From Quantified to Qualified Self. Self-tracking in Dutch diaries (1780-1940)

Activity: Talk and presentationAcademic presentationAcademic


In ‘The Patient’s View: Doing Medical History from Below’ Roy Porter suggested that diaries and correspondence would be the ultimate sources for the study of the patient’s perspective. These autobiographical sources, also termed ‘ego-documents’, have indeed turned out to be rich sources for the social and cultural history of medicine and health, but also very complicated ones. It is imperative to involve insights from the field of life writing and autobiographical studies for the interpretation of these sources, for example about narrativity and subjectivity. In this presentation, Leonieke focusses on a selection of Dutch diaries from the 19th and early 20th century, which will be analyzed as precursors of present-day self-tracking and the ‘Quantified Self’ movement. In recent years a variety of mobile apps and wearable technologies have emerged that allow individuals to track their daily steps, caloric burn, heart rate, sleep, stress levels, menstrual cycle, fertility and even masturbation habits. Wearable activity trackers like the Fitbit and the Apple Watch have become widely adopted. The ‘quantified self’ in effect often becomes the ‘qualified self’, because tracking data is not simply about the data, but involves the interpretation and assessment of data. Self-trackers use the data for identity meanings, to construct the stories that they tell themselves about themselves and often share these stories with others. Which similarities and differences can be observed between the ‘story’ that results from digital technology like self-tracking apps and wearables and the historical examples of monitoring bodily processes in paper diaries?
Event titleHistory Health and Healing spring meeting: History from below revisited
Event typeSeminar
Degree of RecognitionInternational