Medium Post #3

I believe that in order to represent the past in the most ethical way possible, historians must hold a strong commitment to an objective portrayal of events and people’s lives. In many cases, the documents and historical texts available to historians is not a complete depiction of exactly what was occurring in the past, and the extent to which they can understand individuals’ thoughts on events is limited. In the case of the “buraku”, Okinawan, and Korean women, historians must make use of the little documents they have in order to represent their history as accurately as possible.

As mentioned in lecture, it is important to note that it is extremely difficult for historians to interpret the thoughts and emotions contained within the writings of the past. Language and cultural barriers between the time of writing and when the historian is analyzing the text do not allow the historian to convey the depth of what is written. However, it is still important for the historian to remain objective, and not subjectively project their own interpretations of the text into a more generalized interpretation of the past. If a historian believed they perfectly understood a person’s thoughts and emotions, and generalized this one person’s account to all those who shared a similar experience, I would not consider this to be an ethical portrayal of the past. A historian must be prepared to acknowledge the fact that some pieces of history were never recorded, and that drawing their own unfounded conclusions could possibly present an inaccurate depiction of the past.

In my own case, I do not think that historians would be able to interpret my thoughts and emotions during this pandemic fully, even with the use of the documentation available to them. By analyzing social media, official documents, and educational records, they may be able to convey a portion of what I am experiencing, but there will always be a lack of adequate documentation to portray the full extent of my emotions and ideas. Historians would have to do their best to represent my life objectively, and be willing to exclude the intricacies of my life that aren’t recorded in text. In addition, would my experiences even be representative of the rest of the US population? There are a great myriad of different people all of whom have incredibly different experiences during the pandemic; how would my story compare to theirs? Is there any one person’s story that is more representative of the total population’s? All these questions raise the point that history is full of different perspectives, and that historians must that them all into account when evaluating the past, while remaining objective towards each.

Furthermore, let’s just say that hypothetically all my emotions and thoughts are recorded clearly in documentation; would I even want historians to narrate my life in depth? Personally, I believe I would be comfortable with this notion, but the same may not go for others. Brand’s idea that some parts of history are too personal to be shared with others is an important concept, as most of the time there is no way of knowing if a person even wants their innermost thoughts represented in the future.

It is impossible to know whether or not the Korean, “buraku”, or Okinawan women wanted their lives narrated by historians. However, I believe the best course of action for historians to take is to stick to an objective representation of the documents, and provide as ethical of a portrayal of the past as they can. By representing the past in its most clear form, and not clouding history through interpretations that may or may not be justified, historians can do justice to peoples’ lives and stories.

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store