Conclusion: Pandemic Ephemera & Selfhood
Mary McDonald's diaries are a fascinating entry point to rural Canadian life in the late 1910s, particularly and acutely through the lens of womanhood and familial-community connections. Although McDonald occasionally mentions global events and specific details about illnesses - and it is interesting and notable when she does - the diary as an overall set of texts was not intended to be a detailed self-constructive project, or a careful recording of political events from a certain time period. In not being and doing these things, the diary nuances what might automatically be considered historically relevant. When a history student thinks about 1917-1919, their mind likely jumps to WWI and will be tempted to analyse products from this time with WWI in mind - as we have done in certain pages of this exhibit! McDonald's diaries help us to reinterpret historical ephemera and appreciate the way that domestic affairs can form valuable historical accounts.
However, despite McDonald's lack of narrative impulse, as scholar Judy Lensink suggested in a 1987 article, we should avoid seeing her diary as merely a historical artefact, devoid of personhood or individuality. McDonald was certainly a complex person embedded in layers of community and global happenings. Her diaries are indicative of the diary traditions and social climate of the time in her context, as much as they are indicative of a specific women's specific day-to-day activities.
In recent decades, the focus on diary-writing in academic settings has expanded beyond male writers from the Anglosphere; our exhibit has aimed to contrast McDonald’s diary against the proliferous recording and journaling that is assumed of diarists historically and that is being encouraged in some sociocultural contexts during the COVID-19 pandemic (ongoing, as this exhibit was compiled). There is perhaps an impulse to "preserve" memories or ephemera from a historically important time - like the Spanish Flu, or the COVID-19 pandemic - but such an impulse is largely absent from McDonald's diaries. We invite viewers of this exhibit to reflect upon their own diary-keeping or recording practices, particularly during historically significant time periods.
Do you record the day-to-day activities?
Do you record major political events?
Are you too drained or stressed out to record much at all?