Image credit: Shreveport Times
Although my research fits quite comfortably into the discipline of philosophy of art and aesthetics, my in-process PhD is in Theatre History and Historiography (much like fellow PhilPercs authors John Fletcher, my dissertation committee member, and our newest recruit Wade Hollingshaus). One of the foundational thinkers of our discipline, Michel DeCerteau, dedicates space in his monograph The Writing of History to the impossibility of writing a contemporary history.
Impossibility aside, today marked a huge step forward for the state of Louisiana's parishes (Louisiana's weird alternative to counties) around the state were called by activists who demanded to know when these parishes' Clerks of Court would comply with the recent Supreme Court ruling in Obergefeld v. Hodges, in defiance of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who vowed to oppose the gay agenda until his last breath (or until his quixotic presidential bid inevitably fails).
Now, obviously DeCerteau is a bit more complex than the above; if he wasn't, then no one would bother reading his books. But DeCerteau's account of the historian's process (in part because of the explicit goal of separating the present circumstances of the historian from the past events she seeks to chronicle) doesn't really allow for a chronicle of contemporary events.
Here's what's weird to me, though: social media and its revolution of the way written words are distributed presents a problem to DeCerteau's understanding of historiography. While a Tweet or Facebook comment sent out in real time reporting on something currently ongoing does retain DeCerteau's separation between present and past, it seems to do so in a trivial way at best. The distinction between a present circumstance and a past circumstance, at least as DeCerteau conceives of it, seems to require units of time greater than a few seconds.
Please note that I'm still working through the historiographic implications of social media; it's possible that my musings on this are entirely half-baked. But I couldn't help thinking about DeCerteau and the problem of contemporary history throughout the day as one of my closest friends, Baton Rouge attorney Donald Hodge, turned his Facebook into a public chronicle of his activism throughout the day calling the Clerks of Court of every parish in Louisiana to find out whether they were issuing same sex marriage certificates, educating local officials on their obligations under the law to issue these certificates, and updating this public status in real time as parishes began to comply with the law and issue marriages throughout the day.
You can read the status here, which is as close to a real-time chronicle as we've got of same sex marriages happening around the state of Louisiana. If you want to read about every marriage license issued in East Baton Rouge parish today, you can refer to Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Maya Lau's Twitter feed here.
I don't know what these sorts of archives are going to do for the writing of history going forward from now; I remember thinking about all of these problems during Iran's Green Revolution several years ago, and have yet to understand just how disruptive these new media technologies are to the creation of archives. Certainly, unlike DeCerteau's understanding of a history having to have sufficient license to be published, social media democratizes the production of history in some way. Regardless, if you want to see a piece of history unfolding in Louisiana throughout the day then Donald Hodge's activism is the best way to get a feel for how quickly Louisiana's bureaucracy adapted to the post-Obergefeld v. Hodges world.