“A witness is authorized to speak by having been present at an occurrence. A private experience enables a public statement. But the journey from experience (the seen) into words (the said) is precarious… It always involves an epistemological gap whose bridge is fraught with difficulty. No transfusion of consciousness is possible. Words can be exchanged, experiences cannot.”
In his essay out of Media, Culture, and Society, John Durham Peters brings forth provocative realities about the role of a witness. As the above quote demonstrates, it is impossible to truly communicate the act of experiencing an event to an ignorant second party. The “bridge” between witness and words that Peters describes is one that our society has formed in many different fashions. We of course relate verbally; but we also take photographs, write stories, paint pictures, and videotape those experiences in our life that may be of significance to others or ourselves. Visiting an actual holocaust survivor may be the best way to understand the ways of the Nazi regime. The ideal form of coverage the media can provide is “Eye Witness” News interviewing the clerk at a store that was robbed. The examples go on, but the obvious fact is that in order to understand an occurrence we must get as “close” to the actual moment as possible.
In our study of history, a witness is a source possessing raw, authentic proximity to facts. Ideally, all history would be taught from these first-hand observers, but this of course is impossible. Naturally, we turn to the sources that go back lifetimes. War photography text taking us back the furthest. From ancient hieroglyphics to the bible, we see text as the most solid proof we can get about what happened years ago.
divides chroniclers into travelers, pilgrims, creators, apologists, confessors and prisoners. Some write to keep track of their memories, Mallon suggests; others write for spiritual development; or to spark or explore their art. There are those diarists who wish to confess or celebrate sins committed in life or of the flesh; still others, trapped in jails imposed by others or by their own limitations, use diaries to create imaginary lives
Today, as in the past, most diarists are not well-known. They may be students of history, literature, languages and the like; scientists and naturalists who note their discoveries and ideas; and a multitude of others who write for their own spiritual or intellectual growth.
Even though technology has expanded our ability to record information — diaries can be found on paper, computer, video, film, or audio tape — the intrinsic value of diary writing remains the same. The records we leave behind will serve future historians as they attempt to understand the time we live in. What they will deduce about our lives and our society remains to be seen.
Diaries and journals of early Americans are considered an honest, unembellished form — a key to our understanding of the past. The words, often written by ordinary men and women, provide valuable clues as to how people lived. Although the style and the form of diary writing has changed, the content continues to reflect the forces — economic, political, social and technological — that have affected the lives of Americans throughout our history.
. In the 1700s, minister Jonathan Edwards kept detailed records of his duties and castigated himself for his spiritual failures
Among male diarists, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark chronicled their adventures in mapping the Northwest Passage
Now, according to modern historian Margo Culley, the diaries of women became more introspective, a record of an inner life. As more women were educated, they increasingly chronicled their thoughts.
Rebecca Cox Jackson, a free African American woman who would become known as a religious visionary, described her spiritual transformation, in the 1830s.