Tag Archives: storytelling

Interpretive animations can activate audience connections to history

For me, enjoying a museum visit has always required a leap of imagination. After all, a glass case or a room barrier inherently separates you from objects. Interpretive animations as short-form video are one way to get a visitor into a state where they can better understand the context is which a space, object or event “lived” its historical purpose due to its interaction with humans.

I experimented with this concept as part of a partnership with University of the Arts in Philadelphia and my colleague, Michal Meyer. Abstracting the object or story with animation really helped focus on imaginative storytelling and more effective interpretation.

Here is a playlist of animations produced as part of this partnership.

Some are definitely better than others, but they increased in quality as we refined the process. One challenge related to this experience (where we were working with a class) is that there is much work in getting the students up to speed on the meaning of the content and desired outcomes for audiences. These were also semester-long projects for an animation class, so they are several months in production. Some animations were never quite finished.

Overall, I think they turned out wonderfully. My personal favorite is an animation of an old alchemical painting the organization had, which explained what was going on through the eyes of a creature featured in it. Here’s a preview to the high-resolution source image for that from Wikimedia Commons (click for original):

Interpretive animations Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist 17th century David Teniers II.tif
Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist by David Teniers II, 17th Century

I saw that painting almost every workday for three years. It captured my imagination all on its own, and was a no-brainer for this project. To give these project some extra attention, we “premiered” these as part of a live webcast that featured a graphic novelist and a comic book historian.

Drawing History: Telling the Stories of Science through Comics and Graphic Novels from ChemHeritage on Vimeo.

There are many examples of museums using animations as pre-visit prep (manners in the museum) as seen below, but few featuring sophisticated storytelling and animation.

There are also examples of animations being used in museum interactives, such as these at the Benjamin Franklin Museum.

I looked for examples of interpretive animations produced by other cultural institutions, and they are hard to find. If you know of something out there, please link to it in the comments. Of course, there are many examples of object-inspired animated GIFs being used throughout social media, but that’s another post.

Audio Podcast: Greg Lemon on podcasting to keep the storytelling tradition alive

greg lemon myth show teaser

Greg originated the popular MythShow podcast. In this interview, he talks about the importance of the storytelling tradition, building a quality web presence around your podcast, and setting personal priorities with new media

Guin: Greg, thanks so much for joining us on Voices of the Past. I wanted to start out by asking you how you actually got into the world of mythology. Was that something you went to school for or was it something that you grew up with an interest in?

Lemon: I think it began as growing up with an interest in mythology. I remember in elementary school going around the library, I found this book on myths and mythology, and I picked it up and I really enjoyed it. So, I am a computer professional by training, but I really enjoy stories and storytelling and mythology specifically.

Guin: What’s your favorite myth?

Lemon: It is really hard to pick a favorite myth. I really lean closely to the classical Greek and Roman mythology and pantheon. But if I were to pick a favorite book, it would be Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” where he goes in and talks about the mythical journey or the hero’s journey that is found common through many mythologies. So if I had to pick a favorite book, it would be that one.

Guin: You have to have a passion for this to actually turn it into a podcast. A podcast is a lot of work, and it’s a lot of commitment. How did that passion translate into you creating a podcast?

Lemon: Well I love podcasting and I love the technology around the podcasting. At the time when I was doing the podcast, I was really excited. I had a lot of interest in it, and I loved sharing stories and the storytelling and trying to convey that interest to other people. The one thing that I see that is missing today is the art of storytelling. And people are so interested in–or in education they are so interested in the reading, the writing and the arithmetic and tests that the have to take, that they forget the human side of the history. They forget the human side of this experience that we have, and I feel that myths, folklore, fairy tales and things of that nature really help to bring that back. I feel that’s kind of missing and I saw that that was missing from my kids’ education and felt that was something that needed to be brought back.

Guin: Well, you don’t actually consider yourself a “quote” heritage professional. Is that right?

Lemon: Correct.

Guin: Well then, what were your goals when you were actually creating the podcast? How did you want to add to the conversation?

Lemon: I wanted to be able to provide stories. And as I had mentioned before, I felt that the education material that was presented was missing a lot of that. My kids didn’t know who the Gods and Goddesses of the mythologies, they didn’t know the characters from the American folklore, they were missing that kind of stuff. And I felt that if I had the same feeling that perhaps there would be parents out there that felt the same. So I created these podcasts as an introduction to these stories, myth, folklore, fairy tales and what not. As an educational resource that people could turn to to maybe supplement what they were maybe learning in education.

Guin: You seem like such a natural podcaster. I mean it seems like something…you’ve got the voice and you’ve got the relational interview style. Were you in broadcast before this?

Lemon: Actually no. I was a Sunday-school teacher for many years, and I was a scout leader for the Boy Scouts of America. So i developed the art of storytelling around a campfire or sitting around in a Sunday-school classroom. The comfort with podcasting and with interviewing just comes with time. I’ve been doing this since 2006, I think…I’ve been doing this for many years, and so I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve become more comfortable communicating via person, via Internet, via video, via audio. And so that’s something that just comes over time with practice. I did have aspirations to go into broadcast at one time, but career paths being what they are, I feel that I enjoy podcasting and the intimacy that comes with this new media much more preferable.

Guin: Do you have any favorite podcasts that you’ve done?

Lemon: That I’ve done or that I’ve listened to?

