The Challenges of Scope and Objectivity

I would hazard a guess that I am not alone in dealing with scope issues on these projects. My original concept was to tell the story of the run up to the Pearl Harbor attack, including important context that runs as early as 1936, then share individual stories the day of the attack, and finally wrap up with a summary of the results of the attack. It would make a sweet digital story that addresses an important deficiency in American history, the Japanese side of the Pearl Harbor story. It also seems to require a full-time director, a research staff of at least two, a cinematographer, two digital artist and a computer animator, a budget that would require an additional grant writer to cover all of those expenses, and a six month gantt-charted project plan.

Needless to say, I’m scrambling to shave off content and scale back from “ambitious” to “workable.”

Another challenge is the classic trap for the historian: the Objectivity Question. My hope is that this project can bring not so much pure objectivity (as I am bringing my own context to the research), but at least some balance to the narrative of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Classical American history focuses on the “unprovoked” attack and the undeclared war. Couple that with the propaganda of the day which painted the Japanese as a brutal and inhumane people, it is easy to lose sight of the state of international affairs in the Pacific in the early 1940s. While I am certainly not interested in defending the Japanese military, I am aware that the issue is much more complex than “the Japanese wanted to expand their influence and the U.S. stood in their way.” In many ways, war between Japan and the U.S. almost seems preordained. At any rate, it is hard to imagine a different outcome of the particular historical forces that steered the two countries onto a collision course. I think this gets lost in the “simplify” filter through which history is often strained. The goal of this project is to show a different way of thinking about the events on or about 7 December 1941.

Additional challenge: just last Thursday I found a copy of The Pearl Harbor Papers: Inside the Japanese Plans at the GMU library. This important work is a collection of papers, diaries and documents from Japanese sailors and airmen who planned and executed the attack. This is a very important collection of primary sources for a project that wants to convey the Japanese point of view. As a result, I feel like my research is behind schedule. This is delaying the final version of my script, which is delaying the final version of my storyboards, which will ultimately delay the start of production on the actual story. On the positive side, I have had great success in collecting digital media to use in my story, including some relatively rare photographs taken from Japanese planes during the attack.

Nothing that a few days of concentrated effort can’t fix, right? Now if I can just figure out how to squeeze 26 hours out of each day, I’m golden!

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One Response
  1. Andrea Odiorne says:

    I am not sure you are struggling with objectivity as much you are concerned with the thoroughness of your research methods. Like any project, there is a point where you have to narrow your focus to specific issues. If you’re anything like me, you want to read everything and become a mini-expert on the topic.

    Since this project is visually driven, I would suggest really anchoring your story in the digital media you have collected so far. Allowing the somewhat random availability of source material to influence your perspective might seem to encroach on objectivity, or bring up questions attached to point of view, but hey, most of history is based on people who deposit their correspondence at the New York Public Library. Very few people seem to have a problem with that.