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Accidental Voyeur – A Cross Post

Recently, I had the good fortune of sitting among some young (er) graduate students who are all fellows in our Lilly Graduate Fellows Program.  They all belong to our Fifth Cohort (the fifth class if you will) and they all study something within the humanities and the arts.  They gathered for their annual summer conference and discussed common readings.  They examined Paul Griffith’s The Vice of Curiosity, Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others.  As the conversation turned toward curiosity – for good or possible bad – and getting closer to the point of Sontag’s work dealing with war photography, one of our fellows, Kristin George Bagdanov, related a story about being an “accidental voyeur” to another’s suicide.  She did not intend to look but she saw anyway.

Kristin wrote about her experience and her understanding of Sontag’s work when she contributed to Ruminate Magazine‘s blog and you can read that post here.  Kristin asks her readers to consider “[w]here is the line between witness and voyeur?”  This makes me wonder about my own work as a historian. I take seriously the role I may play in researching, writing, and (hopefully) publishing an article or book.  As I examine past events and put them into some sort of analytical framework, do I peer luridly into the lives of those who have no say in my treatment of their actions?  Kristin offers some thoughtful ruminations (I know, I went there) on this subject. Go see what she has to say in her excellent post “Accidental Voyeur.”

By Mary Beth Fraser Connolly

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