Public History and Digital Storytelling

Jim McGrath, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Public Humanities at Brown University, gave a talk in our Colloquium series about his work in using public history and pop culture in the classroom. His talk, “Black Mirrors and Melting Wizards: Digital Storytelling Tools and Techniques,”discussed the branching structure of narratives that include an element of reader/user choice like those that create Choose Your Own Adventure stories and that form the basis of Bandersnatch, an innovative interactive episode of the dystopian British series Black Mirror. 

McGrath also focused on defining “public” and the audience for any project. In order to reach a population outside academia one must take into account the desired outcome, how any given public will access the material, and how a public would use that material. Addressing new publics also raises critical questions about the ethical concerns in representing human lives or reducing tragedy to mere data point. These are questions his team is in the process of addressing in his work with students on Monica Muňoz Martinez’s Mapping Violence project that is mapping violence on the Texas border between 1900 and 1930.

In practicing Digital Public Humanities, McGrath reminds us that these questions of audience and publics are not tangential issues, but are central concerns and need to be addressed at the earliest stages of any project, whether that be creating a digital story or working in larger projects that seek to reveal urgent histories.

Listen to McGrath’s talk