Author Archive


So after reading all of this information about copyrighting, I’m now living in fear that my digital story is violating all sorts of copyright laws and I’m going to get hauled off to the pokey.  Excellent.

Just based on my own experience with this digital story, I am getting the impression that copyright laws are getting more and more difficult to enforce as we move into an increasingly online environment.  I think the new standard is that if you are using something for your own use, as long as you don’t sell it or show it widely, you’ll be ok.  Policing the internet is notoriously difficulty and I think a different paradigm will be needed to contend with the porous boundaries that we are now confronted with in this regard.

It has always been a difficult balance to strike, wanting to uphold the rights of the artist (or inventor, in another context) and wanting the public to have maximum enjoyment and use.    Plus, like it or not, the internet is a game changer in this area.  People from all over the world have access to content they otherwise wouldn’t and are using it in increasingly creative ways.

My DST contains a clip from a movie, and I’m hoping that none of you are going to turn me in. Otherwise I don’t expect that the copyright police have the resources to check out everyone who borrows something from a movie, surely they will be looking after bigger violators than us.  Hopefully.  I am looking forward to the discussion in class because I think this is a particularly interesting topic for a new media class, and I think copyright law is going to end up evolving in some really different ways.

My Final Project

Well, my final project is moving along, somewhat slowly.  Had a slight set back yesterday with an emergency root canal, which is why this blog post is late.  I am making a movie about the Eastern Front in World War II.  I have a very definite idea of what i want to do with my project and how I want it to end up looking, which I guess is a good starting point.  Getting the reality to look like my vision has proven a little difficult from a technological standpoint.  I have most of the materials that I want to use, but getting them from one place to another and into a usable format has proven difficult.  For example, I have two movies that I plan to use short clips from, one which I own on itunes and am having difficulties getting into a format where I can slice and dice the part I want.  The other movie is in the GMU library, so I have to burn that and manipulate it.  The technology was always going to be a problem for me, I’ll just have to ask for lots of help as it moves forward.

Amazingly, I am not having issues with my subject, I am doing a good job of research and there is plenty of material out there.  I just hope that I can pull it all together without losing my sanity.  It has been awfully fun to think about history in this way, and I find myself thinking about this project and making small tweaks to my design all the time, imagining what things I can ad and where I can find things that might be helpful.  Being in class and hearing that others are in the same boat is definitely helpful, and I’ve enjoyed feedback from folks in the class.

Interactive Storytelling

I hope everyone is enjoying the waning days of Spring Break 2010!

Storytelling seems to become much more ‘show and tell’ in an interactive environment, in addition to just telling the story; you are now able to show it as well. This has implications for academia that I think is just beginning to be understood and felt. The Washington Post article about the Inauguration is a perfect example; a map of this kind can be used to demonstrate a timeline of any event, place or person with an interactive component that allows the reader to experience the action. When reading the WaPo article, one relives the Inauguration, even if you weren’t there, allowing multiple perspectives and different stories that intersect (or not) within the greater story. This sort of interaction has profound implications for teaching, especially teaching history.

To my mind (not being a teacher) it seems that one of the most difficult aspects of teaching history is helping students to understand that events don’t occur in isolation, not only are there multiple causes for an event, but there are also simultaneous relevant events happening at the same time. To borrow an extremely broad example from the other class that I am taking, the History of the Book, we are talking about the printing press and the beginning of the Renaissance, a time in which a lot of things were going on at the same time, all influencing and affecting each other. Text, like a history textbook, utilizes a linear format to tell the story, but using a digital environment one can create a timeline, multiple points of interest, allowing the viewer to see some of the things that were occurring at the same time and how everything blended together.

Another great example is the alternate reality games. Does this remind anyone else of the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular about 20+ years ago? The player gets to place themselves in different times and places and can choose their fate, and if that doesn’t work go back and try something else. In addition, the player gets to really experience whatever that alternate reality is, becoming a part of it. By allowing players to make decisions about what happens to them, the players can appreciate the consequences in a way that just doesn’t resonate as well if someone is reading about actions that have happened to other people.

Idea pitch for my (hopefully) exciting final project.

I wanted to do something for my final project that relates to what I study, which is World War II.  I am particularly interested in the Eastern Front, the war between Germany and the Soviet Union.  This particular part of the conflict is not something that many Americans know very much about, however, taken by itself without the larger backdrop of the rest of the war, this conflict would still be the largest war ever fought throughout all of recorded history.  Because of this, I want to create an overview of the Eastern Front, something which will give viewers a broad outline and some insight into the conflict.

