Our views of the past, and, in fact, the present, are defined by the information available to us. Marta Dyczok, an Associate Professor cross-appointed in History and Political Science, is concerned with how people get their information and how this contributes to the development of memories.
Dyczok’s primary area of interest is focused on East Central Europe and Eurasia, and specifically Ukraine. Dyczok began studying Ukraine while working on her PhD, where she focused on people displaced after the Second World War. While she was there, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Dyczok found herself living in the middle of history including being in the Ukrainian parliament when the country declared independence from the U.S.S.R.
She began working as a journalist and this piqued her interest in the role of media in memory and history.
“The way we learn about history after school is through the media,” said Dyczok. “The media has a big impact on history and our understanding of it.”
For Dyczok, the recent Russian involvement in Ukraine represents a good example of this. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and the Donetsk People’s Republic in Eastern Ukraine declared itself independent, with backing and support from Russia.
Dyczok says the Western understanding of the conflict has largely become a reflection of the Russian narrative. Russia, she says, has worked to ensure its narrative is repeated in the media, and has even paid western journalists to present its viewpoints. Repetition of the message and of the Russian viewpoint make it part of the narrative, and then part of the collective understanding and memory of the situation. For example, the Kremlin keeps repeating that Crimea has always been part of Russia. This is not historically true, Dyczok says, but someone who does not know the history of that part of the world, and hears the phrase over and over again, may become inclined to believe it.
The story is complicated and conflated with protests around corruption in the Ukrainian government and the standard narrative becomes one of people opposing a corrupt system, with Russia’s involvement being overlooked, said Dyczok.
Working with colleagues from around the world, Dyczok recently started a weekly podcast on Hromadske Radio (Public Radio Ukraine) to highlight, to the English-speaking world, issues facing Ukraine. The latest episode focuses on the prevalence of what Dyczok calls “Russian disinformation” in Ukraine.
Dyczok has also interviewed and photographed internally-displaced people in Ukraine. Much of Dyczok’s work focuses on the experiences and stories of individuals.
“As a historian, I am aware of the fact that individual stories matter,” she said. “To look at the big picture, you need look at the stories of individuals to understand what it’s like, and to put a human face on the story.”