Author Archive

Final Summary

Digital Story Title: “I’ll Be Seeing You”: A Snapshot Look at World War II Life

Brief Description:

The main focus of my digital story is on the personal experiences of one man – my grandfather, Roland Quinn – who was in the Army for two and a half years during the Second World War. During the first year and a half of that time, he was shuffled between multiple Army training schools, rarely completing any of them because of general disorganization and the Army constantly changing their programs. The story follows his life through the pictures he took and the letters and postcards he sent home on a regular basis the entire time he was in the service. Interwoven into this narrative is the story of his college roommate – Kenneth Rabb – who was a Marine during the war, and who I identify at the end of the story as my step-grandfather, who married my grandmother after Roland’s death. I tell Kenneth’s story through his photographs and the things Roland wrote about him in the letters, with overarching narration tying everything together. Through it all, particularly using Roland’s Army experiences, I am arguing that the typical view Americans have of the US Army during the World War II years as a vast, invincible, and efficient force is actually not as clear when the experiences of individual soldiers are examined. Instead, a picture of average men called upon to face difficult circumstances while dealing with the normal problems associated with any large, bureaucratic organization is seen. I then close the story by showing how the experiences of both Roland and Kenneth have affected my life and the life of my family.

Main goal(s):

I have two main goals with creating this digital story. The first is to tell the story of my grandfathers in an accurate, interesting manner. Roland died when my mother was four years old. She and her younger siblings have very little to no memory of him, and her older siblings have never gotten the chance to learn much about his Army experiences. My cousins and I grew up hearing a little bit about who he was, but knowing essentially nothing about his life. When I found the collection of his letters and photographs at my great-aunt’s house a few years ago, I realized that I had discovered a gold mine of information, first about World War II, but also as a window into the personality and character of the grandfather I had never met. I am really hoping that this story will help my family learn more about Roland’s life and to get to know him as a person in a way most of us have never had the chance to do before. I am also hoping to honor his and Kenneth’s time in military service and the difficult situations they faced and sacrifices they made during the war.

My second main goal is to show how the dominant historical narrative concerning the military during World War II, particularly the Army, is a little too triumphant and doesn’t take many of the problems and issues that the men dealt with into account. I am not trying to denigrate the military or the things the servicemen accomplished, or to in any way reduce their status as World War II victors. I am just trying to show that, when individual experiences are examined, the story becomes a little more complex than that portrayed in most popular histories or social studies textbooks.

Who is your intended audience?

I have two main groups that this story is focused toward. The first is, as I said, my family, particularly those of us who were not born when Roland died. The second intended audience is middle to high school age students. I feel that this story can both introduce them to everyday life (both on the home front and abroad) in World War II and the experiences of average soldiers, as well as help them learn how to critically analyze commonly-held views of historic events. Also, I am hoping that the story will be of value to anyone who has an interest in history or World War II, regardless of age or academic level.

Category: Uncategorized  Comments off
Is copyright dead?

The thing that keeps popping up in my head as I read about this is – how in the world can copyright laws be maintained in the digital age?

I’ve had a bit of experience with copyright issues in the past. I’ve done years and years of theatre, and there are always questions of royalties and copyrights and when/where/how plays and one-acts can be performed. I’ve also dealt with it in the exhibit creation work I’ve done while interning at museums. The first thing I learned the first day on the job was: always try to find photographs produced by a government agency because they’re in the public domain and we won’t have to shell out a ridiculous amount of money to Time-Life.

But in the digital realm, copyright takes on a completely new life. As I was reading through the “Copyright Basics” article, two things really stood out to me. First was that copyright includes the right “to prepare derivative works based upon the work”. All that I can think about when reading that is the whole fan fiction movement, both the written stories and the recreated mash-ups and other videos that you see on youtube, which I think is a huge subgenre of digital storytelling. While it can initially be brushed off as obsessed fans, it could be considered as breaking copyright law. I guess the real issue would be if they started making money off of it, but if I was a published author, I don’t know if I’d like to have my work torn apart, recreated, and republished on the internet. (That ridiculously awful sequel to “Gone With the Wind” not written by Margaret Mitchell would be an example of this situation gone awry.) But the more I think about it, the more I think that even if the fan fiction authors were making a profit from this, there’s absolutely nothing that the original author could do about it, because how could this be enforced? It’s hard enough for police to catch and prosecute large-scale distributors of online child pornography, much less someone using the internet as a vehicle to break copyright law.