The video will cover the main events and broad trajectory of the war, with some time to go into a few specific examples and give a flavor for the nature of the conflict which was so different from the war in Western Europe.  There are a bunch of different things I want to bring into the video, there is archival footage that I can use and photos as well.  The Battle of Kursk in particular, considered the greatest tank battle ever, has limited footage, but some will be useful.  I’m going to see if I can find some interviews at the LOC, but I am not hopeful that they exist.   I have a series of podcasts that deal specifically with this portion of the war that will give some scene, color and great sound bytes.  There are documentaries I will try to take scenes from and even a Hollywood movie, Enemy at the Gates which depicts the Battle of Stalingrad, I want to use the beginning battle sequence which is a pretty decent depiction of urban warfare, and also depicts the Soviet soldiers shooting their own from behind, something which was a big part of this war.  I hope to create some graphics to use that will underscore some of the statistics in a visual way.  My group last week suggested making some c comparisons to help illustrate some points and allow viewers to absorb the story, making in personal.  Another thing that was a great suggestion from my group was to pose an alternate ending, as in, what if some particular thing had (or hadn’t) happened, how would that have shaped the outcome of the war, of the post-war.  I’ll use some generic pictures of the Russian winter to give an idea of that aspect of the conflict, and underscore it with some patriotic Russian and German music.

Another aspect that I want to try to add if I have the time, which given the scope of what I’m already trying to accomplish will be a tall order, but I would like to try and highlight the lack of awareness about this theatre of war in the US.  There was a book published soon after the war by Life Magazine that is a pictorial history of the war, only they didn’t have any pictures of the Eastern Front, so Life used a series of paintings, which is revealing about the level of interest from the US.  My group last week gave me the idea of looking through a series of US history text books and having a graphic that shows how little each talks about this part of the war.

At any rate, I have a lot of ideas for what to add into the video, and in my mind it looks great, I hope that I can tell a coherent story with the short format.  And I’m also hopeful that I can figure out the technology to put this together….  For the script in a few weeks I want to challenge myself to do at least part of it in a storyboard format which is something that I am unfamiliar with and will be difficult for me to figure out.

Propaganda, the ‘art’ of politics

The subject that I wanted to create a story about was propaganda, using visual images for political means.  I thought this would be a great topic to explore in a short video because the pictures largely speak for themselves, which is the entire point of propaganda.   As an educational tool, this would be invaluable in teaching about propaganda, the pictures simply speak for themselves.  You can read extensively about propaganda pieces such as these, but it isn’t really possible to grasp their impact until you can experience the visual image yourself.  It is true that pictures are worth a thousand words, and in this case you almost don’t need any words.  I deliberately selected several images and didn’t provide a translation because the power of the image makes the translation almost irrelevant.

Animoto proved relatively easy to use, I didn’t experience any major technical difficulties with it.  At first I was really hampered by the text limitations, it impeded my ability to annotate the posters.  I felt like I was writing a volume of propaganda haiku.  In the end, though, I embraced the idea and grew to like the speed at which the images zoomed by.  If you were seeing one of these images on the street or in a magazine ad, you probably wouldn’t have a lot of time to stare and process the image.  These posters are meant to convey their message as quickly as possible to the viewer, and so the quick format actually enhanced the educational value of the video, I felt.  It also taught me that there is value in moderating my commentary and when working in a digital medium sometimes its best to let the images do the ‘talking.’

Video can be found here
One small warning, I used some anti-American, Soviet and Nazi posters in this, which might be something to keep in mind if you want to view in a public place.

Category: W5: Animoto  3 Comments
Murder at Harvard, reviewed

Schama’s book, Dead Certainties presented several problems for me, the most compelling of which was that Schama failed to differentiate between fact and fiction.  He presented the story as a narrative, and without prior knowledge of the Parkman murder, it was hard to know which part of his story could be fact checked and which could not.  The film, Murder at Harvard, was much clearer about making the distinction, and it allowed Schama the chance to tell his audience which parts of the book were his own imagination.

The film had several problems, notably Schama himself.  If it was not for his commentary, the film might have been able to come across as a documentary, or an episode that could have been shown on the History Channel.  It presented an episode of American history that has not been resolved, and different view points regarding what really took place.  These types of films, particularly those involving re-enactments are valuable and can be a great tool for the general public.  Unfortunately, Murder at Harvard stopped with Schama’s take on the events around Parkman’s murder.  The film makes use of several experts, but stops short of really allowing them to debate the issue and the murder, instead they seem almost to be mouthpieces for Schama’s conclusions.

It might be that reading the book influenced my dislike of the film, but I disagreed with Schama’s classification of his story as history.  He presented no source material at all to support his conclusions. Schama makes the point in the film, and it has also been discussed in this blog that the distance between history and fiction is short.  That might be true, but the distance is not anywhere near as short as Schama portrays.  The difference between solid history and fictional speculation is that history built on evidence and facts.  While the movie certainly has more historical merit than the book, Schama is incorrect to pass off his story as anything but fiction.

I believe that the documentary as an art form has great benefits and can be an extremely useful teaching tool.  I do not think that Murder at Harvard falls into this category.  Documentary, when produced properly, can tell a story about a historical event, illuminate an ongoing controversy, and display informed debate.  Schama and Murder at Harvard displays one side of the controversy without letting its audience make their own conclusions.

