So I've come across a term that is new to me: "Life-writing." Apparently, this is an entire field of study devoted to all the means of documenting a person's life, whether it's something as simple as a daily journal, or as detailed as an historical biography.
And when I say field of study, I mean just that. Universities, particularly in the UK, have built entire departments around the topic of life-writing. For example, there's the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at the University of Oxford, the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King's College London, and the Life Writing Research Program at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.
From the Lingnan program site:
Life writing is a field devoted to the study and creation of narratives which focus on individual lives. Now a large and vibrant international field, life writing includes the writing and study of autobiography, biography, oral history, journals, letters, journalistic profiles, autobiographical filmmaking and much else.
The King's College program takes the concept even further, including not only standard biographies and memoirs, but even portraiture and medical case studies...anything that involves the documenting of human life.
I find this idea fascinating, that writing about life is a distinct, unified field. Not just historians and journalists writing biographies, celebrities and famous thinkers writing memoirs, people like us writing journals, all separate and disconnected.
And what's really cool here is that because this is an area of study, it is also an area of education. You can take classes in life-writing (and here and here), learning how to develop insights into past relationships, how to establish your voice and sense of person, and how to put life events into historical and cultural context. There also are books, including the Arvon Book of Life Writing.
I think anyone who keeps a journal, especially if that person intends to pass that journal on someday, could benefit from some life-writing study. If you've already taken a class or attended a lecture, I'd love to know how it went.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself casting about for ideas of what to write in your journal, Marelisa at the Daring to Live Life Fully blog has compiled an outstanding list of 119 journal-writing prompts.