Much of recorded history is often Eurocentric and focused on upper-class men, rather than addressing the life experiences of marginalized groups such as women and minorities. The result of which being that their experiences are often dismissed.
This leads to the discussion of the ethics of history-writing. Since the advent of social history in the 1960s, an emphasis has been placed on learning and researching these marginalized voices from the past. However, the ethics of history-writing in relation to these groups are quite complex and can be difficult to comply with. Writing about another person’s history is especially difficult as there is often no way to get consent to probe their history and derive conclusions from the historical artifacts/accounts they left behind. I believe the kind of history-writing that is ethical is one that attempts to be as “true” to history as possible and not trying to use that person’s history in order to push an agenda. Being as objective and “true” in history-writing is difficult as the history passed down is essentially a very long telephone game with the truth being obscured by errors such as mistranslations, biases from the people that recorded history, and even the biases of those trying to derive findings from history.
There are many ways to approach history writing and research in a way that is respectful to those whose pasts we are digging into. One way is to approach the primary sources and artifacts left behind with the intent of simply learning more about their life experiences from an objective point of view, not with the intent of gathering information to support something you are writing. By objective, I mean focusing on exactly what was stated in the sources, and not work on interpretations until after the most objective data has been gathered. Although difficult, I personally feel that conducting historical research in that way is the best way to ensure that you are not misusing someone else's history. Although treating people’s history is a given, it is still important to note.
A more difficult thing to obtain in history-writing ethics is permission to use and delve into one’s history. In class, we often looked at poems, literary work, and personal anecdotes of the people we are studying. Studying these sorts of sources is normal for students and academics, as most of us have been doing it for a very long time. However, when imagining someone in the future looking at the things I created during my lifetime, such as messages, essays, and emails, I am slightly uncomfortable, almost violated. During the pandemic, I ended up being very lonely and went through some personal issues that I often discussed with friends through messages and I would not want people from the future to analyze these messages. The content in these messages was meant to be private but is now critically analyzed by someone I have no connection to. I then started to think of how I have been doing the same. When reading about the factory women in Tsurumi’s paper, especially the anecdotes of people who suffered from manipulation, abuse, and sexual assault, I feel like I, in a way, violated them. Given the stigma around these issues that are still rampant today and how modern victims often stay quiet due to societal pressures, I can assume that those victims from the past had no intention of sharing their personal stories with someone like me.
However, there are cases where individuals want their history to be known, making conducting research into their history more ethical. One example is of the unknown buraku woman who was determined not to “die in the darkness”, meaning she wanted her history to be known. Evidently, it is easier to deem research into consenting individuals from the past as ethical.
In conclusion, although there is immense value in conducting research on marginalized and historically underrepresented groups, it is very difficult to conduct this research ethically. It is preferable to conduct research on those that have consented to have their lives probed for information and most of the time that is not the case. Even though it is difficult to comply with history-writing/research ethics, it is of utmost importance to treat the history of others with respect.