Scrapbooks can be Diaries and Journals

Each Wednesday, I write a post from my dissertation.

The main difference between most diaries or journals and scrapbooks is that the latter includes photographs along with words instead of just words. Others argue that journals can also contain photographs, so the photographs are not the defining line between a journal and a scrapbook. It seems that journals and diaries may contain photographs, but are thought-led. Scrapbooks, on the other hand, also contain words, but are photograph-led—meaning most memories are scrapbooked because a photograph exists to prompt the memory. Scrapbooks are often photo-led because of the role of photographs in memory. Seabrook (1991:176) argues that photographs serve as a prompt for memories otherwise forgotten and can “release a stream of consciousness.” (Of course, today, we are seeing a push towards story-led scrapbooking instead of photo-led or thought-led scrapbooking.)

Other respondents suggest that scrapbooks are different from diaries and journals because they contain the extras: pattern paper and embellishments, and journals do not. In this sense, the story is essentially the same but the way the story is told differs.

Buckler (2006) argues that diaries, journals, and even letters are distinct from scrapbooks in that the former are briefer. I’m not sure I agree with this understanding of how these formats differ because a scrapbook layout can be very brief (include limited information).

When scrapbookers treat their scrapbook like a diary or journal, they may or may not share those pages with other people. The audiences of the three forms of storytelling are different. Journals and diaries are generally not meant to be shared unlike scrapbooks. Respondents see journals as more private than scrapbooks and diaries as more private than journals. Sometimes scrapbookers explicitly censor their scrapbooks for various reasons. For example, one respondent is making three heritage albums (one for herself and one for each of her brothers). She is intentionally leaving out negative details because she believes her brothers will misunderstand those details. Those negative details, however, are in her version of the heritage scrapbook, just not in her brothers’ versions, which are identical in every other way. Journals and diaries are thought to almost always be private in that one does not just share their contents with others. Scrapbooks, however, are often shared with others, but not always, making them both public and private at the same time.

Some respondents say they keep scrapbooks instead of keeping a diary or a journal, suggesting that scrapbooks, journals, and diaries are all alternatives of the same thing. Others treat their scrapbooks like a diary or a journal some of the time. Still others keep diaries and journals in addition to making scrapbooks. A respondent who keeps both journals and scrapbooks talks about how the journaling differs in each. She had taken a class on scrapbooking and saw examples of what other people were doing. She was surprised to see all of the words on this one page that only had one photograph, “like she was explaining this whole story behind” the photograph. This respondent already did this in her journal, so she did not use many words in her scrapbooks. In sum, some scrapbooks are diaries, some scrapbooks are journals, some scrapbooks are only scrapbooks, and some scrapbooks include dimensions of diaries and journals some of the time.

How are scrapbooks the same as and different from diaries and journals? Join the conversation below or on facebook.


Buckler, Patricia P. 2006. “Letters, Scrapbooks, and History Books: A Personalized Version of the Mexican War, 1846-48.” Pp. 60-78 in The Scrapbook in American Life, edited by S. Tucker, K. Ott, and P. P. Buckler. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Seabrook, Jeremy. 1991. “ ‘My Life is in that Box’.” Pp. 171-85 in Family Snaps: The Meanings of Domestic Photography edited by J. Spence and P. Holland. London, Great Britain: Virago.

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