Monday, March 16, 2015

Digital Storytelling

Prior to last week, I had never come across the term “digital storytelling.” As I did the readings for last week, I realized that I've actually come across digital storytelling without realizing it in videos, interactive websites, and a myriad of other examples. They tell stories about contemporary issues, personal life stories, and the past, but the list doesn't end there. Using storytelling platforms to present historical narratives is a multifaceted, dynamic, and exciting way to organize and convey the past in a way that resonates so well. Digital storytelling allows us carry on the human experience in a new platform that narrates and documents change over time to large audiences.

The link above is a digital storytelling example that briefly recounts the history of the Kindertransport. This was relief aid effort that provided transportation for children to escape Nazi Germany for England before the outbreak of World War II. It includes a slideshow of several photographs and newspapers that describe life before and during the rise of the Third Reich. While the slideshow moves, a narrator recounts the story in a voiceover with muted somber music in the background. The voiceover was done by someone whose great-grandmother lived in Nazi Germany. Her voice, the music, and the pictures serve as an effective tool in invoking a sensory participation from audiences. Digital storytelling also allows for a narrative argument for how the chain of events are organized. It also provides a way to capture the simultaneity of events that vertical or horizontal timelines might otherwise omit or structurally be unable to represent.  

The combination of these elements of evoking the sensory elements invites the audience to participate in the story that is being told. Good digital storytelling examples, such as this one, use sight and sound to make audiences active participants in the story. By incorporating elements that encourage audience participation in digital history projects, we are making history a more inclusive space. That’s the hope, anyway.

What I wonder about digital storytelling, however, circles back to the debate about digital history as a whole: is it really all that new? Storytelling is such a fundamental part of human history that I hesitate to classify it as a completely new format. However, stories of all kinds can now leap to different parts of the globe in seconds thanks to the media revolution of the last twenty years. If nothing else, it has allowed us to share histories from all corners of globe made by both citizen and academic historians that would not have been as feasible in recent memory.

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