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Difficult, But Not Impossible: Planning the Day of Infamy

Brief description:
In 1926, General Billy Mitchell, the premier airpower advocate in the U.S., conducted a review of U.S. defenses in the Pacific. His conclusion was that the next war would be fought against Japan, and that it would start with a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on a Sunday morning. By 1941, a string of circumstances and events came together in an implacable tide that pushed the Japanese to start the next war. With the U.S. With an attack Pearl Harbor. On a Sunday morning. While conventional American history focuses on the U.S. view of events leading up to and during the attack, an equally valid and quite fascinating narrative is found on the Japanese side of the story. The prophet on that side of the Pacific was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who conceived of and pushed for the attack in spite of reservations about war with the U.S., and who famously and accurately predicted a six month window of Japanese success at the opening of hostilities. Reconstructed from interviews, diaries, official documents, media archives and post-war memoirs, the Japanese story of the attack reveals a human side of the men who planned and executed the Day of Infamy.

Main goal(s):
The main goal of this project is to show a different way of thinking about the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The American history narrative about the Japanese attack often mirrors the attack itself – the Japanese mysteriously show up out of the blue, conduct an unprovoked attack on an unsuspecting American fleet and then vanish into the mists of the northern Pacific Ocean. Of course, the Japanese neither made this decision lightly, nor on the spur of the moment. But their side of the story is often lost in the patriotic retelling of the way American sailors and airmen overcame their difficulties to make the best out of this dastardly sneak attack.

Who is your intended audience?
(e.g., colleagues, historians, art historians, the general public, high school history students, middle school music students, art students. . . )

The intended audience is high school to undergraduate students who are familiar with the standard American history version of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The story will focus on the events leading up to the attack and the Japanese experiences during the attack. It will not provide a timeline or discuss events of the attack chronologically, so a historical awareness of the general events of the attack will be necessary to maximize the impact of this digital story.

Category: Final Summary  Comments off
Copyright depresses me

Not even reading a comic book that deftly and efficiently explained copyright law (that was a brilliant piece of work, no?) can cheer me up. After all of the reading this week on the increasing restrictions of copyright law and the obvious corporate influences on the changes to said law, I’m ready for something completely different.  I mean, I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION! Our chief weapon is fear. Fear and surprise are our two main weapons… what? We’re copyrighted? So we can’t appear in this blog post without securing clearance? Aw, bugger.

Seriously, 70 years after the death of the author??? The entire 20th century since 1923 wrapped up in a nice little bundle accessible only to those with the cash to pay for it? As historians, we should be aghast at this over-reach of the law that seems clearly (to me anyway) skewed towards corporate interests in direct opposition to the public good. But then, that seems to be the theme of our society over the last decade or two, doesn’t it?

At least I can take cold comfort in the idea that I can parody the music industry’s RIAA as a blood-thirsty pack of ravenous lawyers eager to take down hardened law breaking music lovers like the single mother of five or the 12 year old file sharer and be on the right side of the law because it’s parody. But I’ll have to be careful, since I’m still not sure irony is covered.

On the positive side, I conducted a search of the Copyright Office’s Online Records and could not find the songs I wanted to use in my digital story. I did find one song by the artist, but it was not from even the same album (did I just date myself by calling it an “album”??). But according to our readings this week, since it was published after 1989 (1997), and outside of the U.S., the copyright protection is automatically applied. Did I read that right, or does this seem to be a gray area – the artist is Japanese, the music is an ancient art form (taiko drumming), and it’s unclear to me whether the songs are traditional or original.  Any thoughts?

Category: W13: Copyright  Tags:  One Comment
The Challenges of Scope and Objectivity

I would hazard a guess that I am not alone in dealing with scope issues on these projects. My original concept was to tell the story of the run up to the Pearl Harbor attack, including important context that runs as early as 1936, then share individual stories the day of the attack, and finally wrap up with a summary of the results of the attack. It would make a sweet digital story that addresses an important deficiency in American history, the Japanese side of the Pearl Harbor story. It also seems to require a full-time director, a research staff of at least two, a cinematographer, two digital artist and a computer animator, a budget that would require an additional grant writer to cover all of those expenses, and a six month gantt-charted project plan.