Guin: Well, both. We’ll start with the ones that you have actually done yourself or your favorite episodes where there was some piece of information that you just connected to, or a guest that you just really enjoyed…

Lemon: I have had many wonderful opportunities to interview individuals on the Mythshow podcast. There’s the Celtic Myth podshow. A wonderful partnership between Gary and Ruth. In England, I was able to interview them and their podcast specifically focuses on Celtic mythology. But they tell it in more of a roundtable. As you would imagine a bard around a campfire, they use many voices, they use sound effects, and you really get the feel that you’re in a campfire. And you really get the feel of the storytelling.

Guin: Alright. Then let’s talk about the podcasts you enjoy listening to that are not your own. What do you listen to in your leisure time?

Lemon: The ones related to history that I really enjoy: there’s the History of Rome podcast, while not mythologically based, it does have that wonderful historical element that has gone and is continuing to go through the history of Rome. There’s also the 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast, which has since concluded since he’s covered all the Byzantine Rulers. But that was a wonderful history-based podcast that took the…because we know about Rome and we know about the Middle Ages, and this covered that stance in between. And so those are two wonderful solo-reading, one-person podcasts that I really enjoyed. I mentioned the Celtic Myth pod show. Wonderful stories are being shared there. But then I also enjoy the technical podcasts as well. There are many daily podcasts on news and technology, the weekly commentary technology shows and just a variety of fun shows out there.

Guin: Why do you think these stories are important to share in this new media format?

Lemon: We need to be able to remember that sharing stories has been a past time for generations if not even before recorded history. In fact, some of the earliest recorded history are these ancient stories. If we could think of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, that was originally an epic poem that he recited. We need to remember that there’s the story element, the human aspect. We as people are not names, places and dates and events, but it is the stories between those names and places that really captures the human element. I feel that with mass entertainment, while I do enjoy a good Disney movie and I really do enjoy the efforts they have done to bring those fairytales–or the mythologies–into modern dialog, we’ve got to remember that that’s not the only thing out there. The Disnefication of the Little Mermaid or the different princesses or even “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” those are wonderful stories that they’ve been able to interpret, but we need to be able to share the stories ourselves. How wonderful would it be if we were able to have a digital recorder in the pockets of the soldiers storming into Normandy on D-Day. How wonderful would it have been to have had audio recordings of the people in the Civil War or of times past. We have snippets of that, we have the official histories by governments, but if we could have that insight into the regular soldier’s life. If we could have that pioneer that was crossing the plains to the farmer. If we had those stories, how much more rich of an understanding would we have of our heritage or of heritages around the world?

Lemon: One of the favorite stories that I am reading to my children now are the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. While not mythology-based, I really enjoy sharing with my daughters the story of a young girl who lived in a completely different time under completely different circumstances. And I hope that the values and lessons that Laura Engles learned on the prairie can be translated into things that my own daughters can use.

Guin: You said that you weren’t originally a broadcast person and you kind of got into it in 2006–that was practically the ancient days of social media. How did you actually learn how to do it and get into it?

Lemon: Well the very first podcast that I listened to was one called “Muggle Net,” which is a podcast based around the Harry Potter books. I’m a big fan of the books, I loved reading them and sharing those stories. It’s a whole new fantastical story there and I started listening to it. And I really got into the technology of podcasting. There’s just so much more to podcasting than just clicking the record button. There’s the website, there’s the technology, there’s the audio editing, there’s the production, there’s the marketing. All of those things fascinated me, and in 2006, I went to the Podcasting and New Media expo. And I went there without an idea. I went there trying to figure out, I wanted to be involved with it. This would be a great, what could I do? And during that expo, I was brainstorming and I came up with the idea, I love to share stories. And I went home that night of the first expo and registered the domain name and started recording. And from then on, the association with other podcasters, with those at the time in Orange County, Calif., and those that I’d met throughout the country, and honestly throughout the world. That I enjoyed the interaction with the people. Probably too much, because as time went on the podcast started to get more slowly produced. But I enjoyed the social interaction and the technology surrounding it.

Guin: What technology do you use to do your podcasts?

Lemon: Well, the first couple of podcasts that I have, you see the headset that I use in this video stream. I started with just my computer plugging in a headphone. And honestly those podcasts sound terrible. But I got out there and I was enjoying the technology. Eventually, I was able to upgrade my equipment. You can tell a distinct different when I got a new H4 microphone, and I still use that today for recording podcasts. And it’s not so much that my hardware improved, but being more comfortable around the microphone. Knowing what I wanted to share, being able to speak more eloquently so I would have fewer edit cuts and it would take less time to edit the podcast, and also making sure I knew what I wanted to say, even practicing it. Most of my podcasts were written out, word for word. And it sounds like I am reading them, and it’s because, well, I was. I didn’t try to hide the fact. And that saved a lot on the editing time. But then again, open conversations like this one was a lot of fun as well.

Guin: Yeah. Well, you know, it is all about the content. And actually creating content that people can use. So, whether that’s scripted or whether that’s free-form, as long as people are getting something out of it and they are coming back for more, it’s all OK.

Lemon: The basic premise that I had with my podcast shows was that it was written, it was educational, and so I felt that it should start from the basis of a written essay. Whereas interviews and other shows, depending on how well they know their audience, depends on the kind of content that they should deliver.

Guin: Well tell us about that because audience is critical to having any form of successful online presence. Tell us about your audience and what you do to try to cater to that audience and build your audience.

