What are great examples of digital storytelling at museums?

By Miriam Bader and Laura Lee , The Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Throughout the workshop, we grappled with what digital storytelling means. Through case studies, lightning talks, and conversations, we shared projects happening in museums and questions.

  • Is this a story that could be told without digital?
  • How does the story change with digital?
  • Are digital (age) stories new? Are they more engaging and or complicated stories?
  • Is a great technology exploration of an artifact a story or just a digital tool?

​We also amassed a great collection of digital storytelling projects happening in the United States and abroad and sought to organize them in a useful way for the field. Seeing the variety and diverse scale of projects was fascinating and we wondered what would be the best way to distinguish projects and help others use the resources in the future as part of their own work with digital storytelling.

Ultimately we decided to catalog the projects by format, differentiating projects for being exhibit-based, web-based, and event-based. As museum people, we assumed that other professionals would be looking for ideas and best practices for a particular format and this could be a good place to start. As we explored the projects, secondary organizational factors became apparent. It was interesting to note which projects were intended for individuals and which were designed to be social. Most intriguing was the relationship between the user and the narrative. We saw examples of digital stories that were static and gave the user no control of the story, as well as dynamic stories where user feedback actually changes the narrative.

Here are some of our favorite examples:

Connected Worlds at the New York Hall of Science offers a rare kind of digital story. Not only does the exhibit allow users to interact with the technology, it allows them to influence and ultimately create a unique story. The exhibit fills a room and the technology reads the users’ body gestures toward a screen. They story changes constantly as the users make choices on planting and irrigation in different environments. Working collectively or alone, either way, they can see how their actions impact the big picture, the story can have many levels. It’s an immersive and physical option in digital storytelling.

Most intriguing was the relationship between the user and the narrative. We saw examples of digital stories that were static and gave the user no control of the story, as well as dynamic stories where user feedback actually changes the narrative.

While museum websites are often receptacles for content that can be laborious to sift through, they can also be opportunities to tell a cohesive story. The homepage of the Riga Ghetto Museum website immediately introduces visitors to the stories of six different of survivors of the ghetto. Select one of their portraits, and a story unfolds with text, illustrations, oral histories, and photographs as you scroll down the page. Additionally, there is a Google Maps Street View supported tour, where the user can explore the modern streetscape of Riga Ghetto, while hearing, reading, and seeing the stories of the people who lived there. Information with logistics on visiting the museum are there too, but the stories of the ghetto are the centerpiece to the website.

​With Clouds Over Cuba, the JFK Presidential Library and Museum presents a story that goes that plays out on multiple screens. At its core, Clouds Over Cuba is a documentary about the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, the experience is enhanced during the film as the user is collects a “digital dossier” of government documents, photos, and recordings of historic meetings and briefings and the story continues on a user’s mobile device. The ability to sync with a calendar app allows the user to experience the 13 days leading up to the crisis live by “attending” meetings, offers a dimension of storytelling that a documentary alone can’t reach. With so many layers of levels of engagement, the story is complicated in a way that couldn’t happen unless it were told digitally.

You can explore more digital storytelling examples from museums in the resource section. Let us know if the differentiations of format, engagement type, and story style is useful and what other categories you think should be added.

Miriam Bader is the Education Director at the Tenement Museum. Laura Lee is the Education Associate for Tenement Talks and the Project Coordinator for the Digital Storytelling Workshop. 

 

1 Comment

  1. @Miriam Bader, I do agree with you statement that “Most intriguing was the relationship between the user and the narrative.”

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