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Archivist shares the story behind the diary of Samuel Pepys

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On Thursday, Phil Gyford transcribed the final entry from Samuel Pepys’ diary, written 343 years ago to the day. It took the 17th century diarist nine-and-a-half years to conclude his memoirs,  due to poor eyesight. And according to Gyford, it couldn’t have come a moment sooner.

“Although the material itself is interesting, the task of hyperlinking the diary entries was time-consuming and quite dull,” Gyford told the Daily Dot.

When Gyford wrote an article for the BBC about the project at the start of 2003, he predicted it wouldn’t take up much of his time. He was wrong.

Gyford told the Daily Dot that for the past nine years, he’s devoted anywhere between a half day and full day each week to updating the blog.

“You quote me in your article: ‘But with the site built, preparing new diary entries should take little more than an evening or two each month,’” he said. “That was true at the start but three things changed.”

First, Gyford noted, Pepys wrote a lot more in subsequent years than he did the first year.

Second, Gyford became increasingly rigorous in his role as an archivist, adding more and more links to provide background to people, places, and things Pepys referenced for a modern audience. For example, this entry provides text and photos about even the most obscure people referenced, including a woodmonger and someone else’s sister.

“I added links to every single person, building, town, foodstuff... and many more things,” he noted. “Working out who some people were, or finding the precise location of a long-since-vanished place could take quite a while.”

Finally, Gyford began tweeting the diary in April 2008, adding extra time on top of blogging.

“Although the tweets are essentially all Pepys' own words, they required a little judicious editing to fit the 140 character limit,” he said.

Overall, the project was worth it for Gyford. It brought him a bit of media attention in the beginning. After that, it offered him a community of history buffs just as interested in 17th century life as he was. It also made Gyford more-widely known.

“Although my day job is building websites I don't think I've had any paying work directly as a result of the site,” he said. “[I]t can't have hurt that the site was popular, in terms of people hearing about me.

For now, Gyford is content to take a break from side projects, Pepys-related or otherwise.

“My wife is probably very pleased,” he said.

Photo by Matt Locke, Test.org.uk