Lemon: In full disclosure, the Mythshow and the Mythminute podcast that I produce have been on hiatus for over a year now. And so I have lost a little bit of the contact with the individuals that listen to the show. I still see that people are downloading it and still enjoying the content, but I have not been actively podcasting that due to economic situations, due to commitments with my family. Because when it comes to recording a podcast or reading a story to my kids, the kids win every time. And I think that is how it should be. And so, I wish I could have more time, but there’s only 24 hours in a day.

But to know your audience is so critical. Even if you don’t know individual names, you need to define the person you want to talk to or your desire to communicate. Are you looking for teenagers, are you looking for adults, are you looking for professionals in a certain genera, are you doing it for your family and your future posterity. Recording your own stories so that they can be enjoyed in years to come. Knowing your audience now will make the decisions so much easier in the future. You’ll be able to not agonize over every single decision, but you’ll be able to say, “Well, what would my ideal audience member want?” And go with that.

Guin: Well, do you have any tips for people who are just trying to get into podcasting?

Lemon: Well first of all, have fun. This is an exciting technology, and it is a lot of fun to participate in it. Like we said previously, know your intended audience. Be very specific about planning your podcast, even going as far as writing up a profile of who you would want to be. Name, age, gender, profession. Know this person and know why you are talking to this person. And why the information is important to them. Also, set realistic goals with your content creation. A lot of knew podcasters, when they start out, they go, “well, I’m going to produce an hours worth of content every week. Well, that goes two or three weeks, and then it goes two weeks in between and then it goes a month, and the content gets shorter and shorter, and I speak of this from personal experience.

You’ve got to set realistic goals. If you can only commit a couple of hours a month, understand that that’s what you can do, and don’t set the expectation for your audience that you’re going to provide a weekly show when in fact you can only provide a monthly show. Also, this is a new technology, this is a lot of fun, but record a few podcasts, experiment with the content. The format, the length. Try to get into a grove before releasing your shows. A rule of thumb I have often heard is record five full shows before releasing any, that way you have been able to record, produce and enjoy the process of five shows and you can see what works. And also, one last thing, is to build a community. Being a solo podcaster is kind of hard because you don’t have a group of individuals around you if have an historical society, if you have a group of like-minded individuals who want to create a podcast, share the responsibility. Share the fun, and then that way you can keep each other motivated. And you can share the work load.

Guin: You mentioned before that a podcast is only part of the undertaking. Tell us a little bit about that. What do you do to help support your podcast?

Lemon: There are many different forms that a podcast can take. You can have the simple RSS feed, which is really simple syndication. It’s the technology used to deliver the actual audio. You can be as simple as that, or you can have a website with shownotes so that people can add comments and you can start that discussion. You can even go as far as establishing a web forum, where people can converse and start to share a lot of information. Whatever you decide, you need to know your community. If the people that are listening to your podcast are very passive and only want to get the content and go, then it may be difficult to form a community. However, if you have an organization and the people begin really active, become really active with comments, a blog with comments, with active discussion and even a forum would be a great way to build that community. As you start out, there’s going to be very few people. But as long as you put out good quality content on a regular basis, whether week, month or whatnot, you’ll begin to build that audience. But you also need to send out emails. You need to be able to rank well in search engines. Contacting people in traditional off-line methods. Those ways you can bring them online and build your audience. And there are many books by professionals on the subject matter, and if I had the “holy grail” of podcast production and getting my message out there, I’d have a lot more time to produce podcasts.

Guin: Are there other forms of social media that you use to either support you podcast or to just maintain your presence in the social space?

Lemon: I use Facebook. I have a personal account on Facebook. I also have a fan page for the podcast as many other do. The Celtic Myth Podshow is an excellent example of people who have used Facebook to an excellent degree on being able to promote their podcast. I use Twitter. I have multiple accounts. I have a personal account, I have a podcast account. And so other people can follow me there. I have a lot of interaction with social media that way, but also just going out there and having fun. There are meet up groups that you could meet up with, and there’s Tweet ups, Social Media Club. There’s podcamps; there’s a lot of groups out there ready, willing and wanting to share this information to help you start your own podcast. This community is wonderful and you don’t have to go at it alone. There are so many people out there willing and wanting to help. And there are excellent resources available at your local bookstore to learn how to podcast.

Guin: Greg, thanks so much for joining us.

Lemon: Glad to help.

 

 

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Video Netcast: Folklorist Dale Jarvis talks about storytelling on the social web

