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[Detail] The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865

Chronological Thinking: Continuity and Change Over Time

At the end of Volume 2 of his diaries, Horatio Nelson Taft includes some information about his family history. Reflecting on how valuable a diary written by his grandmother would have been, he wonders about the value of his own diary:

The present always looks common place to us because every one around us knows the same that we ourselves do, and in noting down the events of today (if there were no rebellion or anything else unusual to note). We do not realize how interesting it would be for our decendants fifty or a hundred years hence to read the Simple record of our daily life. How and where we lived, and what we did and saw from day to day. In our common self conceit we are apt to think that half a Century hence all things will be moveing on as they are now in the world, that our habits and manner of living and ways of thinking will all be the same to those on the Stage then. That we have nearly if not quite reached perfection as regards improvements &c. Our Fathers thought about the same thing fifty years ago. But Steam Boats and Rail Roads and the Electric Telegraph have all come into use since then. A hundred years ago the Steam Engine (which is Revolutionizing the World) was realy not known. . . . What we now know, our boasted discoveries and improvements, may then [50 years from now] be looked upon with disdain and be left quite in the shade.

From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865. Volume 2, Family History, June 1860"
  • To what extent do you agree that a historical diary is especially valuable in helping one's descendants identify "how and where we lived, and what we did and saw from day to day"? Explain your answer.
  • As you think about what Horatio Nelson Taft did and saw on a daily basis, what evidence do you see of change over time? That is, how is what you do and see on a daily basis different from what Taft saw and did? What evidence do you see of continuity? That is, how is what you do and see similar to what Taft saw and did?
  • List two factors you think account for change between the Civil War era and today. List two factors you think account for similarities.
  • Do you think that today's technologies will "be looked upon with disdain and be left quite in the shade" in 50 years' time? Explain your answer, drawing upon your observations regarding changes since the Civil War era.