How do you tell the history of a place throughout time that seamlessly integrates other forms of expression?
We can tell the basic story of the past — the who, what, when, where, and why, but how can we account for a story where human expression and connections to those events become as important as the events being described. Equally critical — are the digital tools, and methods we can use to communicate these ideas in our work to tell the full American story.
Everyone had warned us. Bring a hat. Bring an umbrella. Drink water.
You will sweat.
Day two into thirty-three days of inspiration I faced dehydration and a persistent fight against bouts of jet lag induced exhaustion to fulfill a dream. On day two I visited the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii where the heat shimmered before me, an undulating, endless wave of haze. I could almost touch the air as it moved, and when the heat overwhelmed and I struggled to breathe, water always saved the day. Despite all this, where my body rebelled against exterior influences begging for the air-conditioning and fans, my mind was filled with exhilaration . Continue reading “Herculaneum & Pompeii: Fingerprints on the Earth”→
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down Brothers in the instant replay There will be no pictures of young being Run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy Wilkens strolling through Watts in a red, black and Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving For just the right occasion Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville Junction will no longer be so damned relevant and Women will not care if Dick finally gets down with Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day
The revolution will not be televised
—from The Revolution will not be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron
During my travels abroad this summer I tried to keep an eye out for examples of multidisciplinary storytelling. Near the end of my trip I visited the Tate Modern in London and attended an exhibition about art during the Black Power movement. A short review would simply say that Soul of a Nation is stunning, not only because of the way in which the exhibition mixes print, sculpture, and photography to show the visual culture of the movement’s history, but also how artists illustrated emotion and meaning through their work.
In my book, The Heart of the River, I wrote that “every adventure starts the same way, with one foot in front of the other.” After averaging 7 miles (14k steps) a day for the last month, I can testify that I embraced my adventure through formal/informal theatrical performances, walking tours, museum visits, historic site wanderings and so, much, more. It wasn’t merely the steps that made a leap forward, but also my mind as I started to pull on different threads of my project on storytelling, trying to find the ways in which these pieces fit and slotted together.
As a reminder here are the four research questions that I presented a few months ago:
What are the ways in which history and culture are being presented in an increasingly digital world?
In what ways do digital projects dealing with art, music, and the past connect with the public beyond a momentary impression?
What are some of the innovative ways in which the arts and history intersect to tell a narrative – both offline and online? How can we create a more fully immersive experience for the user?
How do various historical presentations and cultural mechanisms relate and effect individual and collective identity?
It’s difficult to describe the way Italy inspires. Perhaps it is the unchecked eating of pasta and gelato, or the way we learned to appreciate beautiful vistas amidst ungodly heat (heat wave code name: Lucifer).
Whatever it is, my feet hate me, but my heart is soaring. There is a lot to tell from this trip so far, but I’ll start with one pertinent to my storytelling project.
From the outset of this project my first lesson about studying the past sketched out the rough edge of my frame of reference. More specifically, that in addition to written chronicles, one of our primary sources of evidence comes from the stratigraphic layers written in the earth.
I grew up comparing the work of archaeologists to time traveling, where each layer took us further back through the ages, revealing how each era built and settled upon the times before.
And so it begins. Over the last two months I have been interviewing friends, strangers, and colleagues about my project on interdisciplinary storytelling. Their words have been thoughtful, engaging, and challenged the way I think about my work. While I will do more interviews when I return I am now leaving for a month long European adventure – for inspiration and wonder. While I will conduct more interviews in September for now I am going to digest what I’ve heard so far and see where I go. In the meantime, if you consider yourself a storyteller make sure to fill out my survey and tell me about your art.
In a few weeks fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will embark on the second to last season of a show that redefined how we imagine new worlds on television. While we’ve long known about the different cultures in Westeros through the written word, seeing these stories on the screen has resulted in an entirely new visual experience.
Update 8/2/2017: Do you consider yourself a storyteller (a dancer, a musician, an artist, a writer)? Make sure to fill out my survey!
Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here. —Sue Monk Kidd in the Secret Life of Bees
As a public historian and preservationist, I have always seen our work as inherently interdisciplinary, recognizing that in the increasingly digital world we live in, the need to use audio, video, and text to communicate our mission has become paramount.
Now, nearly, eleven years into my career at the National Trust for Historic Preservation I plan on jumping in feet first into the world of storytelling and engage with digital (and in person) storytellers across a variety of disciplines and fields. In doing so I hope to gain a sense of best practices and tools that can help connect the public to the histories of all Americans.
This project is part of a two month sabbatical from the National Trust that will take place this coming August and September (see timeline below). The hope is to not just look at storytelling in the history field – but also the wider field of humanities and beyond. At the end I hope to have gained a sense of how to construct a story that is richer, broader, and meaningful – without creating a cacophony that overwhelms the senses. Continue reading “Beyond the Written Word: Historical Storytelling in an Interdisciplinary World”→