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Arvydas Pacevicius




LEGODOK (Lithuanian Egodocumental Heritage)



The aims of this presentation are following: (a) to present the overview of the major deposits of ego-documents (ED) in Lithuania; (b) to characterize how they, as historical sources, are being published and researched; (c) to discuss perspectives of their digitalization. Shortage of time does not allow me to go into theoretical considerations about the issues of the typology of these documents which are complex both in form and in content. But I want to note that the concept of ego-document has not been developed in Lithuanian scholarly discourse. Historians employ the concept of personal document, as opposed to pragmatic document; literary theorists propose the concept of intimate writings, which, according to the Encyclopaedia of Lithuanian Literature (Lietuvių literatūros enciklopedija), comprise four genres: Memoirs, Diary, Autobiography, and Letters

Table 1 

The genres of intimate writings according to the Encyclopaedia of Lithuanian Literature 

Term (in English)

Terms (in other languages)


(in Lithuanian)








Atsiminimai; Prisiminimai

One of the oldest narrative forms which was born as an expression of emerging historical self-awareness





Dated notes which record events of the day, observations, and experiences; a narrative form and a narrative genre.






A narrative of recollections about oneself, organized chronologically or in problematic sections





The oldest form of written communication, with its own developed ethics and stylistics, ranging from an official report to an intimate tone.

 It is obvious that the classification of ego-documents in Table 1 fails to encompass their historical variety in Lithuania, although, defining the manuscript books of the gentry who, since the 17th century, had texts copied from the books which they found interesting, historians have taken up the term silva rerum (Latin woods of things). 

Unlike pragmatic writings, intimate writings, as well as EDs, concern private, as opposed to public, life. Not only those who wrote intimate diaries, but also the authors of publicly well-known memoirs had a clear view of the line, dividing public writing from private one. So this is what Stanislaw Morawski, nobleman, doctor, one of the generation of Philomats, wrote to his friend Francisk Malewski in 1849 about his Memoirs of a Recluse (1812–25): “I have burnt quite a lot of what I had written, but some things still remain. They are a sort of reminiscences, anecdotal memoirs… Although twenty five years have already passed, these writings must remain unpublished for some twenty five years more, because of the personalities [described there]. Even if those people have already passed away, their children are among us.” (Incidentally, the first edition of Morawski’s Memoirs was published after 75 years, in 1924.) Count Michał Kleofas Ogiński, the author of the polonaise “Farewell to the Fatherland”, wrote in the preface to the addenda to his Memoirs (1826–1827), unpublished to this day (kept in the Manuscript Departament of Vilnius University): “After my death the Memoirs will be passed to my wife and will forever stay in the family archives. I have put therein all the facts that I did not want to publish in my Memoirs. By the way, ego-documents used to be hidden and literally locked away from the people around. A lock in the shape of the heart is symbolic of sincerity and purity in the eyes of God. Generally, in this presentation I base the notion of ego-document on the concept of Jacob Presser: open, autobiographical writing in the first person, for oneself and for one’s  close relatives. 

I.  Deposits of ego-documents, or what is hidden behind locks? 

In Lithuania ED are stored in various institutions of memory: in archives, libraries, museums. The biggest resources are in the libraries of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences and of Vilnius University. Notable examples: important in the context of European and even of world culture and scholarship, Memoirs of professor of Vilnius University Joseph Frank written in French; they should be made available to the general public in full, without cuts. Addenda to the Memoirs of Oginski, which we have already mentioned here, should also be published as soon as possible, or made available on-line in digitalized form. Because these Addenda, unknown neither to the general public, nor to the scholars, symbolically mark the end of the Romantic era and of the statehood not just in Lithuania, but also in the entire historical region which became part of the Russian Empire. In addition to those ED, representing the culture of the elite, there are the unique 40 volume Diaries (1911–45) of Michal Römer (1880–1945) whose identity has international dimensions. According to his biographer Zbigniew Solak (who died so prematurely), the Diaries, with their monumental scope and originality, “have nothing equal in the Polish-language memoirs”. The Memoirs of Ignotas Domeika (Demeyko) (1802–1889), philomat, Vilnius University graduate and émigré, mineralogist and Rector of the University of Santiago, Chile, also await public continuation and international dissemination. Obviously, these ED are just the visible tip of the iceberg of the sources of autobiographical character in Lithuania; along the slopes and at the foot we can find massive ED, reflecting the mentality of the gentry and its changes, monogenic in form or even in content. Such as, for instance: (a) travel diaries, including those by women; descriptions reflecting new routes, for example, to St Petersburg in 1797; (b) diaries and memoirs of exile. Among them the Diary of Tomas Zan is especially interesting, stored in the Lithuanian State History Archive, not yet published in full; (c) diaries of young maidens of nobility, among which especially notable are the texts of the Fräulein of Oginski, interspersed with herbaria; (d) mothers’ diaries, written for children (when they will be grown-ups). 

