A Breathtaking Change in How We Communicate History

Posted on May 9, 2011

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The raid on bin Ladin was a breathtaking event that will change history, and President Obama’s interview on “60 Minutes” a week later is certain to change history books.

I watched with a measure of awe that I rarely summon for news interviews as I realized that Steve Kroft’s questions and the president’s responses would serve as the narrative for the next generation of history texts.  I don’t recall ever witnessing a similar interview in which the president of the United States revealed not only the account of the raid but his own emotions and the context of advice and secrecy in which he operated as the assault on bin Laden’s compound unrolled—all this just hours after SEAL Team 6 had returned to base and before the fog of war-won data and document analysis had even begun to clear.

As today’s toddlers and T-ball players graduate to middle school and high school, they are less likely to be cracking a history book than clicking a homework assignment.  While printed texts may continue to provide an overview and thread for historical events, our next history students more often will be viewing video, listening to commentary, and watching animations that replace conventional book illustrations as their hand-held computers replace backpacks.  And when they study the first decade of the 21st century (2001-2011), they will see the towers fall, hear from troops in Afghanistan, and watch the “60 Minutes” interview from last Sunday night.  They will not just study history, but also witness it and, in this instance, hear from those who shaped the course of 21st century history as that history was being made.

Technology is providing is far more than data today; it is enabling us to understand the feelings, hesitations, determination and impact of historical figures and events.  Technology made the bin Laden raid possible, allowed administration officials to observe the raid in real time from the White House situation room, and prompted the president to act from his understanding of the critical role that technology-based media will play for future generations.

It has been mind-spinning week for America; and, with the example set by Team 6, the president and “60 Minutes,” the past week may forever change
the way that we approach and communicate the history we are yet to create.

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