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A Father’s Tale, a Tale of History

Story Title: A Father’s Tale, a Tale of History

Brief description:

While some pundits deplore the state of Americans’ public ignorance with cultural heritage, there is overwhelming evidence that contradicts this view. A survey of nearly 1,500 Americans, conducted in the late 1990s by historians Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, determined that most Americans engage in some sort of historical activity on a regular basis. Rosenzweig and Thelen concluded that a majority of Americans are actively interested in history, albeit in a different form than that which was delivered to them in school.

Digital storytelling is an important tool for the individual’s interest in the past because it allows one to construct and root their personal history to a broader context, while widely disseminating it. At the same time, narratives help people receive history because they appeal to common human experiences. The video includes an example of personal narrative, displayed through three people. First, it recounts the war stories my grandfather told to my father sixty years ago, then it shows my father speaking these stories to me, which I convey to the present audience in a digital narrative through pictures and my father’s account. The story becomes a case study of how the digital story is a powerful tool to understand broader history when we root it in our encounters with family members.

Main goal:

-  To reveal how a person’s interest in history was developed outside the classroom by listening to a parent’s personal history, which he linked to broader historical events

-  To demonstrate that history is multifaceted. This story has tragedy and comedy, danger and everyday life. It includes a narrative arc, yet is multilayered rather than strictly linear.

-  To show how family histories can be produced in a digital storytelling format.

Intended Audience:

-  My first intended audience are those who doubt the use for digital storytelling, particularly those who are wedded to the nineteenth century style of teaching by memorization of facts and rote memory.

-  My second intended audience are those interested in the Pacific theatre. Guam was a strategic location for the Allies, and tends to be overshadowed by islands like Midway or Iwo Jima. In that sense, it shows strategy of warfare as well as what the navy built on the island during their time on the island.

-  Finally, my audience is my family members who had a personal relationship with my grandfather. I want to show them how the person they knew participated in global events, and therefore further their appreciation of the Second World War.

Category: Final Summary  Comments off
The Spirit of Copyright Law

“It’s an essential characteristic of contemporary art that if it has value, someone will copy it.” – Cory Doctorow

Copyright law involves a weird kind of trade off: how do you balance the need for an artist to have their work seen with the fact that they need to get paid for it? This issue was highlighted in Hilton and Wiley’s Tech Trends article on books. In that story, people were giving out their material on the internet and it was being seen in a way it wouldn’t if it was under copyright law.

As far as digital storytelling, I wonder if the solution isn’t a return to a patronage-type system, where wealthy benefactors buy up work and distribute it freely, much like the Medicis did in commissioning The David–ultimately, all of Florence saw it. Yet a statue is not digital media that can be seen from any computer screen anywhere in the world. One of the problem with this is that digital media can be so widely disseminated and duplicated.

In certain ways, copyright law and its tightening is a really good thing because it recognizes that there is value on creativity and that a living can be made off of creativity. That being said, it is frustrating when people cannot use simple things. Cory Doctorow points out the gross inequities in copyright law when one group of people has teams of lawyers at their disposal and others are operating out of their garage. At the same time, one of the articles with the hip-hop artist pointed out that jazz was sampling for years without any legal retribution. Here, the technology is a problem because the sample is an exact copy of the original. So this is all to say that there is this weird nexus between the current technology and the legal protection, which is based on past technology. This makes following copyright that more onerous and the need to find new solutions that much more necessary to balance creativity.

FDST project update

My topic is my grandfather’s service in Guam during World War II and my father’s telling of that story from when he was a child. I have made real progress in collecting material for my video, it’s just a matter of putting it all together. At this point, I’ve done a 40 minute interview with my dad and scanned in over 70 pictures. So I definitely feel like I have enough material to put it all together. The open lab was really useful in learning the technical part of production.

My problem now is refining my argument. I keep avoiding a more abstract idea on historical memory, feeling like typical history classes want you to come up with a history-specific topic. Kelly suggested that I compare my dad’s telling of World War II to the descriptions of it in history books. That’s definitely a workable thesis that would be easy to implement, but I keep thinking it needs to be more complex than that (apart from the fact the professor suggested it, so obviously it’s not, lol). But I think I’m encountering some growing pains with digital storytelling. It’s not the same as a written paper. We’re doing so much more showing versus telling, so our arguments can convey more layers in a simple argument than we would in a linear paper.

As far as voice-over, I want to purely use the voice of my dad, and if I have to add more information in, I think I’m going to put text on a screen, at least that’s how I envisioned it on my storyboard. And like many others, I found the storyboard extremely useful in planning how I was going to organize my story and the elements that I needed to work on.

Another unexpected thing regarding the objectivity question and family stories–in some ways it’s easier to produce a video with family stories because you know them so well, yet it’s hard to objectively analyze them because you have so much emotional attachment.

Also–if anyone knows of any good sites where I can get free music, let me know!


