The power of the pen
I admire people who are able to use the written word to evoke some sort of response or emotion from readers. All it takes is a sentence to spark an idea which could change your mindset or even the world. From my perspective, that’s how powerful I believe words can be.
Contributing to the Timelines of Everyone was a proud moment for me. As I felt a responsibility to ensure my words told rich and more complete stories of people who should be remembered.
Unsurprisingly, history has shown how words and concepts can also be manipulated to shape negative and harmful thoughts and ideas — especially about people. Which is why I regard documentation in the form of writing crucial to countering this manipulation. And why I advocate for the relevance of history — as a subject and a tool — to empower people to share their words and stories. Because you never know who you may resonate with and inspire!
The people I wrote about ranged from more well-known historical figures, to people I had only recently come across and included:
- Nina Simone
- Zora Neale Hurston
- Wangari Maathai
- Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba
- Josephine Baker
- Olaudah Equiano
- Sarah Breedlove
- Rebecca Lee Crumpler
- Policarpa Salavarrieta
- Walt Disney
As a historian it feels unreal to have contributed to a history book for young people. Later on…
Now during the research phase, I began to notice two things.
Firstly, the amount of information available for these individuals differed, a lot. This pointed to a question I have discussed within previous blog posts — who is remembered? If histories about certain people are not documented (whether in writing, photographs, film, oral histories ect or is destroyed) information is lost. Which makes it difficult for historians to pull together an accurate outline of a person (or event).
Whilst studying history at uni, I found that the focus always emphasised on what information was available rather than interrogating absences. Which perhaps explains why several histories are not explored in great detail because little information exists in the first place to guide a historians enquiry. FYI, this is not necessarily an approach I fully agree with however it’s worth pointing out this grey area historians have to navigate.
Secondly, accessing reliable information was mainly behind paywalls. Meaning if you weren’t affiliated with an academic or research institution it would become very difficult to access books or peer-reviewed journals without paying. Which speaks to the broader conversation on who has/ doesn’t have access to knowledge. Some resources from archives and museum collections was a way around paywalls. However, the question of access in terms of which records were digitised, cropped up as another potential barrier of knowledge. And I’m only scratching on the surface in terms of access…
Attitudes are slowly shifting in terms of accessing knowledge. Which is an area I seek to expand into in terms of content I create and contribute towards moving forward …