Unfortunately, those ED which used to be current in wider social sections, especially serial and mass ones, are represented only in fragments in institutional depositaries (private archives in Lithuania are not yet well recovered and restored after the Soviet repressions). It has to emphasized that this situation is a remnant of the Soviet era, when ego-documents were viewed as unreliable, misleading and (as produced by class enemy) even hostile sources. Honest librarians used to hide them in remote corners of repositories, so as to preserve them from destruction. I must also mention notes written by the clergy, lower gentry and even peasantry. They can be found in the form of diaries of discipline, books of spiritual exercises, and even in confessions of the peasants who were toadying to the Czarist authorities. We can mention the following examples: Diary of a minor Lithuanian nobleman who studied in the College of Sankt Theresa in Vienna in mid 18th century; reflections of nuns written in the first person in the first half of the 18th century; “The Memory Booklet of the Life of a Martyr” in broken Russian by a peasant from Panevėžys region Antanas Bernotas. (Incidentally, this peasant was a spy recruited by the Czarist police, and he informed against the rebels of 1863.) There is a great number of autobiographical, memorial, professional and everyday-life handwritten entries in calendars and other publications; both in their form and in content, they can be seen as comprising the group of serial ED. Especially important are entries reflecting the Protestant mentality and its stability, mostly by the head of the family, not just about the farm and the household, but about the family as well. In this sub-culture/ sub-confession, attention devoted to the offspring was obviously greater than in the dominant Roman Catholic setting. Writings of this kind, namely a chronicle put down into a family Bible generation after generation, have been mentioned by the famous artist of Lithuanian origin, Jonas Mekas, in his Reminiscences. Family chronicles, which, quite probably, were the earliest Lithuanian ego-document writings, can be also found in the kitabi of Lithuanian Tartars or in the imionniki of Orthodox Old-Believers, etc. 

II. Research of ego-documents 

In Lithuania there has been no focused research, targeting ego-documents as a complex whole. Scholars use EDs as sources of their routine work, and there have been attempts to analyze and actualize single EDs in critical publications of sources. For instance, in the preface to the Lithuanian edition (1998) of the Memoirs of the 16th century Belarusian nobleman of GDL Theodor Jawlaszowski there is an emphasis on their importance for the emergence of the modern Lithuanian historical self-awareness and for a more mature national identity. On the other hand, some insights, based on ED analysis, apparently led to the following conclusion: in late 19th century, Lithuanian intelligentsia, emerging together with the modern society, lost the ability to write authentically about one’s own person and one’s family, as the attention was fully diverted towards external (social, political) matters. “Etno-National issues now overshadowed the vagaries of private life. The book smuggler Juozas Rimša opens his autobiography with the sentence: ‘My family has been living in the Lithuanian spirit’. There is no more information about the family in this autobiography… This paradox has produced real difficulties for the research of 19th century family history, just because of the lack of empirical data for any exhaustive analysis. On the other hand, it implies a crucial problem: why the public interest in and theorizing on family issues by the national intelligentsia in late 19th and early 20th century was not reflected in their own notes and letters?” These questions are fundamental, methodological. They could only be answered after publicly displaying more extensive lists of ego-documents and after making a comparative analysis of them not just on a Lithuanian, but on a regional and European scale. Meanwhile we shall state that in Lithuania ED are researched through the lens of the old Lithuanian writings and of the book history. Valuable monuments of the old writings, together with analytical studies, have been published in the Ištakos (Sources) series by the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore: these are the already mentioned Memoirs of Jawlaszowski, Diary of the Travels through the German, Czech and Italian Lands (2003) by the Samogitian nobleman Theodore Billewicz (1655–1724), and others. Attempts to understand better the phenomenon of the silva rerum have been helped by the publication of the “Home Notes” of the Roman Catholic Bishop Motiejus Valančius (Wolonczewski). A number of studies (by Zigmas Zinkevičius, Vytautas Ališauskas) have explored the issue of the genesis of both pragmatic writings and ED. In addition to the links of the ego-documents to the economic development of the individual (family) household, rightly emphasised in the historiography, we can stress the aspect of the desacralization of writing and of books; because, in the historical Lithuania, as early as in the 15th century there were the beginnings, and in the 16th century an abundance of scribblings in the sacred books and in the works of law (later these developed into separate types of ego-documents). Thus, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in the 16th century memoirs were already known as an autonomous and quite mature genre, represented by the above mentioned judge Theodore Jalaszowski of the Nowogrodek land court. On the other hand, traditionally strong book history studies in Lithuania persuasively show that the forms of manuscript book culture, together with the accompanying written communication, were abundant and widespread, parallel to or even surpassing the culture of the printed book, which was spreading in the Gutenberg Galaxy. This is expressively testified by the collections of marginal writings, which even have traits of the format and content of the shortest forms of literature. Within those writings, a special subspecies of ego-documents can be identified, the marginal portrait, which has been studied from an interinstitutional and interdisciplinary viewpoint. Preliminary research shows that these unique “satellites” of pragmatic writings, as well as of printed texts, can be supplemented by marginal portraits of ego-documents and by graffiti illustrations. 

III. Perspectives of the digitalization of ego documents 

The listing and research of EDs is inseparable from digitalization, in our times unavoidable. The digitalization of the cultural heritage in Lithuania is being implemented on the basis of the approved state strategy (with the help of structural funds of the EU), co-ordinated by the Ministry of Culture. Regrettably, only a marginal place is given to scientific research in this strategy, but the situation should improve soon, with the launching of the National Scientific Research Program, first of its kind in the history of independent Lithuania, named “The State and the Nation: Heritage and Identity”. It provides for complex studies of the cultural heritage, and digitalization is recognized as applied scientific activities, indispensible for fundamental and interdisciplinary research. Digitalization of EDs and their placement on-line, and the establishment of relevant data bases is related to the expanding information system (the project of the European digital library), as well as to local projects,, 


Lithuanian state institutions of memory possess ego-documents of European value, some of which are unique, although serial texts and those reflecting the history of everyday life have been neither methodically listed nor provisionally researched. In spite of unfavourable general line of the institutions of memory which carry out conservation without public dissemination, and in spite of unsettled terminology, opportunities for provisional and topical-analytical ED research, as well as for applied digitalization research (establishment of data bases and of a model of information system) are good. Methodical assistance of EU countries would be of utmost importance, as well as common comparative studies of ego-documents, with the subsequent integration of the results into the European space of information science and communication.