Tease: Coming up in this edition of the Voices of the Past Netcast, we’ll meet Dale Jarvis. Dale is a folklorist and storyteller who is pioneering ways to share his art with new generations using online media. He experiments with traditional storytelling methods using social tools like Twitter, Facebook, podcasts and even Second Life. He’ll talk about the timelessness of storytelling and how you can still communicate the power of place through the web.
Thanks for joining us. I’m Jeff Guin. We’ll have that interview in a moment. First, here are a couple of briefs about the heritage world online.
—————————————————-
An online magazine dedicated to conservation science is welcoming a new feature. E-Conservation is now featuring a regular column by conservator and blogger Daniel Cull. Now, Dan tells us his articles will discuss conservation-related news and controversial issues.
[Cull Soundbite]
According to its publishers, the objective of e-Conservation features news, events, and scientific articles from around the world. The magazine features items about conservation of detached mural paintings in Portugal and wood science for conservation of cultural heritage. In addition to the magazine, the e-Conservation website features internships and job opportunities, and an online forum.
Now, you can learn more about Dan and his personal conservation blog by reading our interview with him at the Voices of the Past website as well.
—————————————————-
Trees are among the least-understood historic features, often removed because of safety fears or to make way for new construction.
A 170-year-old tree is still standing thanks to the power of the internet. The osage-orange tree is the lone survivor of a hedgerow planted in KeeWanEEE, Illinois circa 1840. The concept was promoted by Illinois College professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner and became the shelterbelt system saving America’s soils from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Because of its significance, Illinois arborist Guy Sternberg mobilized his online contacts to preserve the tree.
Sternberg learned of the tree’s fate just days before its scheduled removal. Within a 48-hour period, the city received dozens of e-mails from arborists, forestry professors, and other professionals contributing their expert opinions and support. Others from across the country offered the city donations and technical assistance to help preserve the tree.
The campaign branched out into other forms of electronic communication as well, including blogs and podcasts. In the end, the efforts paid off and the tree was saved. If you would like to contribute to the tree’s continuing preservation, you can donate via the PayPal link at its Facebook fan page.
——————————————————
Intro: In a world that communicates 140 characters at a time, Dale Jarvis has found a way to keep the storytelling tradition alive. In fact, he’s broadening the world of storytelling through creative uses of web-based tools.
Dale is the Intangible Cultural Heritage development officer for Newfoundland, Canada. And when he’s not sharing ghost stories and legends with community groups, he might be found in Secondlife sharing stories around a virtual campfire. Or collaborating with others to tell stories on Twitter.
I spoke to Dale Jarvis recently, and here’s what he had to say about how he captures the essence of the oral tradition while adapting it to new media.
Now, Dale just published his first book “Ghostly Ballerinas.” He was also involved in organizing the Place, Narrative and New Media conference, a half-day symposium on how new technologies are being incorporated into storytelling. We have links to Dale’s blog at our shownotes site. While you’re there, check out our extended audio podcast with Dale.
That’s it for this edition of the Voices of the Past netcast. Until next time, we’ll see you online.
———————————————————
http://www.e-conservationline.com/component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/
http://web.archive.org/web/20130301234209/http://ncptt.nps.gov/speedy-e-mails-save-a-historic-tree-in-illinois/

Transcript Intro: Coming up in this edition of the Voices of the Past Netcast, we’ll meet Dale Jarvis. Dale is a folklorist and storyteller who is pioneering ways to share his art with new generations using online media. He experiments with traditional storytelling methods using social tools like Twitter, Facebook, podcasts and even Second Life. He’ll talk about the timelessness of storytelling and how you can still communicate the power of place through the web.

Thanks for joining us. I’m Jeff Guin. We’ll have that interview in a moment. First, here are a couple of briefs about the heritage world online.

E-Conservation Magazine

An online magazine dedicated to conservation science is welcoming a new feature. E-Conservation is now featuring a regular column by conservator and blogger Daniel Cull. Dan tells us his articles will discuss conservation-related news and controversial issues.

[Dan Cull Soundbite]

E-conservation is an open-access magazine produced by and for the international conservation community. Issue 12 features the first edition of my regular column as a permanent collaborator. For our previous collaborations, we developed a good working relationship and I was delighted to accept this position. The column will cover topical, controversial or otherwise interesting topics in the field of conservation. My hope is that it will foster dialog that will in turn feed back into the magazine.

[Dan Cull Soundbite Ends]

According to its publishers, the objective of e-Conservation features news, events, and scientific articles from around the world. The magazine features items about conservation of detached mural paintings in Portugal and wood science for conservation of cultural heritage. In addition to the magazine, the e-Conservation website features internships and job opportunities, and an online forum.

You can learn more about Dan and his personal conservation blog by reading our interview with him at the Voices of the Past website as well.

E-mail Saves a Tree

Trees are among the least-understood historic features, often removed because of safety fears or to make way for new construction.

A 170-year-old tree is still standing thanks to the power of the internet. The osage-orange tree is the lone survivor of a hedgerow planted in Kewanee, Illinois circa 1840. The concept was promoted by Illinois College professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner and became the shelterbelt system saving America’s soils from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Because of its significance, Illinois arborist Guy Sternberg mobilized his online contacts to preserve the tree.

Sternberg learned of the tree’s fate just days before its scheduled removal. Within a 48-hour period, the city received dozens of e-mails from arborists, forestry professors, and other professionals contributing their expert opinions and support. Others from across the country offered the city donations and technical assistance to help preserve the tree.

The campaign branched out into other forms of electronic communication as well, including blogs and podcasts. In the end, the efforts paid off and the tree was saved. If you would like to contribute to the tree’s continuing preservation, you can donate via its Facebook fan page.

Dale Jarvis, Folklorist/Storyteller

In a world that communicates 140 characters at a time, Dale Jarvis has found a way to keep the storytelling tradition alive. In fact, he’s broadening the world of storytelling through creative uses of web-based tools.

Dale is the Intangible Cultural Heritage development officer for Newfoundland, Canada. And when he’s not sharing ghost stories and legends with community groups, he might be found in Secondlife sharing stories around a virtual campfire. Or collaborating with others to tell stories on Twitter.

Here’s what Dale had to say about how he captures the essence of the oral tradition while adapting it to new media.

