A New Digital Publishing Framework for Exploring and Reflecting Non-Textual Cultural Narratives

This is the fifth in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2017, and their projects. This one was submitted by Harriett Green.

Photo of yarn and bowls in a market

The advent of digital content expands the scope of the stories told by researchers, and in particular, visual, audio, and moving image data formats open opportunities for scholars to share research findings on non-textual artifacts of study. Research conducted on Traditional Cultural Expression (Pilch 2009) face unique contexts and challenges in the digital realm: Scholars narrated partial histories of culture through flat texts, and such research was and is often without participation of the peoples and concern for their traditions. But with digital technologies, scholars can collaborate with communities in the telling of stories through non-textual formats.

But how do we attend to the particular needs of non-textual formats in research publications, and respect the cultural traditions framing these knowledge networks? Initiatives such as the Mukurtu Project have laid the groundwork for this area of research, and as Kimberly A. Christen (2012) notes of this work, “Examining indigenous systems of knowledge circulation and indigenous mobilizations of digital technologies widens the frame of digital analysis, redefines the contours of digital sociality, and loosens the stranglehold of open access models on the way we imagine information circulation.”

Collaborative New Framework

Our collaborative project “A New Framework for Sharing and Reflecting Non-Textual Cultural Narratives” seeks to build upon this work by exploring how researchers, cultural heritage institutions, designers, and communities can collaborate to design frameworks for digital publications that reflect community-embedded research focused on cultures with non-textual modes of Traditional Cultural Expression (TCE).

The project will use a case study approach to explore the penumbra of political, social, and cultural issues surrounding the creation and transmission of Traditional Cultural Expressions in cultural traditions with an oral and performative aspects to their knowledge networks. The case selected for study is collaborator Camee Maddox-Wingfield’s “Digitizing Diaspora Dance Identities.” This project is an evolving scholarly work in digital humanities and Black Studies that critically incorporates dynamic digital media, research in the African diaspora, and non-textual formats of Traditional Knowledge that resonate with flexible elements of storytelling and performative narratives.

Photo of 3 women working on a collaborative painting

Guiding Questions

We anticipate that our team’s contribution to Triangle SCI will be through our development of a guiding framework of technical design and publication policies for building a research narrative that attends to the non-textual and sensitive cultural traditions of performance.  We seek to answer these questions:

  • How do we design research publications with cultural heritage artifacts to be accessible and contributable by the involved communities?
  • What are the particular functionalities needed for building publications with audio and visual cultural data?
  • What are the key elements to be exposed publicly and to be curated internally with TCE digital artifacts?

The activities of our project especially will focus on examining the rights management issues for preparing TCE artifacts in audio and video formats for digital publication, drawing upon the work of the Mukurtu Project’s Traditional Knowledge licensing (Anderson and Christen 2013); developing workflows for a researcher to build data archives of cultural performance with community input; and developing design principles for “story-showing” in digital publications that reflect the context of a cultural community’s specific storytelling traditions.

Through the creation of a technical design and policy framework for digital publications focused on non-textual cultural knowledge networks, we will grapple with meta-issues such as cultural commodification.  As such, our work will have implications for other works of scholarship that engage with performative modes of TCE and Traditional Knowledge.

Our Team

Our team will bring together multiple disciplines and perspectives:

Sara Benson will provide a legal and copyright policy expertise for the discussion of rights surrounding cultural heritage and knowledge sharing with a baseline level of discussion beginning with the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee for IP’s studies and Draft Articles for the Protection of Traditional Cultural Heritage.  She will shed light on questions of legal ownership of cultural heritage and, relatedly, how the community should appropriately be consulted about the publication of the work given their related legal interests in the history of the bele dance movement.

Camee Maddox-Wingfield will contribute her expertise as participating dance ethnographer researching bèlè performance in Martinique. She has accumulated a rich body of digital dance data and aims to build a digital dance archive as well as a multimedia book project. She particularly hopes to explore how the digital mapping of dance and movement data, particularly those documenting Black diaspora dance communities, can be curated for public engagement. She also aims to develop strategies for publishing research on African diaspora dance traditions in digital platforms such as Scalar, in which visual data collected through ethnographic research methods (i.e. video footage and photographs) can accompany the written analysis. The team’s efforts at Triangle SCI will work with her research project aims and data archive as a case study for building a framework for digital publication of ethnography with non-textual data at the heart of the publication.