The other thing that stood out to me was that there is no international copyright protection. I think that is really the nail in the coffin when it comes to the efficacy of copyright law. Speaking as someone who has lived with a roommate who is obsessed with finding the cheapest DVDs available, regardless of whether they come in paper envelopes and have Chinese subtitles, I don’t think there’s any way to maintain copyright protection (especially for film and music) in an era where a teenager in Detroit can go online and order pirated CDs from Hong Kong and have them show up in his mailbox three weeks later for 10% the price he would have paid at Best Buy. The situation gets even more hopeless when you consider that you can go online and watched the latest blockbuster on streaming video from a different continent before it’s even hit the theaters. There really doesn’t seem to be any way to enforce this. It wasn’t an issue 50 or even 25 years ago when business out of the scope of US copyright law were incapable of taking US-produced material, pirating it, and selling it back to US consumers. Now, with instant digital access to all points in the globe, that is a reality of the industry that authors and artists are going to have to deal with more and more.

So, in short, I definitely think that if copyright protection isn’t dead yet, it may be well on its way.

Project Progress Report

So far I think my project is coming along well. Almost all my images have been scanned and organized. I spent the weekend with my grandfather (one of the main characters in my video), and was able to scan a bunch of his photographs and talk to him about his experiences in college and in WWII. He actually had a lot more photos than I had thought he would and they were about a broader range of topics that I expected. I was actually able to find photos for just about everything I had wanted to talk about in the video, which was surprising. The only thing I have left to do for the images is to find some generic images from WWII (probably from the Library of Congress and the National Archives websites), scan some of the letters and postcards that I’m quoting from, and get a few snapshots of my family now.

The final script isn’t quite as far along. I have the overarching narration finished, but I haven’t finalized the excerpts that I’m going to be using from the WWII letters and battle histories. I know the type of quotes I want to use and I have a general idea of where in the letters and books those topics are; it’s just a matter of sitting down and carefully reading through everything. Fortunately, the letters the I’m quoting have already been typed up in manuscript form, so it’s fairly easy to read through them.

I’m not too worried about putting everything together. I’ve played around with Movie Maker a little bit, and it seems pretty user-friendly (despite the fact that I have absolutely no technological capabilities, whatsoever). I should be able to get the images, text, and background music organized without any trouble. I’m more concerned about recording and editing the narration. I think I’ll just have to come in early a few times and use some of the microphones in the lab.

Storytelling and Interactive Environments

I think interactive environments have a huge impact on how storytelling works. First, it’s become well-accepted that stories can be nonlinear. In a digital environment is very easy to present stories in multiple ways – chronologically, thematically, in order of when each section was created, etc. Another major change is that these interactive environments have equalized the storytelling process. Because it’s so easy to create content, anyone can now participate and be heard. All it takes now is five minutes with a computer and internet access to publish stories and other content in a public forum.

However, I think the main feature of storytelling in an interactive environment that distinguishes it from all others is its collaborative nature. Many people are involved in the creation process, combining microcontent from many different users, turning it into social media. While one person or small group of people may create the original story or idea, through comments, online discussion, response videos, and blog entries, the stories take on new life and new meaning. I really like how Alexander and Levine said that instead of telling stories, we now present evidence of stories and let the players tell it to themselves.