[Interview]

Dale Jarvis: As a storyteller, one thing that people ask me all the time is is storytelling dying. You know, is this a dying art? And I really believe that things are always in a constant state of evolution. I think traditions are always changing, and I think that the rise of things like YouTube indicate that people are really passionate about storytelling. They really want to share their own personal stories.

So, it is sort of a really great democratization of storytelling in a way. Maybe people don’t sit around and tell the long form fairy tales in quite the same way that they used to, but people are incredibly interested in sharing their own personal stories and creating stories and sharing them.

So I am fascinated by sites like YouTube because I think it does indicate that their is this human desire to share stories. That storytelling is something that is something that is really important to us as a species. Everyone wants to share their story in some way.

I think technologies, like cell phones, are something that we are going to see more and more get used for some of this stuff, especially like the iPhone. Especially with the GPS capabilities, and I mentioned before that I am real interested in place-based narratives, place-based storytelling. I think that we are going to see more and more of this type of stuff.

One of the projects I am involved with right now is a project that was started in Toronto called Murmur. The murmur project started off as an art project in downtown Toronto, where people collected local stories told by local people, they recorded those stories, they put them all online.

So there is a map of the neighborhood and you can go to the site and click on the little dot and listen to a person tell the story about that particular location. But then if you actually go to the street and walk down the street, there is a little sign on the street with a phone number and a six-digit code, so you can take your cell phone and dial the number, punch in the six-digit code and listen to the person tell their story on that spot.

And this a project that started in Toronto, it’s moved across Canada. There are now projects in South Pablo and Brazil, there’s projects in Scotland and Ireland, and we are starting up a similar project here in Newfoundland.

I think that that has great potential. That these sort of cell phone based stories and sort of using new technologies to get local stories and local traditions and local knowledge out to a wider public are going to be very, very popular.

I know places like the Appellation Trail and national historic sites in the United Kingdom are starting to experiment with GPS based narrative-type devices, so you can have your iPhone and walk around the site and listen to different types of stories. And I think we are going to see a lot more of that type of stuff happening more in the very, very near future.

Jeff Guin: Storytelling is evolving. There are different ways of telling a story now, and I actually noticed that one of the things you are involved with is using Twitter to tell a story. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Dale Jarvis: Yes, Twitter is one of these things that you have to sort of boil down to something to a very little short sort of thing.

So storytellers are sort of used to waxing poetic and telling these long stories. I can tell stories as a storyteller, you know, sort of those long fairy tales that take 30 minutes 45 minutes to tell, and I know storytellers who can tell one story that can last three hours.

So Twitter sort of forces you to rethink how you approach a story. I have told stories on Twitter. As part of a storytelling festival I was involved with, I actually told a long-form story just 100 characters at a time in over the course of a week.

So people could sort of follow my tweets and then read the whole story as I posted it. But I think that there is also the potential to use Twitter as well to share some tiny little stories.

There are some great little websites. There is one called Twistory, which is sort of one of these sites that collects all the things that people are putting as updates on Twitter and post them under different categories. So you can find everything someone hates or loves at a certain moment or what they believe in at a certain moment. And they are fascinating.

Dale Jarvis

It is maybe not sort of narrative storytelling in the way that we think of it, but it is sort of a remarkable insight on into current moods and how people are perceiving their own little personal worlds.

[Interview Ends]

Now, Dale just published his first book about Ghostly Ballerinas. He was also involved in organizing the Place, Narrative and New Media conference, a half-day symposium on how new technologies are being incorporated into storytelling. We have links to Dale’s blog at our shownotes site. While you’re there, check out our extended audio podcast with Dale.

That’s it for this edition of the Voices of the Past netcast. Until next time, we’ll see you online.

Podcast: Dale Jarvis on the art of storytelling on the World Wide Web

Dale Jarvis

Dale Jarvis is a member of a diminishing class: the storyteller. Yet, he is finding ways to share his art with whole new generation by reaching out to “use the media that they are using.” Whether it’s a podcast of traditional stories told by school children or telling stories 140 characters at a time on Twitter, Jarvis explores the web to find new ways to connect folks to their heritage. In episode of Voices of the Past, we talk to Dale about the online tools he uses and what kind of impact the Web will have on the preservation of cultural heritage.

Click To Play

Jeff: Welcome to the Voices of the Past podcast. I’m Jeff Guin and today I will be talking with storyteller Dale Jarvis of Newfoundland, Canada.


Now, Dale is the Intangible Cultural Heritage development officer for Newfoundland. Dale, welcome to the podcast.


What do you do in your role in Newfoundland?


Dale: I help communities run community programs. So I go into communities, and I help them identify aspects of traditional culture or local heritage that they want to preserve. I mostly deal with things like community history, place names, traditional music–that type of thing–traditional skills like boat building. Those types of knowledge.


Jeff: Now Dale, you seem to be everywhere online, you contribute to a lot of different sites. How many sites do you actually contribute to?


Dale: I have different blogs for different organizations that I am involved with or different projects that I’m running. The most active one is the blog that I run for the heritage foundation for Newfoundland and Labrador, the Intangible Cultural Heritage blog. And that’s where I put a lot of information about the projects that I am involved with or community based projects that are starting up, workshops that we are offering, that type of thing. Just to keep people knowledgeable about what we are doing on a day to day basis.


Jeff: Well there are an awful lot of opportunities to have a conversation online, why did you choose Blogger for your blogs?