Needless to say, I’m scrambling to shave off content and scale back from “ambitious” to “workable.”

Another challenge is the classic trap for the historian: the Objectivity Question. My hope is that this project can bring not so much pure objectivity (as I am bringing my own context to the research), but at least some balance to the narrative of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Classical American history focuses on the “unprovoked” attack and the undeclared war. Couple that with the propaganda of the day which painted the Japanese as a brutal and inhumane people, it is easy to lose sight of the state of international affairs in the Pacific in the early 1940s. While I am certainly not interested in defending the Japanese military, I am aware that the issue is much more complex than “the Japanese wanted to expand their influence and the U.S. stood in their way.” In many ways, war between Japan and the U.S. almost seems preordained. At any rate, it is hard to imagine a different outcome of the particular historical forces that steered the two countries onto a collision course. I think this gets lost in the “simplify” filter through which history is often strained. The goal of this project is to show a different way of thinking about the events on or about 7 December 1941.

Additional challenge: just last Thursday I found a copy of The Pearl Harbor Papers: Inside the Japanese Plans at the GMU library. This important work is a collection of papers, diaries and documents from Japanese sailors and airmen who planned and executed the attack. This is a very important collection of primary sources for a project that wants to convey the Japanese point of view. As a result, I feel like my research is behind schedule. This is delaying the final version of my script, which is delaying the final version of my storyboards, which will ultimately delay the start of production on the actual story. On the positive side, I have had great success in collecting digital media to use in my story, including some relatively rare photographs taken from Japanese planes during the attack.

Nothing that a few days of concentrated effort can’t fix, right? Now if I can just figure out how to squeeze 26 hours out of each day, I’m golden!

Digital Storytelling 2.0

One of the foundations critical to the way Web 2.0 works is the concept of collaboration. Web 2.0 takes the “read” web (where information interacts with consumers in one direction – off the page and into their heads) and turns it into the “read/write” web (where information is both consumed and provided by users). This is what landed “You” as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2006! But what has really sparked the Web 2.0 revolution is a third element: read/write/remix. Web 2.0 gives us the ability to pull information together from disparate sources, creating our own story from various elements. This is what makes digital storytelling work in an interactive environment. Storytelling 2.0 (Digital Storytelling utilizing Web 2.0 tools) combines an interactive environment with collaborative attitudes from the contributors – up to and including the readers!

This same ability to easily incorporate source material and to hyperlink references for uncomplicated referral changes academic writing. When the primary sources are one or two clicks away, the role of the author changes (or can change, with enough courage and foresight!). Now, instead of interpreting source material for the reader, academics can guide a reader in a direct examination of the primary sources. The role of the academic is changing from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.” In a Web 2.0 world, academic writing should include enough information to aid a reader in referencing the primary sources and forming their own conclusions. There are many outstanding questions in academia that indicates that this shift in academic writing is far from being accepted!

Final Project Topic – Sunday Morning in Paradise

My final project is going to feature interviews with both American and Japanese servicemen (and women, if possible), relating their experiences at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941. I have a long(ish) digital rendering of the flight path followed by the first wave of Japanese dive bombers that I created using digital mapping tools. It’s a smooth, seemingly peaceful flight through the central valley of Oahu, with a wide sweeping turn into the morning sun around Honolulu, a quick twist and dive that ends with a close-up of the USS Arizona memorial followed by a violent set of maneuvers to egress, then a leisurely flight back up the valley. Over top of this animation, I intend to display pictures and videos as available. The soundtrack will include first-person interviews as well as third-person readings of written interviews.

The historical points covered will include the state of affairs in the Pacific in the late 1930s, including the heightening tensions between Japan and the U.S. that presaged to the Japanese attack, short anecdotes about the “great men” of the Pacific theater, and a discussion of the decision-making process that led to the Japanese decision to attack.