Digital storytelling works in an interactive environment by giving the user agency, rather than the medium acting upon the user solely. In TimeSpace: Inauguration, we saw the Inauguration from different vantage points–it gave us a sense of story across space. The user can see the big picture, and as we lose identity as a society, maybe we lose our social context.

I thought the 9/11 archive was very appropriate for digital storytelling because so many people alive today lived through it. Hence there would be a desire to interact with the material, rather than take it in more passively if it were a subject that many didn’t know about and would be far more likely to relate to in a detached way. And you see it on the site: people uploading their own pictures and telling their own stories.

In Evan’s thesis project interview video, he suggests that game and narrative are different things, but maybe the game derives from the same source.

The section on ARGS were interesting, the issue there is whether one loses touch with their personality, and therefore, learning (among other things). This would be my greatest fear in developing an ARG.

Will ARGs be the way of the history future, I don’t know. One of the issues is to assess whether people lose touch with reality and the uncertainties of life. I don’t agree with McGonagle that games necessarily make people better.

The digital environment changes academic writing and argument by their own story structure (AGRs). It changes the argument by calling into question whether one needs an argument. Still, the web is here to stay. Web 2.0 storytelling said it best: “stories now are open-ended, branching, hyperlinked, cross-media, participatory, exploratory, and unpredictable.”

WWII and my grandfather

My grandfather died at the beginning of February so I want to do a story on his service as a doctor in the Navy in the Pacific (specifically Guam) during World War II. But I want to add a layer, from the perspective of my own father. When my father was a child at bedtime, his father would sit on the edge of his bed telling him stories from the war. This began my father’s interest in World War II, which he would play out in fields behind his house with his friends in a game they called “Troopers”. Since we only have 7-10 minutes, I think this will create a layer of the story of my grandfather’s Naval experience and a younger generation’s reception of that story. A sort of father-son story.

For the video, I will use photos and pictures my family have of my grandfather’s time during the war and any other pictures I can find from that era, if the Navy or other relevant agencies have made their archives public. As far as sound, ideally I would like to tape my dad and have him tell the story. If I use music, I want it to be subtle, but not sad.

A literal video on teaching and learning

Literal video on teaching and learning

Okay, like Rose_Nylund in the Golden Girls, I took this assignment at face value: create a video about learning today. That being said, like many other people I found this assignment extremely useful for trying out Animoto, which I didn’t know existed up until a week and a half ago. I wanted to focus on learning the technology without making my life complicated with images, so I worked almost entirely with Animoto’s library, becoming VERY farmiliar with it. Additionally, I went into Powerpoint and made some diagrams to illustrate the story. Ideally, I would have liked to animate these diagrams, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that (and I’m open to having anyone show me!). As a visually-oriented person, I think images are very important in explaining abstract concepts, and this is what I attempted to do with my diagrams (and because of how Animoto is structured, I’m not sure how it will turn out–I wish we could have previewed our videos). I also think pictures and movies help to set a pace. That’s what I tried to do here. Hence, in this video, fixed pictures are associated with the “old way” and moving pictures with the “new way”.

Overall, I was impressed with Animoto, particularly its ease of use. But I don’t like the slideshow format. It mitigated against what I was trying to do. I do wish they had some more features you could manipulate elements better, and I wish you could control the transitions. Also, at first I was angry that you couldn’t enter very much text, but it challenged me to put very few words in and is probably best as there are limitations as to how much one person can read. This bothers me about many Powerpoints–they put way too much information on one slide than is necessary. So more than anything, Animoto’s limitations helped drive creativity.

As far as the video itself, it could probably be smoother, but this exercise helped me to see several issues in digital storytelling. That’s good.

Anyway, enjoy!

Literal Story on Teaching and Learning

Category: W5: Animoto  5 Comments
Analysis of Murder at Harvard

In analyzing the movie, Murder at Harvard, I’m not sure the average viewer (even the average PBS viewer) is interested in the innerworkings of how Schama arrived at his conclusions. Yet the movie presents this complicated story in a dramatic format that is helpful to the viewer. History is filled with unpredictable people and events that are very hard to analyze. To that end, I don’t think this film should be faulted by introducing dramatic components that evoke emotion since history is filled with people making irrational emotional decisions. Yet, Schama has so much angst about his subject! If I were to change anything, I would make it smoother and less about Schama. I believe that storytellers need to stay out of the story unless their presence is relevant.

Compared to the book, Dead Certainties, Murder at Harvard had broken out elements of the story for the viewer to analyze. This is in contrast to the book, which is told as a murder-mystery type book, and the reader is taken along for the ride. For example, Schama does not shy away from commentaries such as: “the wonderful strangeness” of the Doctor. Additionally, Schama brings out the personalities of the trial by adding his own narrative commentaries. In contrast, the movie breaks out Schama’s thoughts and posits alternative theories based on the evidence. While this method is awkward, the viewer gets a better idea of what is fact and what is opinion. It’s a device that probably works better with multimedia.