Dale: Blogger was free and easy. That was the main reason we do it. We do a lot of community based work, we do on pretty shoe-string budgets. So Blogger is a good tool for community groups and for myself to use.


Jeff: Absolutely, there are a lot of heritage organizations experiencing a budget crunch right now, and that is the great thing about social media, I guess, all of it is free, and there are different ways to communicate with it. Why did you choose to become so involved with social media?


Dale: It’s one more way of keeping in touch with people. I find that these days the first place people go when they are looking for information is online, and social media allows me to maintain contacts with people in a disparate area.


So I do a lot of work in the rural part of the province, and so it is just a way to create a network of people working in rural areas. So people that I might have a difficulty driving out to see, might be hours and hours of drive or a flight away can keep in touch using social media. And I like that it is very easy to update. So if I am doing something new on a particular day, I can very easily go in and make a very quick update. In a way that is more difficult with just a static website, and people can subscribe or not subscribe to what I do. So they can sort of choose to follow particular items that I am involved with.


Jeff: Now your use of online tools goes way beyond just the blogs. You are actually involved in quite a few social media outlets, what tools do you use?


Dale: I use a variety of stuff, and they are all sort of interconnected in some way. I use Blogger a lot. I use Twitter. I am constantly twittering about little things that I am doing. If I am running a new coarse or developing a new workshop, I will put a little Twitter update about that.


And I use Facebook a lot as well. I have Facebook groups for some of the organizations or some of the projects I am involved with. For Newfoundland and Labrador, there is an Intangible Heritage Facebook group.


This morning actually, I was updating some stuff about traditional wooden boatbuilding. We are developing a documentation coarse for people wanting to record traditional wooden boats. So it is a combination of photo documentation, drawing and oral history. So we are going to be teaching a coarse.


So I blogged about that using Blogger, and then I put a status update on my Twitter page, and then that’s all linked into Facebook. And I posted the event on Facebook as well because different people follow different things.


So it is a little bit of work. I find that I am updating a lot. I would love it if there was one, if I could do one thing and it would update all my different social media aspects. It would be great. But I do find that it is a great way of reaching out to people, and I do find that it reaches sort of a different audience.

When I am doing local history and working with community groups, the average age is sort of an older population. For boatbuilding, for example, the boatbuilders in the provence are generally older men, and they are not on Facebook. They are not following Twitter.


But there is a whole other generation of younger people who are interested in these issues, and it is a great way to reach out to them. And to get younger people involved in heritage and museum work, is to reach out to them and to use the media that they are using. So we are finding that we are getting folklore students, we are getting university students, college students who want to learn more about some of the programs we are running, and I think it is directly because of the fact we are using social media that is aimed toward that younger group.


To reach out to those older people, the people who aren’t computer savvy, I still to rely on the telephone and ads in the paper and that sort of thing, but it is a great way of reaching a broader spectrum of people and people who might not have been interested in heritage in the sort of traditional sense.


Jeff: All of this is great in communicating, but you still have a job to do. You are actually a professional folklorist, and how do you do your field work in the digital age?


Dale: I still rely on sort of old-fashioned methods of doing field work and documentation. If I am going out to sort of interview people, I still have to go knocking on doors and finding people to interview the old fashioned way.

I do use digital technology when I am doing my fieldwork. I use all digital photography, and I record digitally now. All my sound recordings are done digitally. I have a little hand-held digital recorder I use an mp3 wave recorder when I am doing my field work, which allows me to take field work and put it online pretty quickly in some ways.


One of the projects I am involved with with the university library is call “The Digital Archives Initiative,” and that’s a program to digitize material and put it online. They have digitized a lot of print material, but we are encouraging them to do more and more fieldwork documentation. So to take oral history interviews, interviews with traditional crafts people and put those digital interviews on line.


So the field work is still done the same way it has been done for 100 years, I have to go out and I have to sit down and talk to people. And that’s part of the job I love, but I am using new technology to make the processing of that information a little bit easier and putting that stuff online a lot faster.


Jeff: What’s your specialty in folklore?


Dale: My real interest is in Vernacular Architecture. That’s what I did all my MA work on, but I have a real interest in traditional knowledge and narrative and place-based narrative. So stories about place are really the sort of things I am passionate about.


Jeff: Do you focus primarily just on the folklore of Newfoundland or do you look at other countries as well?


Dale: I am really interested in collecting local stories. I am really interested in collecting local legend, and a lot of these things are migratory, like everything comes from somewhere else in some ways, and so I am really interested in how traditions blend and synchronize. And how stories from one place are adapted by people to a local condition and a local culture.


I think one of the great benefits of social media is that it allows me to keep in touch with people that are doing similar research in other locations. So if I have an interest in sharing stories digitally, it is very easy for me to find people who are interested in those sorts of things.


So for example, I am on several different listservs, public sector listservs and oral history listservs. So I know that people are doing similar work to what I am doing in India and in Hong Kong, and I have contacts with people I keep up with in Norway and in Switzerland.


Because we are all doing similar things, and the approaches and techniques are similar. We are all interested in our own local situation, but it is a real great way of sharing information and technical information.


So if someone is looking for information on how to record a Skype conversation, they put that request out on the listserve and almost instantaneously someone, somewhere in the world can get that information to them.


So it is a great way for professionals to keep in touch with one another. Whether or not that will impact how field work is done, I don’t know. Some people are starting to do field work in sort of digital worlds, and people are starting to study how societies online interact.


