With the selection of Russian oral historian Svetlana Alexievich for the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Nobel committee has given recognition and a huge stamp of approval to the work done by personal historians everywhere. Through this decision, the committee has also recognized the importance of capturing the life stories of ordinary people as part of the broader historical record.
Ms. Alexievich has, over the years, conducted thousands of interviews aimed at capturing the stories of average Russians caught up in extraordinary events such as soldiers in Afghanistan, Russian children in World War II, survivors of the Chernobyl disaster. Through these highly individual stories, she elicits the broader story of the larger event and shines a light on the human side of these events.
We must remember that all life stories, to some extent, achieve this same outcome. We take for granted the details of our lives, but they are all part of a broader history. We have all lived through historical events which affected and shaped us. We must not take our “ordinary” lives for granted. Each life is unique in the river of time yet each of us is a reflection of a historically unique experience. Our stories are an important, both for ourselves and our families, but also for the historical record of our times.
Thank you to the Nobel Prize Committee for recognizing a writer who has devoted her life to capturing the unique and personal stories that reflect the times in which these people lived. And, of course, thank you to Ms. Alexievich for her important work.