I don’t think digital environments should change the content or quality of academic writing and argument. Content should still be of very high caliber, scholarly, and well thought out. Academic arguments should still be made and proven in a coherent, logical way, regardless of the environment in which the material is presented. But I think two major things change about academic writing in a digital environment: the way it’s created and presented. Academic content can also be created and published easily, without having to attract the attention of a publisher. Academic content can also be created collaboratively, something which could turn out to be either very successful or counterproductive. The way academic writing and argument are presented also changes, mainly in the style and technology available to present it. Blogs, videos, podcasts, online discussions, and comments on content created by others are all perfectly valid ways of sharing academic content.

Finally, while I think that these interactive environments are very useful, there are several things we must be careful about. I think it will prove to be very easy for the content to get out of the control of the creator. An author’s original work could be taken and twisted far beyond recognition because of the extreme collaboration involved in some of these situations. Also, how rapidly content can be altered in digital environments can be problematic for serious, scholarly presentation. Last, just because it’s very easy to participate and publish work now doesn’t mean that we should lower our standards and accept work of poor scholarship because it’s now presented in a public forum rather than being simply rejected by a publisher or editor as it would have twenty years ago.

WWII Experiences and Communication Technology

The overarching topic for my video will be the individual experience in World War II and the power of communication technology. I’m going to approach this by telling the connected stories of my grandfather and step-grandfather, interweaving their time in childhood, college, World War II, and after the war. The main focus of the video will be their World War II experiences but will end in current time.

Most of the story will be told with my grandfather, Roland, as the primary character. I will start with his childhood in rural upstate South Carolina during the Depression, going off to college in Indiana, and meeting his roommate, Kenneth, who he identified with because they were both from the South. I will then flash back to Kenneth’s childhood in rural western North Carolina and what brought him to Indiana. I’ll then show the beginning of World War II and how each was drafted and dropped out of college, Roland to join the Army and Kenneth to join the Marine Corps. I’ll then follow Roland through his Army career, interweaving what Kenneth was doing at the same time. This will take Roland through several training schools (including one in Manhattan), to Italy, and finally to Japan, and will take Kenneth through basic training, into the Battle of Okinawa, and finally to China. During this section, I’m going to highlight how they kept in communication with each other the entire time and were even able to visit each other right before Kenneth was shipped off to the South Pacific. Even though they never saw each other again, they stayed in contact after the war, as well. Roland is still going to be the main character, and I’m going to briefly show how he moved back home to South Carolina, finished school to become an engineer, got married, and had five children.

I’m then going to switch the story to Kenneth’s perspective. I’m going to put in that he went back home, got a job working as a civil engineer for the NC Highway Dept, got married, and had one daughter. His wife died in the early 1960s, and in May 1963 he got a letter from Selma, Roland’s wife. She had found his address in Roland’s papers and wanted to let him know that Roland had died of cancer that spring. He wrote back, and they soon began corresponding. They got married 12 months later and had a daughter together in 1965. I’m then going to have a brief montage of snapshots of my family from 1964 until now, ending with the most current images of the entire family taken at Kenneth’s 84th birthday. Then, I’m going to jump back to the two men as college roommates, and pointing out how they never could have guessed that one day their children would share a sister and their grandchildren would be related.

My historical arguments are going to be related to the evolution of communication technology and its power to bring people and families together, both figuratively and literally. I’m going to highlight the ongoing written communication between Roland and Kenneth, and between Kenneth and Selma, pointing out that had they not stayed in touch, my family would not be around. During the photo montage at the end, I’m going to show how my mom and her sisters, who are spread across two states, keep in touch through many hours on the phone, and how my cousins and I, who are spread around the world, keep in touch using modern communication technology: texting, email, facebook, and blogs. I’m going to show how, using the three generations of my family, that technology is only enabling communication, not creating it and how there has always been a human desire to connect with each other across distances, regardless of the means available.

I’m planning on using a number of different elements to tell this story. The main one will be through photographs, including personal family snapshots, official military photography, and other World War II images. I’m going to get the images not owned by my family from the Marine Corps History Division and the U.S. Army Signal Corps photographic collection held at the National Archives and Library of Congress. For the World War II section, I’m going to tell Roland’s story using excerpts from letters he wrote to his father chronicling his time in the Army and I’m going to tell Kenneth’s story using excerpts from the official USMC command chronologies in the US Marine Corps Archives. For the section which takes place after the war, I’m going use interviews with Kenneth, my mother, and her siblings. Throughout the entire piece, I’m going to have period music playing in the background. Right now, I don’t think I want to have voice-over narration, relying instead on text to tell the story, but I might change my mind.