Brad Tober will contribute expertise on how design holds the potential to empower the recipient of information communicated via non-textual cultural knowledge sharing. In particular, Brad will consider how multi-modal representations of non-textual cultural knowledge (i.e., audio, video, and 3-D models) can offer consumers of such knowledge heightened control over their engagement with it, potentially leading to a greater (and more personalized) understanding of cultural identities and traditions. Brad will build upon his previous strategic contributions to Women in Print (http://womeninprint.press.illinois.edu), a digital publishing initiative that (in part) examined the role of supplemental multimedia technologies in offering “fresh insights into the reception history of books written by women.”

Harriett Green will provide the expertise in building sustainable framework for digital publishing, and share her knowledge on building policy and access infrastructure for digital publishing. As the project manager of the Mellon Foundation-funded project “Publishing Without Walls,” Green has firsthand experience in researching and developing infrastructure, policies, and workflows for library based digital publishing of multi-media publications and open access journals.

Our collaboration will weave together expertise in graphic design, copyright, digital publishing, and anthropology to build a case study and framework for digital publishing of scholarship on Traditional Cultural Expression.

Photo of colorful prayer flags


Anderson, J. & Christen, K. (2013). ‘Chuck a copyright on it’: Dilemmas of digital return and the possibilities for traditional knowledge licenses and labels. Museum Anthropology Review. 7(1-2), 105-126.

Pilch, J. (2009). Library copyright alliance issue brief: Traditional Cultural Expression. http://www.librarycopyrightalliance.org/storage/documents/issuebrieftce.pdf

Christen, K. A. (2012). Does information really want to be free?: Indigenous knowledge systems and the question of openness. International Journal of Communication. 6, 2880. http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1618

[ Top image by Julian Mora used under Unsplash free license. Middle image by Tim Acker used under TK Non-Commercial License. Bottom image by Igor Ovsyannykov used under Unsplash free license.]

Story Structure and Storytelling Performance Techniques to Translate Scholarly Work

This is the fourth in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2017, and their projects. This one was submitted by Brian Sturm.

Photo of man shining a flashlight into the night sky

In the last decade, “story” and “storyteller” have become immensely popular concepts in a wide variety of contexts. Corporations have adopted the term for marketing products (content marketing), organizational branding (transmedia storytelling), and management strategies.  Fiction writers, movie producers, and video game designers are acclaimed as “superb storytellers.” Even scientists, however tentatively, are seeking to co-opt the words as they try to find ways to make science more accessible.

Story has gained prominence in popular culture since the “storytelling renaissance” in the US began in 1980 with the establishment of the National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling (now known as the National Storytelling Network).  Scholarship suggests that humans are wired to think in story (Fuller, 1991); that story improves comprehension, memory, literacy, meaning, motivation for learning, and engagement or involvement (Haven, 2007); and that people experience stories as if they were real (Sturm, 2000), leading to increased empathy and connection with each other (Manney, 2008).

In short, storytelling and story structure are immensely powerful communicative tools, and it is timely that the Institute is addressing their value in fostering scholarly communication.  The primary challenge for this working group is to answer the question, “How can we use storytelling techniques and story structure to help translate scholarly productivity and dissemination into a more accessible and memorable format?”  We view “productivity and dissemination” broadly, so that it includes: research articles, conference papers and presentations, research posters, as well as face-to-face and online teaching.

This working group is dedicated to designing a workbook of options to help scientists in different disciplines understand the processes involved in applying story structure and performance techniques to their work.  We intend to start with broad-stroke brainstorming sessions to capture the wealth of ideas our diverse backgrounds provide, and then focus on designing templates and processes for academics to follow that will help them translate their scholarly work into formats that harness the power of story.  Different disciplines have different expectations for their “products,” so we envision needing to develop different options for each, as one story or structure will not serve all disciplines.

Working Group Participants

We have assembled a team that builds on many of the strengths of collaborative teams.  The members are interdisciplinary, with expertise in folklore, linguistics, music performance, music and storytelling therapy, and library and information science.  All of the members are seasoned performers in their areas and combine to bring both the academic/theoretical and practical lenses to this endeavor. All members are published authors of scholarly work.  They bring a diversity of perspectives and an established record of pertinent, scholarly communication to this group.