Oddities observed while driving across America

Category: W3: 5 Photos  3 Comments
Digital Storytelling, a novice’s definition.

Putting it simply, digital storytelling is telling a story employing a multimedia approach which can involve any combination of video, audio, photography, painting, drawing, music, etc.

To me, digital storytelling is a new variation on an old theme.  People have always told stories; part of the human experience involves passing down the details of our lives, from the incredible and extraordinary to the mundane.  In this way we endeavor to be remembered when we are gone or even famous while we are still here.  Stories have gone from oral recitations to book format and more recently to photographs and video.   In some ways digital stories are simply an outgrowth of the basic human need to tell ones own story.  Technologies change and improve, but digital stories are utilizing new and exciting technology to do essentially the same thing that Homer was trying to do with the Odyssey, tell an interesting story.

In other ways digital storytelling is a remarkably new and fascinating landscape to explore.  Telling stories with any sort of visual aid allows the viewer to be engaged in a new way.  Using multiple approaches to story telling enhances the viewer’s experience of the story and makes it more memorable.  The involvement of the internet has democratized storytelling and made it possible for everyone to record their lives, their past and tell their stories.  It has increased the possible viewing audience as well, a story which can manage to tap into the cultural zeitgeist can be viewed by thousands or even millions of people around the world.

Digital storytelling ushers in an exciting new venue for education as well.  In an increasingly technological society, it is vital that educators learn how to negotiate these new avenues of possibility to their advantage.  Digital storytelling offers educators a great tool, one that incorporates both the visual and the auditory to achieve a result that can be more effective than simply reading a text.  In addition, a video or photograph can offer an intimacy that simply is not possible in another venue. With a video the audience can be placed inside the action, something which offers a subtlety of perspective that is much more immediate than the written word.

Beautiful Yosemite…

It is really easy to get lost looking through digital stories, I went around and around for several hours searching for many different things that interested me.  This particular story jumped out at me, I had the opportunity to tour Yosemite not quite a year ago and found it incredibly beautiful.  Seeing El Capitan and Half Dome rising from the valley floor is something that everyone should get a chance to see!  This digital story is a fourth grade class’s joint project telling the story of the formation of Yosemite and how environmental factors came together to form what is today Yosemite Valley.  I found the video charming in its presentation and surprisingly well assembled for a fourth grade class.

The video walks the viewer through the history of Yosemite from about 80 million years to present and there are a number of graphics to illustrate the various glaciers, mountains, etc.  The graphics seem to be deliberately and deceptively unsophisticated, they resemble child’s drawings, but it is clear that the story uses a lot of them and that careful thought (and not a little talent) has gone into all of them.  The other thing that is really ingenious is the use of songs to narrate the story.  The students have come up with two distinctly different songs to act as the narration for their story.  I think it is the songs that really make the video, they are hilarious to listen to as the kids attempt to rhyme and even rap about the glacier that carved out Yosemite Valley, leaving El Capitan and Half Dome in their wake.  This rap and the drawings are interspersed with pictures of some of these memorable sites from Yosemite Valley and the students go back and review the story a second and third time to give the viewer a more complete picture.  They impart a good bit of information and for anyone who hadn’t known anything about Yosemite previously, or anyone who is interested in geology, this video would be particularly relevant.  For me, this is a good example of a successful digital story because it is informative while being entertaining.  Its clearly an amateur work, but done with panache and shows a great deal of dedication and thought.  The story uses several different types of media in its presentation as well.  Perhaps most importantly for me, it conveys a sense of fun along with the information that is crucial to engaging others in their product.

Rebecca Fachner

Hi class, my name is Rebecca Fachner.  I am currently getting an MA in Applied History at George Mason and I am very happy to be back in academia after many years in the real world. After spending several years in the real world, I have determined that it is vastly overrated.  I have been interested in history forever, I can remember being about 6 years old and asking my dad what a world war was.  I find history endlessly fascinating and while I will read about many different eras, the Second World War is the area that I keep returning to.  My research interests, therefore, are the Second World War, specifically the Nazi’s rise to power, the Eastern front and the Holocaust.  After my MA, I plan to pursue yet more schooling, definitely a PhD and possibly a more focused masters degree before that.  The reason that I am getting my first masters in Applied History is because it offers the opportunity to engage the public and I firmly believe new media will be a great tool for education and public involvement in the future.

I just moved back to the DC area after living in San Francisco for 3 years, which I absolutely loved and miss very much (particularly during the winter!). Before that I was in DC for a few years, Boston for college and I grew up in Connecticut.  When I am not studying, I have a part time job at a non-profit, I volunteer at the Holocaust Museum and I am going to start giving tours of DC when the weather gets warmer.  I’ve given tours while in San Francisco and it’s a lot of fun, a great chance to share history with the public.  In my spare time, when there is such a thing, I enjoy reading, running, knitting, watching Red Sox baseball, and hope to start playing in a local symphonic band.

Also, the adorable dog in the picture with me is named Mac.

Category: W2: Bio  2 Comments