Storytelling in Digital Humanities

“The Humanities,” as a field of study, focuses on the cultural record of human experience. Those who study the humanities seek this knowledge in stories about identity, origin, and future dreams. Why stories? Because storytelling provides a way to make our world comprehensible. We tell our stories in literature, art, architecture, and music. The humanities uses these stories to create, communicate, preserve, research, and teach knowledge about our cultural and creative record. Today, the humanities benefit from the overlay of computing technologies and resources, an approach called Digital Humanities.”

– John F. Barber, Ph.D.  Creative Media & Digital Culture, Washington State University Vancouver.

My undergraduate studies have led me to this intersection between film/media and anthropology, both fields sharing a surprising trait: storytelling. Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva says that “storytelling is central to communication” and from what I have learned through my studies, I agree with him. My film studies coalesce around the theory of narratology – the study of narrative and story structures. It teaches that narrative is more than just “what happens.” We learn the importance of why a story needs a beginning, middle, and end because that structure allows for someone to follow and code that story as information and from there, pass along that information to someone else. On the other side of that coin, my anthropology studies reinforce the importance of storytelling because, in part, it uses the stories told by others to reveal the culture of that society.

On a personal note — I love stories. For me, encoded within every story is a lesson of some sort and my perception of the world and how I retain info is framed through stories.  What brought me to digital humanities was KU’s 2017 Digital Humanities Forum: Digital Storytelling & The Humanities, specifically Professor Kim Gallon’s keynote on using data to recover black humanity. What she presented is this idea that you can use data (re: logs, transcripts, etc.) to tell a story, which for me, was a novel idea.  Looking to see what else is out there, it seems as though Emotive, an EU funded initiative, has the same idea, aiming to bring emotional storytelling to cultural sites.

And while storytelling is my method, my data primarily comes from social and civic media. I’m fascinated with how movements begin on social media with #metoo and #timesup coming to mind. I’m slowly trying to switch to being an active participant on Twitter, but regardless, the social media platform is proving to be a fascinating conduit of information. MIT Media Lab,  Engagement Lab @ Emerson, Ctr for Civic Media & scholars Sasha Costanza-Chock and Dr. Adam J. Banks are on my radar for keeping up to date on what is out there.

What I am looking forward to exploring are the various tools out there. What I find so cool about digital humanities is its embrace of technology. In fact, I’m amazed by how many scholars there are embracing platforms such as Twitter. I’m looking forward to surveying tools and figuring out what works. My fellow classmate has drawn up An (Incomplete) Survey of Digital Tools for Classicists which I think is awesome and I’m on the lookout for projects that fall within the intersection of my studies.  In the meantime, I’m looking to John F. Barber’s critical essay tilted “Digital storytelling: New opportunities for humanities scholarship and pedagogy” as a jumping point.





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