In 1818, Artist Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) started creating a massive painting entitled the Raft of the Medusa.

The painting depicts the moment when a sailor spots a ship in the far distance, and that ensured the survivor’s survival. The real life incident created an international scandal because 147 sailors had managed to get onto the raft, but after 13 days at sea, only 15 men made it home.

How do we know this story?

We know the story of the Medusa from what the sailors told other people and eventually from the painting that Gericault created. The Sailor’s memory of the incident may be very different from those who read about it in the newspapers or later when viewing in the painting.

The act of sharing your memories by telling a story, writing a text or creating an image means changing the essence of what you experienced.

Does this mean it is not real?

No, but it means it is not valid in an absolute sense. However, history is no different; a historian has to pick and choose what information to relate to their audience, with something deleted. The historian may back up his claims with evidence from the time and say it happened, but is it still based on a partial truth.

So, whose’s history and why?

We only recall or save the memories that have meaning for us today. Once recorded, then people who come after us have a chance to encounter and appreciate those earlier experiences.

For example, why would anyone care about a shipwreck that occurred over 200 years ago, other than the fact that there is this massive painting in the Louvre and launched the art movement: Romanticism.

What we choose to remember and what we choose to call history is very subjective and is always decided by outside forces.


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