"When You Read This" by Mary Adkins.
history pragmatic historian writing

Leaving Behind a Written Legacy

I finished reading a novel called “When You Read This” by Mary Adkins last night. I bought it at Savers thrift store and was attracted to it by the cover and inside flap text. The general gist of the story is that a woman named Iris has died of cancer and has left behind a blog that she wants her boss to publish as a book.

"When You Read This" by Mary Adkins.
“When You Read This” by Mary Adkins.

The book is written as a series of Iris’s blog posts mixed with emails and texts between her boss and her sister, along with some other random emails and texts from minor characters in the novel.

A novel about a blog? Sign me up!

The story is sweet, funny, and a little sad. The format based on digital communications actually makes for a quick read. It only took me a few days to get through it and I was captivated throughout. Perhaps it’s because reading other people’s emails, texts, and personal blog posts feeds a voyeuristic impulse.

As I came to the conclusion of the book, I couldn’t help but think about all the blog posts, emails, articles, journals, and books I’ve written in my life. I make a habit of dating everything I write, even random notes and To Do lists, because I work in history and I’m irked when I run across a historical resource that isn’t dated. (Maps are the worst! How hard is it to put a date on your map, mapmakers?)

Looking at the volume of my written legacy, I feel a little sorry for my heirs. Unlike Iris, I don’t have a blog that’s only 6 months old. I have multiple blogs I’ve been keeping for years, with hundreds (possibly over a thousand) of blog posts between them. I also have multiple email accounts with thousands of emails in them. Dozens of notebook journals, along with dozens of calendar journals. Not to mention the articles I’ve written over the years and ta few books.

When my Grandpa Jens died, he left behind hundreds of landscapes he had painted over the course of his life. He had no plan for how family would deal with them. When I asked him directly, he said we’d figure it out. That’s easier said than done when family members are scattered across different states, living busy lives.

With the volume of written material I’ve already accumulated, I am going to have to have a plan to help those left behind deal with all of it. The physical materials will be easier to handle than the digital writings, if only because there are no passwords or servers or technical issues to deal with. I just have to get my dated notebooks in order in containers that will help preserve them and decide where they will go.

When it comes to the blogs, in a few cases, I have printed them out in order to make them physical. That helps to preserve the written content, but it’s a terrible way to save the photos, which tend to get split in printing. Plus, I prefer black and white printers to color (less expensive), so none of the colors of my blogs are preserved. In printing out this blog, for example, the printer doesn’t print the black background, which makes the colors visually pop on a computer screen.

Thankfully, this blog has been captured by The Wayback Machine on Archive.org.

When Archive.org got started, the internet was a lot less crowded than it is now and The Wayback Machine seemed to be capturing lots of websites in their entirety. I’m not so sure it does that anymore. It never properly captured The Pragmatic Historian when it was a separate blog from this one. I went to check on this when I decided to roll The Pragmatic Historian into this blog. I had to ask The Wayback Machine to screen-grab the front page of the blog. If I hadn’t done that, I’d have no evidence that The Pragmatic Historian ever existed as a separate entity.

People assume that once something is on the internet, it’ll be there forever. But, it’s very easy to delete a website if you have access to the server-side controls. Once you do that, other than screen-grabs or print-outs by other entities, the site is gone. Poof! And if you don’t pay for your server space, your site will no longer be available online either.

When it comes to my digital writings, I’m going to have to figure out how to provide access into the future. Likely, I will do this through a combination of print-outs and relying on The Wayback Machine. But, for access on The Wayback Machine, I’m going to have to leave behind the web addresses of my blogs that show up there. How else would anyone know where to look?

For those of you with a written legacy, whether on paper or digitally, how are you managing to pass this legacy on to others?