This last trimester I am working closely with a very talented senior, who is experimenting with historical fiction set during the Civil War. The story is set in Virginia and told through the eyes of a young Virginia girl. We decided that it might be helpful to base the story on some primary sources so today the two of us headed on over to the Special Collections Department at the University of Virginia. We decided to take a look at Sara Ann Graves Strickler’s wartime diary, which is incredibly rich. I’ve known about the diary for some time, but this was my first opportunity to read it for myself. It was a real treat having the opportunity to share that inexpressible joy that comes with holding an important piece of history. As I like to say, in those brief moments time collapses. We took turns reading random entries to one another and looking to see if Sara addressed specific events during the war. Diaries such as Sara’s get us up close to individual lives and force us to confront the contingency that defined their lives and many of the same hopes, dreams, and fears that animate our own. For my student that connection was reinforced in a shared interest in the French language and literature, the references of which were sprinkled throughout the diary.
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