The Prozhito Web Archive of Diaries: A Resource for Digital Humanists

Originally published in March 2019 NewsNet.

Figure 1. Front page.


The Prozhito Web Archive of Diaries: A Resource for Digital Humanists


The Slavic Digital Humanities working group of ASEEES is proud to present the Prozhito project ( in an inaugural Digital Project spotlight section.

Prozhito is a searchable digital corpus of Russian- and Ukrainian-language diaries. The ultimate goal of Prozhito is to create a digital gateway to understanding diaries with DH tools and methods. Prozhito started in April 2015 with 100 diaries containing 30,000 entries.  Over the years the project has expanded and today Prozhito gives users access to over 3,000 diaries with over 300,000 daily entries. At the upcoming ASEEES conference in San Francisco, Slavic DH will host its second annual pre-conference event. Those interested in DH will have the opportunity to work with experts in diary studies to discuss options to enhance Prozhito’s collection and to make it more usable for researchers. Through this article and our pre-conference event, Slavic DH group invites all interested to learn how to incorporate this type of resource into their own research and teaching.

Originally, Prozhito’s founder, the Moscow-based historian Misha Mel’nichenko, planned to collect only Soviet diaries. With the second version of Prozhito, launched in spring 2016, the team began collecting diaries from before 1917 and after 1991. The majority of the uploaded diaries still date from the 20th century. The majorityof the diary entries in the collection concentrate on two key periods of Russian history: the 1917 revolutions and World War II. One subset of diaries starts roughly in 1916 and goes to about 1924. The other major subset starts in 1940 and lasts until 1946. At this point Prozhito has also collected about two hundred diaries written during the siege of Leningrad. The Ukrainianlanguage section of Prozhito contains many diaries from the members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. All diaries are in their original language without translation.

Prozhito’s founders were able to upload a large number of diaries into the archive through a simple Microsoft Word mark-up that parsed the full text of a diary into individual daily entries and created a searchable .xml file that went directly onto the website.

Prozhito’s search functions allow a user to parse diaries by date, author, gender, and age. Also, the diaries are tagged by theme and genre: travel, family, weather, military, etc.. Researchers can assemble a corpus of selected authors within the website and search only the desired diaries.

The Prozhito team publishes diaries as they find them in a manuscript or a previous publication without additional commentary. When working with a published diary, Prozhito does not aim to correct or edit the publication within the manuscript. The volunteers, however, try to preserve the results of publishers’ work as much as possible, that is, without any typos or alterations.

Due to the nature of diary writing, some potentially unreliable sources are present in the corpus. Often these are the Soviet editions of military diaries that were heavily edited, censored, or written from scratch for publication. Nevertheless, Prozhito includes such texts into the archive, voicing doubts about their authenticity in the author’s profile. If desired, such texts can be excluded from the search.

The Prozhito team tries to get the permission for presenting the diary online from the author, their heirs, the editor, or the publisher. If it is impossible to find any contact information, the text is loaded into the archive without full-text access. The text of the diary, however, is available in the search results. If a user searches for a word that appears in one of the records in this diary, they will receive one diary entry containing this word, but they will not be able to read the entire text. The Prozhito team uses this mode to upload newly published diaries contributed by publishing houses that are under active copyright. For example, all the diaries published by the academic publishing house Kuchkovo Pole are available in the Prozhito search and the project users can buy printed versions of the diary in the publisher’s store at a discount.

In exchange for the ability to use these texts in the project, Prozhito returns digital copies of the transcribed and verified diary manuscripts to the author, their heirs, or the owner of the manuscript before publication. At this point the copyright holders have a chance to exclude any parts of the diary that they deem unacceptable for publication in the Prozhito archive.

In the vast majority of cases, the fragments that are edited out contain one or a combination of the following issues:

  • records of negative emotions caused by relatives and friends;

  • negative assessments of others;

  • anti-Semitic remarks;

  • descriptions of reprehensible stories (participation in theft or fraud, adultery);

  • description of sexual practices, desires and fantasies.

Also, some heirs have repeatedly voiced refusals to publish the earliest and latest records, as the authors created them in years of “insufficient intellectual strength”. When discussing specific cases, project participants try to minimize exemptions and propose replacing the names of the persons involved with initials, but ultimately always accept the will of the owners or managers of the manuscript.

Community and Collaborative Work

The work’s scope is colossal both in terms of the number of texts and human participants. The project has revealed more than 2,000 published Russian-language diaries ranging from a few pages to ten volumes. The project also came across more than 1,200 texts in electronic form. Finally, Prozhito acquired 120 unpublished manuscripts through their owners and their relatives. Dozens of participants were needed to partake in the searching, scanning, transcribing, verification, and marking up of the texts. To do this work, the Prozhito team created a volunteer community.

By way of the media, social networks, and word of mouth, Prozhito assembed over 500 volunteers interested in working with other people’s diaries. The volunteers connect with the project team either through email or through social networks. Each diary in Prozhito has one of several statuses: “needs formatting,” “needs transcribing,” or “needs text.” Anyone can search for a list of diaries with a specific status to fit their preference. Upon receiving an email from a volunteer, a volunteer organizer writes back with simple rules for working with published texts and manuscripts, a list of manuscripts, and a list of diaries that need formatting according to Prozhito rules. Another option is to subscribe to the Prozhito newsletter, which sends out volunteer assignments monthly. Each month the organizers send a list of diaries thatneed work with estimated completion times for each task and the subscribers are free to choose the tasks that fit their interests. After communication about the tasks, organizers send the volunteers the project materials. Volunteers do the work at their own pace but are encouraged to complete assignments in reasonable time. Upon completion, the Prozhito team uploads the resulting materials to the website.

Collaborative work on the Prozhito project has not been limited to individuals working from home. The project has evolved to include workshops, or laboratorii, which commenced in Moscow in 2016 and have now been held in several Russian cities including Irkutsk, Perm, and Smolensk. Prozhito has also organized guided practicums for students of the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Both workshops and practicums serve as an excellent model to further collaborative research as well as to foster discussion of diary sources in a classroom setting. Prozhito workshops allow volunteers to engage with a diary and work together to decipher the passages. Workshop participants each receive several scanned pages of a diary and then have about 40minutes (several days for a practicum) to transcribe the text. Then, all participants discuss their diary parts, what was interesting, the questions they had, and the things they had trouble reading with the others. These activities lead to excellent dialogs between participants, and the ultimate realization that diaries are a source of surprising and amusing details about life in Soviet society.

Prozhito works without institutional support. Thus its successes are dependent on the work of its volunteers. Nevertheless, the project was able to collect the diaries of major Russian 19th- and 20th-century intellectuals, as well as the diaries of regular working-class people. The ASEEES pre-conference event hopes to put Prozhito into a dialogue with English-speaking researchers and DH-specialists to bring the Russian, Ukrainian, and Soviet 20th-century experience from the diaries into the university classrooms and publications worldwide. Prozhito’s founders hope that their work collecting diaries will go on and be of service to researchers internationally, not only through its current digital tools and workshops, but also through innovations and new collaborations.

Since 2015, Misha Mel’nichenko has been working to upload pages of diaries to his digital repository project, Prozhito. Since its inception, Prozhito has compiled over 35,000 entries from Russian and Ukrainian diaries, most dating to the Russian Civil War and the Great Patriotic War.

Svetlana Rasmussen is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, expecting to defend her dissertation “Rearing the Collective: Evolution of the Soviet School Values and Practices, 1953 -1968” in Spring 2019.

Susan Grunewald is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Carnegie Mellon University, expecting to defend her dissertation in May 2019.