Archival Materials into Documentary Film
Librarian Commentary by Julia Maserjian
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 I’d like to tell you a story, one about a series of experiences that changed the way I work with students and faculty at Lehigh. In fact, the story is about stories—digital storytelling, to be exact. Digital storytelling uses computer-based still and moving images, text, audio, and music to document experiences, ideas, and research.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In the fall of 2005 I had the pleasure of working with English professor Ed Gallagher in an experimental, first-year writing course, “Digital Songs, Stories, and Histories,” that offered students new ways to communicate through a variety of multi-media assignments. For one assignment the students were asked to create a video based on a research question they developed from materials they found in Lehigh’s Digital Library project, I Remain: A Digital Archive of Letters, Manuscripts, and Ephemera. The site contains hundreds of items from the university’s Special Collections and Archives that represent five centuries of writers, explorers, scientists, philosophers, and politicians.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The students were asked to select a document from the site that piqued their curiosity, transcribe that document, formulate a historical question, develop a thesis, select materials that would support that thesis, and produce a video based on those efforts. The vast majority of the students embraced the archival and technological challenge. The results appear on the I Remain site.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Since these initial forays into student-produced documentary, I am pleased to say that this form of communication is alive and well at Lehigh University. As the number of requests for video projects grew, Library and Technology Services formed the Documentary Resource Team. The Team is comprised of librarians, instructional technologists, and media specialists who help faculty and students navigate the opportunities and challenges of video production. In many of these classes, students use physical and virtual archives extensively in their research and image selection. With the opportunities of archival discovery also come the challenges of representing findings.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The materials we uncover in archives and the way we choose to use them has provoked an ongoing series of questions about copyright, research methodology, and documentary ethics. Regardless of the event (long ago or yesterday) or the individual (living or dead), the lessons our students learn about their obligations in representing the lives of others are important ones. What is at stake when, as digital storytellers, we document the experience of others? What happens when those experiences move beyond the confines of the classroom and become part of a larger audience at public screenings or on the web? The questions of authority, privacy, responsibility, and moral obligations are good ones with no easy answers. Luckily, as educators, we are not in the business of easy answers.