course of about four and a half years. Most of these purchases are books or pencils and other such predictable college necessities, but every once in awhile there’s an entry for a custom-made velvet vest or admittance to a phrenology lecture (you know- that totally legitimate science that mapped out people’s personalities by studying the lumps on their heads!) that inspire a smile.

In theory this could be a pretty boring journal right? A studious, average guy writing about his life in purely economic terms. No emotion, no gossip…what else is there to tempt a reader?

The fact that Rand’s account is so cryptic andĀ  “normal” on the surface makes it even more exciting to read. I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt, sifting through entries about papers and pens and sturdy shoes to find little gems like a trip to New York City and the payment of quarterly dues to the mysterious Pi Omicron Psi society, only ever referred to by symbol. On one page there is mention of a couple cents for dance lessons, and then pages later Rand literally writes out step-by step and turn by turn instructions to the popular dances he was supposed to be learning. I could just see him, 21 years old and sitting in the corner of the class, furiously scribbling down the sequences that he would later practice with a militaristic air of concentration in the privacy of his own room.

Obviously many of the images that I’m presentingĀ  have an editorial bent, but I guess I’m trying to get across the true promise and excitement that these little fragments of stories pose. By digesting Rand’s life in tiny pieces, the reader has both a sense of discovery and imagination. This journal is a really great resource historically– for example, I’m sure you’ll clench your fists when you see the cost of a semester’s tuition in 1841 was $40 — but its also a great base for your own game of connect the dots. Take a look and see what you come up with.

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