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Who Decides How History Gets Recorded?

Never doubt that a small groupof thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

After tragic events, as most recently evident in Gaza, Ukraine, Syria, and Ferguson, there is always a swarm of headlines that follows. Often times, the media spotlight around these stories can become a sensationalized frenzy blinded by heavy speculation. This begs to ask how we outsiders bear witness to events and what exactly is it that draws us so closely to pain and tragedy?

In the aftermath of tragic events, communities come together not only to alleviate the situation, but also to lend insight into the injustice and suffering hoping that these events can be prevented for future generations. This marks our best attempt to prevent the cursory path of history repeating itself. Beyond the direct community, there is a fascinating responsibility left for journalists and photojournalists to document how these events get written.

While the loudest, most apparent voice present in media may be that of the writer, news anchor or photographer, the most powerful is the gained voice. If instead of trying to impose a subjective understanding, the journalist presents the story in an unbiased way that allows the stories of those directly involved to transpire beyond the bound pages of history.

This shows how the responsibility to record history is not left solely in the hands of journalists. With the mass amounts of information circulating the web, each of us has the responsibility to be mindful individuals by using these readily available tools. With this, every individual has the power to decipher all the circular muddled conversation and use their own voice to impact global affairs.

One crowdfunding project I’ve been extremely proud to be a part of is citizen journalist Brown Moses’ site, Bellingcat. The site is a supreme example of how a small, dedicated group of individuals can change the history books. In the first two weeks of operation since the Kickstarter campaign, the site already went on to pinpoint the location of a Buk launcher in the procession of pro-Russian rebels, locate a training camp for Islamic militants, and source the true perpetrators of the Sarin attacks in Damascus last year.

We are left with the beginning questions of what should history mean and why we should be obsessed with that question. In filling this absent place, the importance of names takes over. This summer we all felt the impact of Michael Brown, James Foley, and Robin Williams, each a human with a face to give reality to events that occur. At this point, we as readers and viewers are again able to question the objectivity of accounts and formulate personal understanding based on the ability to empathize and connect with another individual.

In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton describes this best in writing “It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value. Acquaintance with grief turns out to be one of the more unusual prerequisites of architectural appreciation. We might, quite aside from all other requirements, need to be a little sad before buildings can properly touch us.”

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