A ‘gift to the nation’: the diaries and notebooks of CEW Bean
How can we know what we think we know? Postmodernism insists that we can't. Seekers of historical knowledge have long looked in archives to understand the past but, as has often been discussed in archival literature, even archives are not the still points in a turning world we might have hoped for. It is not just that some records are privileged because they are selected for long-term preservation as archives while others are not. Even the records that do make it into the archives often have multifarious histories, both before and after they cross the threshold. Canadian archivist Tom Nesmith has noted that the processes by which a record is created are complex, and that a record rarely comes to us unchanged from its initial inscription. These processes expand the evidence a record can carry, and he encourages us to understand 'the record we now have'. This article takes up that challenge by examining the diaries and notebooks of Charles Bean, official war correspondent and historian of Australia's part in World War I. Bean's diaries and notebooks offer a particularly rich example of how knowledge of the history of a record expands the evidence it can carry.