Mobilizing for WWII

Mobilizing for World War II

Since the assignment was to create a movie related to teaching, I decided to make something that I could use in one of my classes. The video shows the war mobilization process that the United States went through at the beginning of World War II. The idea came from a power point presentation that I made to teach 11th grade U.S. History. I took the text from the power point and turned it into a script, then inserted the pictures I already had from the original presentation. When I changed the text to make it more narrative it left gaps in the images, so I supplemented the originals with a few extra photos and some war production posters. The idea is that this would be something a teacher could use to introduce a lesson on WWII war mobilization. It’s not enough information to be a complete lesson on the topic for a high school history course, but it’s exactly the right kind of format and presentation style to catch teenagers’ attention at the beginning of a class.

This was the first time I’d ever made any kind of presentation or video in a format more advanced than power point, so it was definitely interesting. It took me forever to finish it, but now that I know how the program works, I think it will go much faster next time. Overall, I was really happy with how it turned out. The only main problem I have with the program is the limits on text. There were several times that I had to split sentences into two different slides and couldn’t get the complete thought on the screen at once. I also wish there was a way to preview and edit the video without having to republish it every time, since that seemed to take awhile.

Category: W5: Animoto  One Comment
Murder at Harvard v. Dead Certainties

This film isn’t really a documentary of the Parkman-Webster murder case. Instead, it’s more a documentary of the writing of Dead Certainties. Schama says that the point of both is to try to figure out what really happened. However, the film goes further, intertwining the story of the case with an explanation of Schama’s thought process in writing the book and the methods he used to develop his version of the story. It uses the expository mode of documentary filmmaking, as explained by Bill Nichols, which is a method that “emphasizes verbal commentary and an argumentative logic.” All elements of the film (the voice-of-authority commentary, logical rhetoric, images, historical information, expert testimony) are combined together to recount the history of the case and support Schama’s arguments about it, something which Nichols claims is essential to documentary film as a genre. The film is nonlinear, jumping between recreations of the trial, its historical context, the story from the perspectives of the major players, Schama’s writing process, and the views of prominent historians.

The film and the book present different material, starting with the story structure. In the film, Webster is presented first and is shown very sympathetically. Parkman is then shown negatively. This immediately causes bias towards Webster rather than Parkman, which is enhanced by the presentation of Littlefield as a macabre and bitter man who should have been one of the main suspects. The book tells these stories reversed, with the tale of Webster coming after Parkman and Littlefield, making Parkman the sympathetic character and Littlefield seem misunderstood. There is also a lot of historical information presented in the film but not the book, including the Boston Brahmins, how the case fit into Boston’s history and society, the media frenzy, and the effects of the case. This contextualizes the case in the film in a way that is impossible in the book, making the book seem more like a historical novel than a piece of scholarship. Finally, the film’s focus is different. It looks much more closely at the ambiguities and contradictions of the case. The book makes it seem more cut and dried, while the film shows the fact that the evidence is inconclusive. While both eventually come to the same conclusion, that Webster murdered Parkman, the film is much more focused on a logical argument which examines all sides and evidence before arriving at this decision.

This conclusion shows some of the danger inherent in presenting history in less traditional formats. Neither the book nor the film is objective history, although the film makes more of an attempt. Both present information which is imagined by Schama. He even creates scripted scenes, which he explains by saying, “I felt I had enough information to put words in these characters’ mouths.” While in the film he immediately follows this with historian testimony explaining the problems with doing this, he is still presenting it as history. He acknowledged that he was crossing the line between history and fiction. At one point in the film, based on the feelings and motivations he assumes Littlefield had, he declares him to have been innocent, something which can not be proven. It doesn’t matter how much research he did or how much these added elements could have been true, he is still making things up and presenting false information as history. This will misinform people. As Daniel Willingham explained, people will remember the false information as truth unless they are given specific warnings about what was made up. Schama does this in the film, but not in the book. In the book, the reader has no idea what is real and what isn’t. Because of this, writing historical fiction and trying to pass it off as legitimate is a dangerous way of presenting history.

