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Digital Story Summary

Digital Story Title: “Disputed Ground: Protest, Public Space, and the Birth of the World Trade Center”

Brief description:

This film documents public demonstrations and public events in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s leading up to the construction of the World Trade Center and during the buildings’ early history.  Small business owners publicly rallied against the Port Authority’s plans to seize and demolish their commercial property, while construction unions demonstrated in support of the building project and the job opportunities it represented.  The surrounding neighborhood became a site for protests for and against the Vietnam War.  Environmentalists documented and criticized the buildings’ waste management and energy consumption.  After construction was completed, fantastic stunts performed on and between the Twin Towers revealed that World Trade Center had finally been accepted and even cherished by the general public.

Main goal(s):

I am pleased to share the fascinating events surrounding the building of the World Trade Center.  More importantly, though, I want viewers to think about modes of political expression when they watch my film.  I want them to consider how political and artistic statements can be performed.  Multiple debates and various opinions were expressed not just in City Hall or a voting booth.  They also took place on streets and in a publicly funded construction site, and even, literally, between the Twin Towers themselves.  Photographs of the Trade Center and its surrounding area presented another opportunity to claim a public site for political and artistic expression.

Intended Audience:

My intended audience is a general, college-educated audience.  The film is most accessible to historians (anyone with a background in college-level history).  There is little discussion of the greater political, economic, and social issues at play in the story (urban renewal, the Vietnam War, etc.).  Those topics are the context and subtext, and viewers will get the most out of the film if they are already familiar with them.  More importantly, I focus not on major events but on a more abstract theme.  Viewers with a liberal arts background are more likely to be familiar with concepts like the “public sphere” or “discourse;” these are concepts that have shaped my thinking during the film’s production.  However, the film avoids using such dense jargon to expedite the narrative.

A general audience may enjoy the film.  As stated, it is free of theoretical jargon or excessive detail, so most educated viewers could view the film and understand its essential message.  Many of these viewers may take interest in the film simply because it relates to the World Trade Center.  Most college-educated viewers will recall living through the events of 9/11 and want to understand how the World Trade Center became so prized by the public.  (This connection may not be as strong for younger viewers under college age.)

Category: Final Summary  Comments off
Credits Help

Anyone have any tips for credits?  Movie Maker credits are not very sophisticated.  I’m confidant I can figure something out using Photoshop and Photo Story, but I just wanted to ask around before I got my hands dirty.

Go Duke (Sort Of)!

I loved the comic from Duke Law School.  It was readable, engaging, visually stimulating, and cleverly referential.  As a die-hard Terps fan, I consider Duke an arch-rival (I must mention this on the night of the Final Four… Go Mountaineers!) but I can temper my passions for the purposes of this post.

In any case, how does copyright apply to digital storytelling?  Actually, I think that our readings tackled that rather well.  Instead, I’d like to ask how digital storytelling affects copyright.

So there are all of these lo-fi, amateur videos floating out there on the web.  Are they published?  Are they copyrighted?  I think that the answer is probably yes on both counts, but it’s stunning that this massive volume of content has been published in a way that is completely different than the ways described in the Library of Congress document and the Duke comic.  Instead of applying for protection at LoC or letting a production company or distributor handle this task, digital stories seem, more often than not, to be uploaded without any assertion of ownership on behalf of the creator.  This new way of self-publishing challenges our older understanding of what publishing even is.

Not to mention that there could be sites out there that might assert ownership over any content that a user might submit through the fine print of a Terms of Agreement during a username registration stage.

The question isn’t just a matter of categorization (whether something is published/copyrighted or not) but a matter of culture.  Are content creators going to assert their rights?  Will they mind if a corporation like Oxygen (NBC Universal) or Coca-Cola uses their content (in excess of fair use standards) to sell their products?  Or if someone sells (‘pirates’) their content commercially?  I think that remains to be seen, although I’d like to be enlightened if there’s anything I’m missing.

Progress Report

My project is coming along very well.  So far.

I have been keeping pace with the class schedule all semester – developing my topic, performing research, scripting and storyboarding the ideas as they pour out of my brain.

But I’m still worried about getting it right.  I’m sure we’ve all had those moments were we stay up until 2-3AM writing something we think is brilliant but sounds horrible the next evening.  I hope that’s not the case with my film.  My goal is to finish a rough cut by April 8 so I can have an entire week to continue editing and refining.  I am already feeling very sensitive about shots lasting one second too long, or fading too quickly.  In a more broad way, I’m trying to stand back from my film and ask the “so what?” question.  Does my film successfully serve a larger purpose, or is it just a timeline?  I think I can make my film more succinct by recording my current voiceover script, then tightening up my central arguments at a later point and rerecording the narration.

So if I had a short, twitter-worth status update right now it would be, “coming along, nervous, think I have a game plan.”


Greetings – I hope that everyone is enjoying Spring Break (and working on their digital stories, perhaps?).

Storytelling in an interactive environment appears to be quite challenging.  Instead of telling one narrative, the author or creator should have multiple narratives, or at least one very open-ended narrative.  That multiplies the amount of creative effort that goes into the conceptual development of the narrative, and perhaps even the multiplication of content.  If the interactivity comes from collaborative form of interaction (like writing Exquisite Corpse or designing an ARG), the challenge comes from creating broad rules or a conceptual framework that can organize multiple storytellers with some overall coherence.

