Vested interests in the telling of history

In a recent class, we were discussing an article that talked about a number of issues of doing research after an event has happened. One of the main concerns was the vested interests of the respondents. Particularly, if the respondent were socially near to the event or phenomenon, their retelling is filtered through their own personal interests.

A classic example of this came across the news wires today: some new information that sheds light on why the Titantic hit an iceberg and then sank so quickly. A brief part of the story:

The Titanic hit an iceberg in 1912 because of a basic steering error, and only sank as fast as it did because an official persuaded the captain to continue sailing, an author said in an interview published on Wednesday.

Louise Patten, a writer and granddaughter of Titanic second officer Charles Lightoller, said the truth about what happened nearly 100 years ago had been hidden for fear of tarnishing the reputation of her grandfather, who later became a war hero.

Lightoller, the most senior officer to have survived the disaster, covered up the error in two inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic because he was worried it would bankrupt the ill-fated liner’s owners and put his colleagues out of a job.

I’ll be curious to see how quickly this new information can (or cannot) be corroborated.

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