I think that is a fascinating field, but for me I still like traditional culture. I still like going out and interviewing the old men, you know, hanging out with the boat builders.


Jeff: Now you’re also involved with a professional storytellers’ Ning site, which Ning is a ready-made social network anyone can build. Tell us about that. Do you still have that sense of community in an online setting that you would in real life?


Dale: The Ning sites are good for sort of special interest type groups. So the professional storytellers‘ Ning group is a great way for keeping in touch with people that I might not have met in other ways.


I live on an island in Canada, so it is sort of difficult for me to met people face to face. And the storytelling community is sort of small in a way, there is not a lot of professional storytellers in the world really. And so sites like professional storyteller on Ning are a great way for me to meet sort of storytellers and find out what other storytellers are doing to keep abreast of what’s happening with the regional and national organizations.


Jeff: Tell me about your thesis work.


Dale: I did my thesis work on Vernacular architecture up in Labrador, northern Labrador, on a series of churches that were built by the Moravian Church out of Germany in the 17 and 18 hundreds. And they set up sites, pretty well-known American sites like Bethlehem, Penn., but they had also set up sites in the Caribbean and South America and in the Canadian North.


So they built these amazing Germanic churches way up in the middle of no where, these prefabricated in Sascha and then shipped over in pieces to North America. Fascinating, little-known aspect of Canadian architectural history.


And so I was studying how the architecture changed over time and how as the society changed and the local inductee population got more control over the church, how the architecture changed to sort of reflect more local concerns rather than this grandiose European style type architecture.


Jeff: That’s fascinating research Dale, and you actually contribute a lot to online media. You’re a prolific poster, you actually tell some of your stories on YouTube. Now, I imagine by now you are actually starting to get feedback on some of that content. Tell us about that.


Dale: I do get some feedback. I find that posting to sites like YouTube, and I also post video to a website called TeacherTube, which is sort of an education-friendly site. A lot of schools block YouTube, and so stuff posted on TeacherTube is more likely going to make its way into the school system.


I do get some comments from people who just happen to stumble across my stuff, people from other parts of the world. It’s not as interactive as some of the other online ways of communicating, so I never quite know who all is listening to my stories or watching my stories on YouTube.


But it is a great way to get that stuff out there. I think it is a great way of sharing stories.


As a storyteller, one thing that people ask me all the time is is storytelling dying. You know, is this a dying art? And I really believe that things are always in a constant state of evolution. I think traditions are always changing, and I think that the rise of things like YouTube indicate that people are really passionate about storytelling. They really want to share their own personal stories.

So, it is sort of a really great democratization of storytelling in a way. Maybe people don’t sit around and tell the long form fairy tales in quite the same way that they used to, but people are incredibly interested in sharing their own personal stories and creating stories and sharing them.

So I am fascinated by sites like YouTube because I think it does indicate that their is this human desire to share stories. That storytelling is something that is something that is really important to us as a species. Everyone wants to share their story in some way.


Jeff: Well exactly and storytelling is evolving. There are different ways of telling a story now, and I actually noticed that one of the things you are involved with is using Twitter to tell a story. Tell us a little bit more about that.


Dale: Yes, Twitter is one of these things that you have to sort of boil down to something to a very little short sort of thing.


So storytellers are sort of used to waxing poetic and telling these long stories. I can tell stories as a storyteller, you know, sort of those long fairy tales that take 30 minutes 45 minutes to tell, and I know storytellers who can tell one story that can last three hours.


So Twitter sort of forces you to rethink how you approach a story. I have told stories on Twitter. As part of a storytelling festival I was involved with, I actually told a long-form story just 100 characters at a time in over the course of a week.


So people could sort of follow my tweets and then read the whole story as I posted it. But I think that there is also the potential to use Twitter as well to share some tiny little stories.


There are some great little websites. There is one called Twistory, which is sort of one of these sites that collects all the things that people are putting as updates on Twitter and post them under different categories.


So you can find everything someone hates or loves at a certain moment or what they believe in at a certain moment. And they are fascinating.

Dale Jarvis



It is maybe not sort of narrative storytelling in the way that we think of it, but it is sort of a remarkable insight on into current moods and how people are perceiving their own little personal worlds.


Jeff: How else are you bringing storytelling to the online world?


Dale: I have experienced a little bit with telling stories online. I’ve told stories in Secondlife for example. I have started a storytelling guild in Secondlife. So I can go in as an avatar and tell a story.


It’s a very different type of storytelling from the sort of storytelling that I am used to where you eye contact, which is very important I find in telling a story. But people are really interested in hearing stories. So even in a sort of virtual setting where you don’t have quite the same physical eye contact, direct human interaction, people still come together to sit around a virtual campfire to listen to stories, which I find remarkable. And I think it really illustrates that human interest to listen and tell stories.


Jeff: I think it is great that Newfoundland actually has an official Intangible Cultural Development Officer and an official folklorist. Is that something that is integral to your culture there? Not everybody has one of those.


Dale: I think because Newfoundland has such a unique history in Canada. It’s the oldest part of Canada in some ways, but it is also the newest part in Canada in others.


It only joined into confederation in Canada in 1949, so before that it was its own country basically. And so since it was its on country and an island for so long, it had sort of developed its own unique sort of indigenous culture.


Very sort of Irish, west country English sort of culture. Very much based on traditions around the sea and fishing. Great live traditional music seen here in the Provence. So culture and language and music and traditional dance are really important still at the community level.