Friday Study Hall, 2:45 pm: Education Classes Never Mention This Part

Category: W3: 5 Photos  2 Comments
What is digital storytelling?

This question is very difficult to answer because there is not a consensus as to what, exactly, would make up an “official” definition of digital storytelling. Some practitioners hold to a strict definition, limiting digital stories to 250 words, two minutes, and a dozen images. Others have very broad ideas of digital storytelling, using the term to refer to any relatively short digital presentation which in some way seeks to entertain, inform, educate, or promote a cause.

However, most people and organizations seem to define digital storytelling as conveying an event, idea, or personal history in a narrative, multi-media manner through video. This can be done either with historic events and people, or modern ideas and occurances. However, regardless subject matter, digital stories almost always have emotional components and seek to establish a personal connection between the creator and the audience.

These digital stories are usually short and their main component is a narrative script spoken as a voice-over for the video, usually by the story’s creator. This narration is combined with a variety of media to add richness to the story: photographs, still images, animation, background music, interviews, film clips, etc. In many ways digital storytelling is merely an evolution of oral storytelling, because we are not changing the traditional storytelling process, just adding additional visual and auditory elements to it.

The idea behind most digital storytelling projects is for anyone to be able to participate, even if they do not have a background in narrative writing or technology. The main point is for people to be able to tell their personal stories, making a compelling, emotional component such a strong part of a digital story. Because of this, they are typically made to instruct, persuade, reflect, or provide history from the perspective of one individual’s voice.

“An Old Welshman”, by Victor Jones

I found this story on the BBC website. As part of their Telling Lives project, the BBC hosts workshops to teach people to make digital stories. Within the project archives, there is a World War II Memories section, which is where I found this story.

It is a war memoir detailing the experiences of a Welsh soldier during the British evacuation at Dunkirk. It is told from the point of view of the creator, who serves as the narrator. The story is told in chronological order and details that one specific event, with his story leading up to the evacuation and what happened to him later tacked onto the beginning and end.

The story starts with Mr. Jones describing the rushed way the British forces were mobilized and sent to France, and their quick retreat to Dunkirk. He describes the civilians along the way to the Channel, waiting at the beach before evacuation, seeing the bodies of his dead comrades, and the reception they received upon returning to England. He ends the story by stating that he returned to France on D-Day and by contemplating the loss of life there.

The story is put together very simply, just photos in a slide show with voiceover narration. The images are typical WWII snapshots – groups of soldiers in front of trucks, the narrator standing alone in fields or in front of buildings, an official British Army portrait. The only other resources used besides photographs and narration are highlighted sections from letters written by Mr. Jones.

The movie is not very polished, but that adds to its authenticity. The BBC website really focuses on the personal nature of the stories and how easy it is for average individuals to make a digital story of their own. I really felt that they wanted people to come and actually create stories themselves. Knowing that this veteran had carefully written his script and chosen the photos he wanted to put into his story so he could share his memories with other people really added to my experience in viewing it, and brought a lot of humanity to the story.

The most compelling thing about the story, however, was the script. There were several things he said which were extremely poignant. He described the civilians along the road as “the young, the old, babies in arms…tearfully begging us to pick them up and tearing at our hearts”. He described himself as, “No soldier, just a scared Welsh lad sent to France, hardly knowing how to fire a rifle”. After telling about civilians picking through the clothes of the dead in the surf he said, “Let no one say it wasn’t so – I saw it and I remember it”. When he arrived in England, he said “a cup of tea was handed to me by an angel”. This language really enhanced the imagery and served to highlight the human experience of war, and that is what really made this story stand out to me.