The Changing Self: Using Personal Documents to Study Lives


  • The authors are indebted to David G Winter for his assistance in conceptualizing and executing a number of transformations of the data necessary for various analyses In addition, we are indebted to him, Michael Apter, Augusto Blasi, Ravenna Helson, and Robert Sears for encouragement, suggestions, and feedback at various stages in the research and writing processes We also are grateful to Elizabeth Paul for clarifying the discussion of scoring category definitions and Brittain's personality, and to Dan P McAdams, Richard Ochberg, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful responses to a previous version of the manuscript

  • We also would like to thank the staff of the Division of Archives and Research Collections, McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Ontario, for their assistance in using the materials from Vera Brittain's archives housed there Finally, we would like to thank Alan Bishop of McMaster University for lending us many of his own research materials, and for many pleasant and informative conversations about Vera Brittain

Requests for reprints should be addressed to Abigail J Stewart, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 580 Union Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109


ABSTRACT In this paper we describe a technique for coding expressions of preoccupation with aspects of the adult self in personal documents and retrospective autobiographical writings In particular we explore the value of this approach by analyzing themes of identity, intimacy, and generativity expressed in Vera Brittain's diary and correspondence, written during her adolescence in World War I, and in her retrospective autobiographical account of that period in her life Analyses aim to use Erikson's theory of personality development to describe her psychological experience at the time and to compare that account with the later one