I will search the National Archives and LOC for interviews with American and Japanese servicemen and women relating to the months before the start of hostilities and interviews with American airmen and sailors about how their day began on Dec 7, 1941. The crown jewels of the primary sources would be interviews with Japanese airmen about their impressions of Pearl Harbor in the moments before the attack and their thoughts and feelings following the attack. The point of all of this will be to frame the attack from the point of view of the participants, stripping away “great moment in history” veneer in favor of the visceral, in-the-moment gut reaction of those who were there at the time.

Digital Storytelling and Learning

If stories and storytelling has the kind of deep, emotional impact we all seem to think it does, it should be obvious that stories and learning have a critically intertwined relationship. Yet academia is built around the lecture, that venerable means of delivering scarce information from a knowledgeable source to open minds. With all of the scholarship and research around how humans learn, one would think universities would embrace new pedagogical methods that have the potential to make learning both more efficient  and more effective.

Digital storytelling is one of those pedagogical methods. It extends the learning beyond the classroom; connects students to the material in novel and distinct ways; promotes student thought; and provides immediate meaningfulness of the material. It combines words and images in ways our brains are hardwired to respond, utilizing multiple channels to get into neural pathways. Stories activate mental models, prompt activation of long-term memory, ease recall, and encourage modifications of mental models. Stories even improve transfer of the memories and modified mental models back to long-term memory.

Watch the short and compare the old way with the new way. Which one would you prefer to use to learn about economics?

Technical Notes:
I used Avidemux, open source video editing software, made it easy to pull clips from large videos. Instead of duplicating large videos throughout the Animoto title, I used specific and smaller cuts. Rendering still took close to 30 minutes. The most painful part of Animoto is not being able to preview the video!

I used the Flash Video Downloader plug-in for Firefox to capture .flv video from YouTube, which I then could upload to Animoto. Stock.xchng provided free stock photos to add to several that I had previously purchased from istockphoto. The Econ site provided the most excellent demonstration about how we all should learn economics. How we should not is courtesy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and a young, skinny Ben Stein.

Category: W5: Animoto  4 Comments
Thinking Outside of the Box

“Murder at Harvard” in its book form tells the historical tale of the murder of Dr. George Parkman. It is an unconventional history told from several points of view, steeped in the story yet lacking much of what conventional historians require for serious consideration. Murder at Harvard as a documentary tells the historical tale of writing the book form, detailing the process Simon Schama used to arrive at his historical narrative. Schama’s dialogue outlining the process of writing history draws attention to how little we actually know about the past and must make conventional historians at the very least uncomfortable.

One of the strong arguments against the film was the way in which Schama made up (gasp!) the conversations between the historical actors. Even Schama admits that this was the case in the film. This detracts from the history, the argument goes, because we have no evidence of what was said and how can we know? Therefore it must be better to not report on the unknown (stick to the facts) than to extrapolate what is known to fill in the gaps. That is to say, this is a better representation of the past:

than this:

Which of these two historical representations gives you a better understanding of how the past fit into the surrounding environment? By using their vast expertise to extrapolate the form and structure of the skeletons, archeologists are able to provide a much more compelling story about the bones they dig up from the ground. The “story” in history is the value, and crafting a more effective story sometimes requires filling in the gaps. The value historians bring to the story in history is the deep understanding of the historical environment that brings vital context to the creation of accurate extrapolations of things that are lost to History.

Documentary versus book. That’s a little bit unfair to ask historians to choose, isn’t it? The conventional wisdom of academic History maintains that if it isn’t written, it isn’t history – instead it’s anthropology (or maybe economics). Perhaps it’s my background in blended learning, but I do not see an “either…or” situation. Instead, I’ll choose to use them together since they compliment each other rather well. The book provides the myriad of details that create a historical topic, along with the footnotes, bibliographies, foreign language phrases and other accouterments that prove historical scholarship. The movie supplies a focus on the narrative of the story, stripping away the layers required by academia in favor of the base elements of a dramatic account. The story itself is what is valuable to everyday people, while the details and the scholarship have value only for fellow academicians. The film gets us back to the story in history – but without the details provided by the historian, the film becomes an exercise in imagination instead of scholarship.

