I remember being a teenager studying 20th Century history at GCSE level and the teacher's favourite phrase, that he repeated to us over and over, was "history is written by the victors". He used the phrase to encourage us to be more objective and to consider other sources when trying to put together the whole picture to accurately present historical events.
Still, the phrase is potent and to a certain extent true as far as military history is concerned. Our records of the World Wars are predominantly kept by the Allies. The Napoleonic wars were largely reported by the British. Accounts of the American Civil War were mainly written by the victorious North. And so on throughout recorded history. This got me thinking.
Global communications and media have brought us closer together. Today, media can travel across continents in a heartbeat, where before the same message could have taken days or even weeks. Digital publishing and social media mean that you can tell your story online and reach an audience of millions in a very short space of time. But is this affecting how we record our history? I believe it is, and for the better.
Consider current conflicts across the world, conflicts that historically would have gone largely unreported without digital communication methods. The border skirmishes in Ukraine, the civil unrest in Syria and Iraq, the rocket attacks in Israel and Gaza, even the current stand-off between protesters and Police in Ferguson, USA. Of course, the usual media and journalism agencies are firmly ensconced in all these conflicts and there are always regular reports from the governments and law enforcement agencies sharing their version of events. But today, there's a third side to all these stories.
Social media has given a voice to those directly affected by events, to those at the forefront of unrest, displaced from their homes or actively taking part in protests. We've already seen a young girl live-tweeting and sharing video footage during the shelling of Gaza by Israel. We've seen people in Gaza offering protesters in Ferguson, USA advice on social media about how to deal with tear gas and rubber bullets being widely used by the Police there. We're also seeing celebrity support for protesters and appeals for the violence to come to an end.
News agencies, governments and historians are no longer responsible for writing and recording the history of their nations or the world in general. The people of the world are using social media and digital media platforms to tell their own story, making sure their voices are heard and in essence giving us their own version of what will become our history.
If history is written by the victors, then the commentary and foreword will be written by the people on social media.