  • Ruth Herbert, PhD – Ruth is Head of Performance in the School of Music & Fine Arts at the University of Kent, UK.  She is a music psychologist and performer with diverse research interests in the fields of music in everyday life, music, health and wellbeing, music and performance psychology, phenomenology, evolutionary psychology and ethology. Her book, Everyday Listening: Absorption, Dissociation and Trancing is published by Routledge (2011). From 2012 to 2015, Ruth led a 3-year nationwide study of young people’s listening as a British Academy Fellow at Oxford University. She is currently co-editing a book on music and consciousness for OUP and has published many academic papers. Ruth shares a scholarly interest in modes of experiential engagement with Brian Sturm.  Her real strength to this working group is her unique approach to “music as story,” her knowledge of the “absorbing power of music,” and her perspective on assessing the relevance of the templates we hope to develop to disciplines outside the knowledge of the rest of the group.
  • Rob Parkinson, MA – Professional storyteller, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and author, Rob has over thirty years’ experience working in all sorts of performance and workshop contexts in the UK and internationally. He is a former Chair of the (English) Society for Storytelling. Rob is also a widely experienced therapist and the current director of The Brief Therapy Centre in Tonbridge, UK, where he has trained many professionals in the use and relevance of stories and storytelling approaches to therapeutic change.  He is the author of acclaimed Transforming Tales: How Stories Can Change People. (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009) and several other titles on the practical skills and the relevance of storytelling to many forms of communication.
  • Monica Sanchez, PhD – Monica is a former linguistics professor at Brock University in Canada, whose interest in storytelling spawned the International Conference on Storytelling in 1999, the proceedings of which resulted in Storytelling: Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Perspectives (2002). Monica also brings a unique perspective that will help broaden the applicability of our proposed templates; of all of the disciplines represented in this working group, linguistics is the most like mathematics, and her expertise in analytical thinking and her training in argumentation will help broaden and deepen the group’s thinking and the dissemination of the results.
  • Kay Stone, PhD – Kay is a renowned folklorist and storyteller from Canada. She taught storytelling and folklore classes at the University of Winnipeg for nearly 30 years, and is the author of several books on story, including Some Day Your Witch Will Come (selections from her scholarly articles), Burning Brightly: New Light on Old Tales Told Today (interviews with modern North American storytellers), and The Golden Woman: Dreaming as Art. She has written extensively about women in folktales and feminist approaches to folklore, and has expertise in modern oral narration.
  • Ruth Stotter, MA – Ruth is from California and is the former director of the Dominican University Storytelling Program, where she designed curriculum and supervised six faculty members. She has been a self-employed teacher, author, and storyteller for the past 35 years, and is the recipient of the National Storytelling Network’s Oracle Lifetime Achievement in Storytelling award (2011).  She brings a wealth of folkloric and storytelling knowledge to the group, and is the author of About Story: Writings on Stories and Storytelling, 1980-1994, and its sequel, More About Story: Writings on Stories and Storytelling, 1995-2001.
  • Brian Sturm, PhD – Brian has researched the immersive power of storytelling and narrative worlds for nearly 20 years.  He teaches storytelling and public library work with children in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he brings that unique perspective to the group.  His research explores engagement in narrative environments of all kinds (digital, performative, and print), and he has recently developed a course in storytelling and social equity. He is the co-author of The Storyteller’s Sourcebook, 1983-1999 (Gale, 2001), a motif index to children’s folktale collections. He spent one month in Thailand in 2002 as a Fulbright Scholar sharing stories and providing workshops, where he helped develop a children’s literature doctoral curriculum for Mahasarakham University, and recently concluded a 27-day lecture & workshop tour of eastern China.

Photo of a man sitting in front of a wall of paintings

Dissemination and Follow-up Activities

Our workbook will be available on the open web and may lead to a book contract eventually.  To accomplish this, follow-up work will continue amongst the group, and we will seek to bring in other scholars from unrepresented disciplines (such as the sciences) to flesh out our initial ideas.  Depending on the composition of the groups accepted to the Institute, this working group may provide a completely unique set of perspectives for the Institute as a whole.  Collaborations function best when those working together provide myriad lenses on the issues, and this group certainly does so.


