Preserving the Past for the Sake of the Future: The Possibilities of Digital Storytelling

There are nearly as many possible pedagogical benefits to the use of Digital Storytelling as there are potential ways to go about constructing websites that make use of that idea in innovative ways.  For example, as Lev Manovich argued in “Database as a Genre of New Media,” New Media makes it possible to construct Digital Storytelling projects that function primarily as archives, projects which are mostly focused on narrating a particular often very local story, and projects that combine these two modes (to offer only a few possible examples).  Through an online oral history archive such as StoryCorps run by NPR or the 9/11 Digital Archive, Digital Storytelling has the chance to open up vast realms of individual memories to scholars and students while simultaneously serving a cathartic function for those who choose to tell their stories.    Through web based exhibits that function mainly as narratives such as Pine Point or that offer any array of local stories such as Small Town Noir, it is possible to generate interest in previously forgotten histories while experimenting with unique approaches to web design.  Through web sites that contain many mini narratives while also serving as archives, such as the document based Digital Vaults: The National Archive Experience or the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (which includes images, stories, maps and a myriad of other modes of memory, offering a model for my own project) it may be possible to engage students and impart a larger message that scholarly research can be thought provoking and even fun.  Yet in order to maximize the possibilities of Digital Storytelling it is important not to be caught up by the potential pitfalls of associated with online archives and narrative projects.

                One of the biggest problems associated with online archives is the ease with which visitors can become lost attempting to navigate through the site, especially if they are inexperienced in finding their way through a myriad of possible pathways and would instead prefer specific directions for proceeding.  One example of this would be the 9/11 Digital Archive, which includes a Browse button meant to make the site accessible to everyone but which links to archive style page that potentially offers far too many possibilities that might confuse casual visitors.  On the other hand, web sites such as Pine Point which provide a clear narrative but offer neither very much contextual information for interested scholars (who may see Digital Storytelling sites as primarily research tools) nor the ability to choose-your-own-adventure (which some non-professional visitors may enjoy) might provide an ultimately limited visitor experience.  Web sites such as the Hurricane Digital Memory bank, which combine collections covering various media that can be both useful for scholars and interesting for the public while also offering a way for informants to record their memories as well as featured pages that offer a gateway to visitors.  Indeed, it seems hybrid archive/narrative web sites demonstrate the Goldilocks effect and are just right.

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1 Response to Preserving the Past for the Sake of the Future: The Possibilities of Digital Storytelling

  1. Pingback: Preserving the Past for the Sake of the Future: The Possibilities of … | VanRanke and Droysen

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