Opening a window to the past: researching archival diaries

This online research guide provides instruction on reading, understanding and researching a range of archival diaries available for research at the Glucksman Library.

This resource is designed to assist students and researchers at all levels with their research. It is based on three diaries held in the University of Limerick‘s Special Collections and Archives Department. Using these diaries as working examples, it aims to build basic archival and information literacy, and outline useful historical research methods. Its five lessons offer both a broad introduction to the work of the Special Collections and Archives Department and its collections, as well as specific research advice relating to historic research methods, the consultation of archival diaries as sources for social history, and guidance relating to the reading and transcription of archival sources.

Click on the ‘Opening a window to the past’ logo on each page to return to the homepage at any time.

This project is a collaboration between the Special Collections and Archives Department at the Glucksman Library and UL’s Department of History. It was funded by the National Forum for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and launched in 2021. Read more about the project here.


Kirsten Mulrennan and Rachel Murphy, 'Opening a window to the past: Researching archival diaries', University of Limerick Special Collections and Archives Department website ( (Date accessed).


The main body of the resource is divided into five key lessons, supplemented with digitised diaries and reading lists

Lessons can be read sequentially or as stand-alone guides to individual topics, depending on area of interest

The lessons are designed for students at all levels, and increase in difficulty as you progress

Keep an eye out for the 'Did you know?' icon for more research hints and tips as you progress

Test your knowledge as you progress with optional quizzes and interactive document analysis

Learn as you play our interactive 'Escape Room' game, using clues from real archival diaries

Key lessons

Level 1: Introduction to historical and archival research

Historical research

A beginner's guide to historical research

Archival research

A beginner's guide to archival research

Level 2: Archival diaries in depth

Diaries as sources for research

Using archival diaries for historical research and analysis

Document analysis

Critically analysing diaries as archival objects

Handwriting and transcription

Understanding and transcribing different types of handwriting

Key diaries: collection context and archival biographies

about: diary 1

Henry William Massy (Massy Collection)

about: diary 2

William Massey Blennerhassett (Glin Collection)

about: diary 3

Winona Rosalie 'Jess' Armstrong (Armstrong Collection)

Key diaries: full digital copies available through UL Digital Library

scan: diary 1

Massy's digitised diary, entries recorded 1839–1842

scan: diary 2

Blennerhassett's digitised diary, entries recorded 1861–1865

scan: diary 3

Armstrong's digitised diary, entries recorded 1914

Key diary samples: interactive document analysis

sample: diary 1

Sample of Massy's diary

sample: diary 2

Sample of Blennerhassett's diary

sample: diary 3

Sample of Armstrong's diary

Discovering archival diaries: interactive game

This ‘escape-room’ style game brings archival diaries to life in a fun and interactive way. Solve all five puzzles to win!

While gathering clues and evidence based on the three digitised diaries used throughout this resource, test some of the research skills you have learned, in particular reading and understanding different forms of handwriting.

The diary challenge

Further reading and resources

Project reading list

Further reading and useful resources

About the project

Project methodology and team