When history is told in nontraditional formats, it can provide more tools for the viewer. It may be a further step in unraveling the scientific method as applied to history, or it may build it up. It may break it down by adding dramatic elements such as sound and acting, obscuring “objective” history. However, the website is helpful for analysis– providing a window to analyzing documents which, if became more popular, could really educate the public to the skill of analyzing primary sources. For example, in the special features of the PBS website, the poll on the level guilt American courts should apply is something that engages the viewer and helps them to think about the trial in a new way. They can also apply this knowledge to modern analysis of trials, which strengthens their citizenship.  Furthermore, the multimedia cuts against scientific analysis in the commentary and explanation of why the producers made choices they did. This is very helpful because we can account for these elements before buying into them, as the book is more likely to have the reader do.

Ohio to DC: One State at a Time

Category: W3: 5 Photos  5 Comments
Digital Storytelling Rooted in Stories

Before defining digital storytelling, it may be necessary to explain the importance of story itself. Stories do three things: they make sense of facts, help events fall into place and put values in context.

Stories make sense of facts. If facts aren’t put in context of events, they become meaningless. For example, the fact that John Adams defended a group of British soldiers is, alone, pretty meaningless. But put the fact in context of the larger story of the Boston Tea Party and the fact that the soldiers Adams defended were the soldiers firing on Boston Common, and Adams’ advocacy becomes significant. In digital storytelling, this element of storytelling is necessary if otherwise random facts and artifacts have any power.

Stories also make sense of events. For example, after the Haiti earthquake, a few stories emerged that sought to made sense of the tragedy. The predominant narrative from the media and government was humanitarian. Haiti had experienced a major crisis, and the United States, with its vast resources, would help the country come out of the crisis, building it into a better nation. A much less popular narrative explained that the earthquake was a result of an ongoing worship of the devil. Whatever one might think of this latter story, it nonetheless illustrates the need to apply story to a crisis in order to make sense of events.

Stories also give a culture its sense of values. For example, Elizabeth Bennett’s refusal of Mr. Collins demonstrates the perils of marrying for security instead of love without having to experience the hazards of such a union. By watching the play Othello, we learn to value loyal advisers. In the Odyssey, we learn the value of wits over physical strength. You can’t teach values in the classroom, but you can through story.

Added to these elements of traditional story, digital storytelling brings in new media elements. What distinguishes digital stories from traditional ones is that they actively appeal to more senses, principally visual and audio. Because of these additional platforms, digital stories can be more accessible than traditional written stories.

There are advantages and drawbacks to digital stories. Visual and audio elements allow the creation of a more appealing story, allowing the viewer to see settings as they really were, and a person’s voice can convey emotion more readily. Yet these elements can stifle the imaginative sense much like the way movies can suffocate the world of a book. Yet there’s evidence that digital stories do not have to cave to this end. Like Hitchcock said in his AFI interview, good digital stories should seek to preserve this imaginative sense.

To summarize, stories help us make sense of life and digital storytelling expands the traditional storytelling to more media platforms. Both help us to see our greater story, to sharpen our life’s purpose, and to make more effective decisions.

Category: W3: What is Digital Storytelling?  Comments off
The Tale of an Engineer’s Portrait

The Tale of an Engineers Portrait

“The Tale of an Engineer’s Portrait” is about the vocation of British railway engineer Phil Crawshaw. Funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in York, U.K. it not only describes one man’s career, but also chronicles a history of the British railway system in general. Not only do we learn about this particular engineer’s career, but the complexity of locomotive repair, a particular railway incident in Crawshaw’s career, as well as the evolution of the English railway system over the last forty years.

Technically the short is a good example of digital storytelling because it is executed simply. The video comprises very few effects. There is no music within the video, but this fact emphasizes the simplicity of the story and focuses the viewer on the narrator’s tone of voice. He describes his career with precision and care, conveying a similar attitude toward his vocation. The video begins with a pencil drawing of the speaker given to him by coworkers. This picture is the main theme of the story that bookends the video. While at the beginning the viewer sees it as a simple pencil portrait, by the end, the viewer sees the portrait in a different light– in context of the narrator’s career. This is an effective way to use one otherwise unremarkable picture to convey a powerful emotional theme.

Artistically the pictures are amateur, but convey the narrator’s passion toward his career. The video is effective in executing a topic that could have been boring, but for its narrative arc. In this way, it’s a great example of the dramatic suggestions referenced in the Storytelling Cookbook. Overall, the video demonstrates how pictures can be used simply and effectively.

One drawback to the video is it lacks clear signposts to guide the viewer. At points, the narrative becomes a jumbled litany of the narrator’s jobs, but overall, the pictures make Crawshaw’s career a persuasive and educational commentary on the British railway system. This digital short is an effective example of how one person’s story can educate with simplicity on broader topics.

Tale of an Engineer\’s Portrait

Category: W2: Digital Story  Comments off