Fuller, R. (1991). The primacy of story. In Context, 27, 26-28. Available: http://www.context.org/iclib/ic27/fuller/

Sturm, B. (2000). The storylistening trance experience. Journal of American Folklore, 113, 287-304. Available: http://www.jstor.org/stable/542104.

Haven, K. (2007). Story proof: the science behind the startling power of story. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.

Manney, P. J. (2008). Empathy in the time of technology: how storytelling is the key to empathy. Journal of Evolution and Technology, 19, 1, 51-61. Available: http://jetpress.org/v19/manney.htm

[ Photos by Dino Reichmuth and Beata Ratuszniak used under Unsplash free license. ]

Telling Medieval Stories

This is the third in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2017, and their projects. This one was submitted by Brandon W. Hawk.

Image from an illuminated manuscript - Weltchronik

If storytelling matters in our own contemporary context, then so too do stories from the past. Unfortunately, premodern tales often remain obscured or misrepresented.

For example, in the twelfth century, the English monk Thomas of Monmouth (fl.1149-1172) fabricated a story about Jews kidnapping and murdering a boy named William. This fiction, now known as the “Blood Libel,” continued to be told in various forms throughout the Middle Ages (see “The Prioress’s Tale” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales); and it survives as a “zombie lie” even up to our own time, where it is still retold, often as history. As propaganda fodder for the far-right, however, the (mis)understanding of the Middle Ages evoked by contemporary retellings of the Blood Libel is racist, bleak—and completely misses much of what the medieval period has to offer to contemporary culture.

Our working group is comprised of a team of medievalists (academics, public scholars, journalists, activists) who want to engage the public with stories from the Middle Ages. Collectively, we want medievalists to be seen as public scholars by other public scholars.

During the Institute, we want to create a new roadmap toward public writing where we can deploy our academic skills for the widest possible audiences. We want to be recognized as storytellers who tell old stories that matter, and tell them to the twenty-first century. We want medievalists to plot to carve more space out of the mainstream media. We want to imagine the next type of The Toast, and to lay the groundwork to make it happen.

Our working group includes a cross-section of people who identify as medievalists, at various stages in their careers, working with different storytelling media to engage the public by telling medieval stories. Some of us are teachers and researchers in higher education, but some of us also have experience as journalists, public scholars, social media mavens, and consultants for film, television, and radio. Notably, all of the participants on this team are actively engaged in social media, especially through blogging and tweeting. One of our goals is to bring our interdisciplinary and inter-experiential voices together to learn from each other and to find new modes of storytelling in our own work and with others interested in similar pursuits.

We hope that participating in the Institute can develop a network and team among ourselves and reaching out more broadly, so that we can collaborate and speak more loudly together as medievalists even as we tell more diverse stories.

We are also curious what we might learn about so-called “futurists”—scholars apparently hired by think tanks, companies, and governments to write white papers that imagine future conditions, technologies, and their impacts on society and government. Modernists are usually offered such work, but we feel strongly that medievalists, those of us who study the origins of the very nation-states and technologies in question, are uniquely suited to such scholarly communication.

In all of this, we want to get better at teaching the narratives of the Middle Ages as contested ground both in medieval and modern contexts. From telling our stories, we want to forge connections between the premodern and contemporary, encompassing the longue durée, about violence across religious identities and histories of race; the unravelling of the myth of the “white” Middle Ages and “white” Western Civilization; untold histories of technologies leading to the so-called “digital age”; questions about gender and sexuality—none of which are by any means new in our contemporary era.

Some of our goals raise obvious questions and challenges:

  • What do we mean when we talk about telling medieval stories to the public?
  • What does it mean to be academics using more popular storytelling media?
  • How (and why) do we enact scholarly communication as medievalists, for the public, and through diverse storytelling media?
  • How do we break in?
  • How do we do it accessibly?
  • What new models of publication need to be established to achieve our goals?
  • What can we bring to the public to show them medieval subjects matter?

There are some obvious answers to these questions, but also some less obvious answers that we want to work through in a network with others who are asking similar questions.