Likewise, interactive scholarship seems to emphasize an open-ended framework focused on a somewhat broad topic.  This may come at the expense of a thesis or main, bulleted points.  Instead, the user may feel strongly immersed in the topic and connect strongly with one or multiple examples.  (This was my experience viewing “Public Secrets,” about injustices in the California prison system, from a 2007 issue of Vectors).  Unlike interactive storytelling,  I don’t see how interactive scholarship could be truly collaborative.  I’m sure it’s possible but I’m not sure how precisely it would work.  I’m sure it’s possible, but I don’t know of any examples on the scale of Exquisite Corpse or an ARG.

That said, these readings convince me that we still don’t really know all of the ways that storytelling and academic writing can work in interactive environments.  Vectors looks like it is on the cutting edge of online scholarship.  On the other hand, the Washington Post’s interactive map of the Inauguration looks to me like a “let’s do it just because we can” sort of endeavor.  Evan Bregman’s thesis interview (a great digital story, by the way) demonstrates the sometimes-tiring search for true interactivity.  And, as Shaffer and Gee’s study and the Summit on Educational Games’ report demonstrate, research funding is difficult to procure.  Perhaps in the next few years we will see entirely new trends in interactive stories and scholarship emerge!

Category: W9: Interactivity  Comments off
Final Project Pitch – Construction of the World Trade Center

The planning and construction of the World Trade Center was controversial, inciting both positive and negative reactions. The scheme to build the world’s two largest buildings – and the final products themselves – provoked both New Yorkers and outsiders to express their reactions in public and in photography.  Together, these public actions and prints reveal that the World Trade Center has been a contested site arousing competing interpretations of public space.

This film will document public demonstrations by small business owners, construction workers, and stuntmen, as well as images by Danny Lyon and Environmental Protection Agency photographers during the 1960s and 1970s.

Small business owners publicly rallied against the Port Authority’s plans to seize and demolish their commercial property.  Construction unions demonstrated in support of the building project and the job opportunities they represented.  Environmentalists documented and criticized the buildings’ waste management and energy consumption.  After construction was completed, fantastic stunts performed on and between the Twin Towers revealed that World Trade Center had finally been accepted and even cherished by the general public.

My documentary will be presented in expository form, employing third-person narration, and primary sources including film footage, photographs, and scanned documents.

Category: W6: Final Project Topic  Comments off
National History Day 2009

On the theme of teaching and learning, I chose to compose a short Animoto film on National History Day.  I wanted to capture the experience of young students researching and collaborating with classmates on a history project.  My approach was similar to my approach for the ‘story in 5 photos’ – in fact, this is really more of a story in 10 photos.  Perhaps I should have made more use of the text frames as my classmates have.  However, I just hoped that the photos would do the talking for me.

I wasn’t pleased with the Animoto interface.  It seems rather limiting.  That by itself might not be a problem, but it is also rather slow.  Each time I tried to change my video, it would take around 15 minutes to reload.

Without further ado, here is National History Day 2009.

Category: W5: Animoto  One Comment
Perspective in Less Traditional History Writing

Murder at Harvard – the book and American Experience episode – are both distinctive for their use of varied perspective.  The book alternates between first person (from the perspective of actual historical figures) and omniscient third-person narration.  In doing so, it tells the story of Webster’s trial and implies that telling history is difficult and fraught with uncertainty.  The film version alternates between omniscient third-person and first-person from the (meta-nonfictional?) perspective of the author. In doing so, this version tells the story about writing a history fraught with uncertainty.  What is only implied in the book is explicitly stated in the film.

The film is much more successful because it is explicit.  The metafictional narrative device of inserting the author into a fictional plot has been a well-worn (even cliche) tool of authors ranging from Kurt Vonnegut to Richard Powers, and likely promises little to young authors.  Yet this device was very effective in a nonfictional setting.  It allowed Schama and the American Experience filmmakers to engaging (and even exciting) stage reenactments, yet pick apart those reenactments for their inherent flaws.

Our readings last week demonstrated that historical documentaries typically struggle with the philosophical implications of staged reenactments.  We’ve also learned that these reenactments (even fully fictionalized history-based Hollywood films) can be educational when presented properly.  Inserting the historian’s first-person voice, then, can allow historians to stage fictional reenactment and directly, consciously explain how that reenactment is constructed.  Such techniques could make history both engaging, nuanced, and sophisticated.

Defining DST

By this point, it goes without saying that there is no comprehensive definition of Digital Storytelling.  Instead of enumerating the many characteristics of DST, I would like to describe one aspect that is important, and perhaps central, to the genre.

In Bill Nichols’ Introduction to Documentary, documentary films are described as having an “institutional” affiliation.  These institutions might include a film studio or distributor or television network – each of which are generally large organizations, many of them working for profit.  I contend that DST is characterized by its lack of such an institutional affiliation.  DST is instead undertaken by one or a few practitioners.  Rather than employing a large cast and crew, DST typically involves one or a few storytellers and employs relatively basic software priced for individual purchase.

(Some digital stories are created and produced in affiliation with a school – like George Mason – or a workshop.  Allow me to use these institutions as exceptions in my definition.)

As a consequence, Digital Storytelling retains a more raw, unrefined tone that preserves the sensation of traditional oral and written narrative and rhetoric while exploiting the dramatic devices of other film genres.  The noncommercial nature of DST can help to encourage sharing everyday stories – even ones that are seemingly banal compared to commercial film – that are nonetheless worthy of sharing.

I realize that my argument here calls into question one of the videos we watched in class on Thursday, “Nablus, A City of Life and Death.”  That video was apparently put together (to paraphrase Janine) by Mohammed Sawalha in conjunction with Palestinian conflict resolution associations.  Depending on how much support Sawalha received from these groups – whether it is in production or distribution assistance, his work may have had more in common with expository documentary, to use Nichols’ terms.

Game Time w/ Me and My Buddies