Digital storytelling: past and present

For the last 15 years I’ve been on this path: exploring the intersection of databases and narrative.

Stories have always attracted me as the ideal form for understanding life, both present and the past. Perhaps more importantly, I have envisioned my future as a series of stories that I’ve told myself. I’m fascinated with how stories give us the capacity to reinvent ourselves. Stories, in the form of myths or religion (if you must), give structure and meaning to our lives.

As a librarian, the foundation of my profession is built upon carefully organizing information to be used by others. That’s a very valuable function within society, but it’s not enough to satisfy my curiosity. In this digital era, the database is the access point for discrete chunks of content that can be queried and analyzed. Consequently, those parcels of information can be reshaped into stories.

Any reader informed by media studies will notice that I’m channeling Manovich.

What prompts these musings yet again? Next week I start teaching two courses: digital history & multimedia storytelling design. Both courses examine ways of presenting narratives on the web. My co-teacher for multimedia storytelling design is a journalism professor and most students are journalism majors. We’ll be exploring how you tell a web-based story about a contemporary issue. In digital history I’ll be examining with the students how you tell a web-based story about an issue in the past. Both forms of storytelling rely heavily on primary sources and are structured as narratives. Both forms of storytelling rely on content that is organized and structured.

I’m looking forward to the next four months of teaching digital history and multimedia storytelling design. It will be interesting to see where those two courses intersect.