Digital Historical Narratives | Digital Historical Narratives in the
Classroom | Getting Started |
Digital Historical Narratives
narrative refers to a digital story that describes or interprets
historical events" (Bull, 2005).
Digital historical narratives are an adaptation of Digital Storytelling created by Joe Lambert. Lambert is co-director
of the Center for Digital Storytelling in the San Francisco Bay area. Originally interested in providing a forum for
solo theatrical work, he now encourages the integration of multimedia digital stories into school curriculum. Whereas
digital stories tell personal anecdotes, digital historical narratives capture some event from the past and bring it
to life. By using electronic primary sources a 2-3 minute "movie" is created that includes a variety of media—audio,
video, photographs, and text. According to Bull (2005) digital historical videos are made of the following components:
- Dramatic question: The dramatic question allows for an exploration of a topic of interest related to the historical past.
Through inquiry, a digital historical narrative gets its focus and goal. By creating a sense of anticipation and wonder the
creator grips the audience.
- Point of view: Digital historical narratives are very different from traditional, generic and "objective" interpretations
of the past. Here the creator chooses a point of view from which to tell the story; sometimes multiple views are incorporated.
For instance, a major event such as the sinking of the Titanic could be depicted by a survivor, a wealthy passenger or a poor
passenger, or from a scientist studying the technical aspects of the ship sinking. The point of view determines the level of
emotional content that will be present in the narrative.
- Emotional content: Just like the dramatic question is designed to grab the audience's attention, so too emotional content is
what draws interest in the narrative. The past was not a dull, boring thing [although some history textbooks may depict it as such].
Rather it was vibrant, human, and multifaceted. Digital historical narratives bring this notion to life. By adding music, voice,
and images from the past they engage the audience in the human experience.
- Economy and pacing: Key to digital historical narratives is the pacing. These are not intended to be long documentaries.
Rather the narratives are focused around a single dramatic question which is answered by the end. Attention to economy and
pacing forces the creator to concisely and vividly recount a historical concept.
- Voice and soundtrack: Finally, no digital historical narrative would be complete without voice and soundtrack. Sometimes
referred to as the "Ken Burn's effect," these narratives dramatize the past. Again, in order to grab the audiences' attention
and add emotion to the interpretation, a variety of audio tracks are incorporated into the final product.
We suggest teachers use this outline of the five components as a guide to help students better understand the parameters of
creating a digital narrative. At the same time it is perfectly acceptable for narratives to focus on only one of these components
or some combination of two or more. For instance, we feel that the inquiry is an important part of historical learning and therefore
focus on the "dramatic question." By beginning here, generally, the other components fall into place; we don't get overly worried
about forcing them as long as a central, "burning" question guides the narrative.