So it’s not surprising in Canada, which is this geographically large country, there are really only two providential folklorists in the whole country–one is in Quebec, which has a very distinct French tradition and then my position here in Newfoundland, which has its own very Anglo-Irish island tradition as well.

So yes, I think my position really has come about because people here really recognize that there is something unique here and that there is a value to it and that it is something worth preserving, worth saving.


Jeff: Dale, do you think the stories you are telling now are going to get lost in the online melange of different tools? Is there something that is going to get lost in the actual storytelling itself in the shift of digital?


Dale: One of the programs I run here locally is a storytelling program at the elementary school level. I work with one local school, and I go in and I teach storytelling to grades 4 to 6.


So I go in one day a week, and I work with six different classes and I actually teach students how to tell stories. So I teach them how to tell traditional stories. I teach them a lot of local stories, so stories about the fairies and local ghost stories and local legends and local folk tales.


One of the little projects that we started last year was to record those stories in mp3 format and then podcast those kids telling those traditional stories.


When I first went into the school, I said, “How many of you have heard people tell stories?” and you know, a couple of kids raised their hands. And I said, “How many of you have an mp3 player?” And like every kid in the class put up their hands.


And so what I am trying to do with that project is use new technology to promote a traditional skill amongst youth. And unless it’s meaningful to them in some way, unless it has some sort of value to them, they are not going to be interested in the tradition.


But they are fascinated by the stories, they love the stories. And they also kind of think it is neat that they can go online and listen to other kids telling their stories.


And I sort of knew it was working when one day when I was leaving the school, there were two girls talking to each other and then one girl turned to the other and said, “I’m so downloading your story.” And I thought OK, OK, I have done something right then in this school.


Jeff: Is that podcast still available?


Dale: The podcast is still available. It is holycrosselementary.blogspot.com, and you can go on and you can listen to some of my grade 5 and grade 6’s telling traditional stories.


Jeff: And how do you think the new technologies are going to affect the folklore field?


Dale: I think technologies, like cell phones, are something that we are going to see more and more get used for some of this stuff, especially like the iPhone. Especially with the GPS capabilities, and I mentioned before that I am real interested in place-based narratives, place-based storytelling. I think that we are going to see more and more of this type of stuff.


One of the projects I am involved with right now is a project that was started in Toronto called Murmur. The murmur project started off as an art project in downtown Toronto, where people collected local stories told by local people, they recorded those stories, they put them all online.


So there is a map of the neighborhood and you can go to the site and click on the little dot and listen to a person tell the story about that particular location. But then if you actually go to the street and walk down the street, there is a little sign on the street with a phone number and a six-digit code, so you can take your cell phone and dial the number, punch in the six-digit code and listen to the person tell their story on that spot.


And this a project that started in Toronto, it’s moved across Canada. There are now projects in South Pablo and Brazil, there’s projects in Scotland and Ireland, and we are starting up a similar project here in Newfoundland.


I think that that has great potential. That these sort of cell phone based stories and sort of using new technologies to get local stories and local traditions and local knowledge out to a wider public are going to be very, very popular.


I know places like the Appellation Trail and national historic sites in the United Kingdom are starting to experiment with GPS based narrative-type devices, so you can have your iPhone and walk around the site and listen to different types of stories. And I think we are going to see a lot more of that type of stuff happening more in the very, very near future.


Jeff: Do you see more folklorist catching on to social media or more of them using it these days?


Dale: I think it is going to happen. I think the technology is getting friendlier all the time, and it is getting easier and easier and people are getting so familiar now with things like Google Maps.


Even two years ago, people didn’t use Google Maps in the same way that they used today. It comes almost standard that when you are looking for place information, that you go to Google Maps. And it is so easy now to integrate YouTube video onto Google Earth. I think we are going to see more and more of this way of sharing local heritage information and local folklore on those new forms of media.


I was just at the Toronto storytelling festival telling stories, and it is very much so the traditional festival, folk festival, where you go and sit and you listen to people tell stories. And that is fabulous, and I think that the sort of heart of storytelling will always be there at that sort of very personal way of telling stories.


But while I was at the festival, there were two sort of middle-aged storytellers who came up to me and said why do we need to get on Facebook? We have been on Facebook, and we don’t understand it, and why do we bother doing this?” And so I sort of went through my social-media rant about why they needed to be on it.


And then later on in the festival, I was with the same storytellers, and they were saying, they were discussing problems every festival has about attracting new audience. You know, how do we attract new audience to the festival, and I said you know, this is part of the reasons you need to be involved with social media because that is a sort of way to attract the “under 40” crowd to come out to these types of events.


When you go to folk festivals and storytelling festivals across North America, the average age is about 40 plus, generally, but there is this whole other generation of people that are a potential audience and ultimately a potential paying audience for some of this stuff.


So I think that it is really important to start reaching out to those different people and keeping those sort of traditions, whatever they are, by transmitting them to the next generation using the new technology, new media, those types of things.


Jeff: Dale, thanks for joining us today.


Well, that’s it for today’s episode of the Voices of the Past Podcast Podcast. Now, to reiterate what Dale said, our mission here is to inspire connection to heritage values using new media. If you like, you can join the conversation at our show notes site. That’s voicesofthepast.org. Check out the heritage news and even contribute news of your own. I’m Jeff Guin, and until next time, I’ll see you online.