Transmedia Storytelling in History

Transmedia storytelling makes the audience piece together a narrative spread across many mediums. Image: some rights reserved by INTVGene.
The first I heard of transmedia storytelling – using diverse media including TV, Web, games, and print – to tell a story was The Matrix. The creators started off with a movie, but also released animated short films, a comic, and video games. Each of these contained unique clues and backstory to the Matrix universe, so to get the whole story you needed to process several mediums and use several skills (for example, to read the comic or beat the video game).

The discipline of history and social studies emphasizes using a variety of sources to get students to understand a theme. Transmedia storytelling is a perfect match for this. From a teacher’s perspective, we might use the textbook as our text resources, add video interviews or newspapers as primary sources, and use photographs of artifacts or paintings as visual resources. For example, a unit on World War II examining the causes, processes and effects of war might include:

  • newspaper editorials from British newspapers (causes and processes)
  • Roosevelt’s Declaration of War speech (available on YouTube) (causes)
  • playing a level from a World War II video game, like Call of Duty (processes)
  • radio broadcasts from the end of the war (effects)
  • images from The Atlantic’s World War II archive (effects)

Or, you could have students organize a transmedia campaign about a specific event. For example, my students just studied the French Revolution. I could have had them tell the story of the French revolution by:

  • Finding paintings of pre-revolutionary life to illustrated the causes of the revolution
  • Mashing up documentaries from Youtube and popular movies to tell the story of one stage, such as the terror.
  • Finding primary sources to talk about the ideas of the revolution – the writing of Enligtenment philosophes, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, etc.
  • Creating a comic book to tell the story of another stage
  • Telling the story of yet another stage from the perspective of the participants, but through a series of Twitter posts

Come to think of it, maybe this is something I should consider for History Circles 2.0!

Transmedia Storytelling and the Multi-Dimensional Brand
Transmedia Storytelling 101