Medievalists, like medieval people, are all about networks. The Tale of Audun from the Westfjords poses one example, about a poor, resourceful, Icelandic merchant driven by luck to sail to Greenland, spend all of his money buying a captured polar bear cub, sail around Europe with the bear hustling kings, create a network of contacts from his experiences, and ultimately gain widespread reputation and enough wealth to settle into early retirement back in Iceland.

While fictional, the example is representative of the types of networks that pervaded the medieval world. Without networks, people went nowhere.

Our group at the Institute will capitalize on expanding our network: this is one of the substantive takeaways for us. We want to use our time at the Institute to create a plan for not only reaching the public through scholarly communication but also reaching others with the same goals. We will identify who else will take part in our plans; who will invite us to write in their networks; who will collaborate with us to shape the narrative of medieval studies going forward—not just our own group’s narrative. Our connection, our mesnie, our group of well-willers will expand, and our opportunities will grow, as will the patronage we can extend in turn. This profound reciprocity of networking is precisely what is missing from contemporary far-right understandings of the Middle Ages.

We suggest that scholarly communication needs to get a little more medieval.

Image from an illuminated manuscript - A Dragon and a Farmer with a Club

Team Members

Brantley L. Bryant is Associate Professor and Department Chair of English at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California. His research and publication has examined medieval literature and history, medieval afterlives in popular culture, and engagement with scholarship on social media. Bryant’s most recent project is the Open Access Canterbury Tales, which aims to bring professional scholarship on Chaucer’s work to a broad new audience through open access formats. He is also creator of popular social media projects Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog and Chaucer Doth Tweet (with over 68,000 followers), parody-tribute accounts in which a Chaucer persona writes about present day events in a version of Middle English. Bryant’s work engages with the crucial issue of telling the story of scholarly research to a broad public.

Brandon W. Hawk is Assistant Professor of English at Rhode Island College. As an early career apasionado, he wants to share his own obscure interests with anyone who will pay attention. Hawk has contributed to academic collaborative blogs like Modern Medieval and the History of Christianity Blog, and he continues to post regularly on his own site, brandonwhawk.net. Recently, he is especially interested in translating and presenting underappreciated medieval subjects for all types of readers; some examples may be seen in his translations of Old English literaturehis project about Judith, and his work on the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.

Kathleen E. Kennedy is Associate Professor at Pennsylvania State University- Brandywine where she teaches English and History classes. She is a first-generation college student from a rural area who earned advanced degrees in two fields and eventually tenure in Medieval Studies. Storytelling is her lifeline, since as a perpetual outsider it falls to her to explain why she isn’t like the people she lives and teaches among. She is always asked to explain her difference and she always answers with a story (or two). She has written about the mainstream media’s need for storytelling by rural people for the LARB. She tells medieval stories to the mainstream media too, reminding Game of Thrones fans over and over that medieval history was frequently more humane (and more diverse) than our modern fantasies of it. (In)famously, Kennedy tells the story of the discovery of calculus to humanities audiences, and they love it every time.

Dan Kline is Professor and Chair of English at University of Alaska Anchorage. He specializes in Middle English literature and culture, literary and cultural theory, and digital medievalism, and his research concerns children, violence, and ethics in late-medieval England and neomedievalism and digital gaming. He has published chapters in (among others) the collections Mass Market Medievalism (MacFarland, 2007) and Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages (Palgrave, 2007). He edited Medieval Children’s Literature (Routledge, 2003), the Continuum Handbook of Medieval British Literature (Continuum, 2009), and Digital Gaming Re-Imagines the Middle Ages (Routledge, 2014), and co-edited, with Gail Ashton, Medieval Afterlives in Popular Culture (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012). He is the author/webmaster of The Electronic Canterbury Tales.

Stephen Yeager is Associate Professor of English literature at Concordia University in Montreal. His current research explores the role of scholarly medieval studies and popular medievalism in the joint evolution of programming languages, internet protocols, videogames, and digital humanities methodologies. Before beginning his academic career he was online editor for Philadelphia and Boston Magazines, and he has been interviewed on the subjects of online education and Tolkien’s medievalism for MacLean’s magazine and CTV News respectively.

[ Post edited on October 3 to reflect a change in the composition of the team, as one participant listed earlier is no longer able to attend. ]

[ Images from the J. Paul Getty Museum, used under CC-BY license from the Getty’s Open Content Program. Sources linked from images above. ]