This week’s readings cement a concept that is not as obvious as it might sound: facts are a matter of perspective. Similarly, history is a matter of perspective.
An event, any event, can be subjected to a myriad of different narrations, which could be considered veritable if accounting for the storyteller’s background and their angle. Acknowledging this without attempting to arrogate the right of divulging a universal truth is no easy task though. In this sense, the 911 Digital Archive project plays a key role in preserving history as collected from its sources. And with a great sense of acceptance in doing so, which translates into the ability of understanding, and consequently embracing, how everyone lived the same tragic day in different ways.
In this sense, Brier and Brown, in their publication The September 11 Digital Archive, stress the speed at which a system aimed at gathering as many testimonies as possible, both in digital and analog formats, had to be brought to life within days from the attack.
The authors try to go beyond what mainstream media institutions present and ask themselves the question of what consequences the 9/11 attacks generated in everyone’s life including, if not especially, the one of “ordinary” people who were either at work or going to work, those who were floating around the area of the impact, maybe spending the day somewhere in New York City or perhaps somewhere else farther, and others, who were not necessarily on site, but happened to receive a message from someone somehow directly involved.
Their idea of collecting materials, in any form or shape, and from everyone, directly and indirectly, is remarkable, and, in a sense, avant-garde. The concept revolves around the action of gathering testimonies and evidence when facts happen as opposed to wait for them to be brought together by the media or through ‘post-mortem’ research. In this light, the introduction of the role of the archivist-historian is revolutionary, and orbits around the notion of perspective and the creation of a 360-degree viewpoint, or collective history, where everybody has the right, and the channels, to actively contribute.
A similar project is carried out by the curators of Our Marathon, an online accessible archive of photos, stories, and videos of the 15th of April 2013 Boston attack. Once again, the ‘game changer’ is the authors’ modus operandi whose goal is to ensure that the contributions to the platform are crowdsourced and free from potential media manipulation.
Using this approach, new tools to accurately build a collective and democratic history have become progressively available. Platforms like Omeka, CUNY Digital History Archive, and Home – Mukurtu CMS allow everyone to share their experience and perspective. The value of this relatively new way of operating when building archives is immense and, undoubtedly, grows over time. Personally, I feely lucky to live in an era where I am given the opportunity, and the means, to contribute to history with my own experiences and angle. Unlike my grandparents, who were both sent abroad to fight during WWII and witnessed the war’s atrocities, I know I have the luxury of crystallising (and sharing) my day-to-day life and views through the internet and its endless devices, whereas their legacy, and their days in Greece, Germany and Russia, only live in my memory and might soon get lost.