Post #3: Digital Storytelling and New Media

New Media provides historians – enthusiasts and academics alike – with the ability to track, interpret, and present information using increasingly sophisticated, yet highly accessible technologies.  The wealth of digital resources available today, especially open source formats, means the ceiling of knowledge required to participate is not tremendously high.  Some projects, like Small Town Noir, utilize (mostly) free resources like WordPress to present historical anecdotes with minimal interaction and limited aesthetic ambition.  However, depending on the skills of the designer, these projects can become extremely complicated (National Archives Digital Vaults) resulting in visually dazzling, interactive digital stories.  The degree of sophistication used to tell a digital story is not indicative of its effectiveness or historical value.  In fact, extremely flashy sites like Welcome to Pine Point can wind up offering hyper-specific detail without providing context, thereby failing to do much in the way of advancing the historical field. This is not to say that something like Pine Point is without value, but rather it is an illustration of how form can dwarf function.  If digital storytellers want to be taken seriously by traditional scholars they will need to focus on interpretation as much, if not more, than presentation.  Unless new media is used to interrogate and question information it will likely remain a complementary tool, but unable to stand independent from more traditional written sources.

For the average historian, creating a site as with the technical refinement of The Hollow is not possible. However, this does not preclude members of the academic community from participating in these twenty-first century projects. As Daniel Cohen points out, blogs allow academics with extremely limited technical skills to expand their reach and ability to collaborate.  Despite the stigma still attached to new media formats, Robert Townsend’s research shows that the academy is growing increasingly receptive to the idea that serious scholarship can take place digitally.