The Philosophy Behind Witnessing Hiroshima
Historian Max Paul Friedman is fond of reminding his graduate students that “there is one past; but there are many histories.” And indeed, the digital age has proved an auspicious time for budding historians to confront a singular past and a multitude of competing and often disparate historical narratives. Few events in American history are as emotionally charged as the August, 1945, bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They have centered in heated debates over national identity, legacy, and memory that have persisted well into the twenty-first century. While historians have engaged in rigorous debates around the United States’ decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, these discussions have not reached a majority of American public.
Witnessing Hiroshima is an interactive exhibit and crowd-sourcing project that seeks to mediate historical scholarship, primary and secondary sources, and public engagement. Through a sensitive and active engagement with the general public, historian Michael Frisch writes, history can “provide the basis for shared reimagination[s] of how the past connects to the present, and the possibilities this vantage suggests for the future.”(Frisch, xxiii) New media has expanded this space of negotiated authority almost exponentially.
What has been created is a more fluid alternative to the traditional historical exhibit that encourages actors of the past and visitors of the present to insert their voices into the prevailing story of the atomic bomb and nuclear history. The ultimate aim of this project is to produce creative and potentially disruptive alternatives that will expose
“that paradox by which people need to find the past recognizable, as textured and as human as the present, in order to appreciate its complexity and reality, yet at the same time need to appreciate that history means differences as well–in the way things worked, the way people thought and lived and what they valued.” (Frisch, 260)
Amy Langford is a graduate student pursuing her doctorate in American history at American University in Washington, DC. Her advisor is Dr. Peter J. Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute and author of Untold History of the United States, the companion text to Oliver Stone’s ten-part Showtime documentary series. The following project was inspired by previous work completed at *justfootnoteit.wordpress.com and created as a final project for the Spring 2013 course: History and New Media, taught by Dr. Daniel Kerr, author of Derelict Paradise: Homelessness and Urban Development in Cleveland, Ohio.
The author would like to express her gratitude for the intellectual contributions made by her cohorts- Allen Pietrobon, Thomas Kenning, Alison Kootstra, and Michael Youngborg.