Old Process, New Tricks

Digital storytelling (DST) is the current iteration of the second oldest form of human entertainment. The basic building blocks of an effective story remain: point of view, pacing, economy of detail keep an audience’s attention no matter if the audience is sitting around the hearth fire or YouTube. This latest trend takes the form of digitally rendered motion pictures narrated by voice and accompanied by music or other recorded sounds, generally in a short format of 8-12 minutes. A digital story’s pictures do not have to actually recreate live action:  digital effects can be employed to impart motion to still photography. DST also introduces the soundtrack, allowing music to furthering the emotional connection with the audience. As with any effective story, digital storytelling relies on emotional content, point of view and empathy to connect with the audience in a meaningful way. The emotional connection created between story and audience affects the reception of the story and ultimately the perceived meaning of the story.

In addition, a critical element of any story is voice – both the aural voice and the narrative voice. The aural voice connects the audience in very visceral ways to the character(s) of the story. In DST, the aural voice can be more than one physical voice. The audience will form immediate relationships with the aural voices present in a story, an emotional connection that each individual invests with all sorts of subtext and context that the storyteller is both unable to shape and blissfully unaware. This connection facilitates the emotional connection with the story, opening the audience to the message carried by the narrative voice.  The narrative voice is the backbone of the story, the narration that describes the scene in ways that give meaning to the picture presented in the digital story. The storyteller’s choice of narrative voice is important, allowing the audience to become a part of the action, or remaining an notionally impartial observer.

Summers at Kings Dominion

Category: W3: 5 Photos  Comments off
Professor Michael Wesch groks* Web 2.0

You might remember one of his videos last week, “The Machine is Us/ing Us.” Professor Petrik introduced me to that video in Cleo II, and it’s an understatement to call it a game-changer in my own professional life. I built a lecture introducing Web 2.0 tools to instructional designers around that video, and I have delivered it so far at two professional conferences and four webinars. With it, I challenged educators to embrace Web 2.0 and reexamine their design, their format, their pedagogy, their assumptions about how we learn. I have seen countless light bulbs go on as I watched people watching this video.

“A Vision of Students Today” is another winner from Professor Wesch’s website. In this digital story, Professor Wesch describes the characteristics of students in the 21st century. The video starts in an empty lecture hall with a 1967 quote from Marshall McLuhan: “Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules.” Scary to think that 43 years later that is still a valid description of the academy.

Professor Wesch then frames the point of the video with graffiti questions written on the walls and backs of the lecture hall seats: “If students learn what they do, what are they learning sitting here?” He then shows how he collaborated with 200 students to get an understanding of what it means to be a student today. What follows is a staging of bullet points describing students today in the written words of his own students. Things like “18% of my teachers know my name,” and “I will read 8 books this year, and 2300 web pages and 1281 Facebook Profiles.” The culmination of the statistics is the message “When I graduate I will probably have a job that does not exist today,” followed by “Filling this out won’t help me get there” written on the back of a Scantron form.

The capstone of the video is another quote, this time from 1841, praising the chalkboard as one of the best contributions to learning and science. We’re. Still. Using. Chalkboards. The message is that the educational system is letting kids down today because the reality of their life is so different than the world for which the system was made.

He takes what is essentially a PowerPoint presentation’s worth of facts and delivers it in a meaningful and memorable way. This demonstrates both the genius of Professor Wesch and the power of digital storytelling. By connecting what was essentially a static (and potentially boring) set of statistics to actual faces of those directly affected by the idea with a Web 2.0 framework, Professor Wesch creates an instructional, persuasive, reflective and ultimately memorable message. Which is, after all, the whole point of digital storytelling, right?

* Grok: (v.) to understand profoundly and intuitively. Coined by Robert Heinlein in Stranger In A Strange Land (1961).