Monday, March 10, 2008

Eye of the Storm: Online Historical Storytelling

"In 1994, a dealer specializing in Southern works approached the Virginia Historical Society with four tattered scrapbooks containing some five hundred vivid Civil War watercolor drawings and maps by Union Soldier Private Knox Sneden . . . An equally remarkable series of events led to the discovery of a diary/memoir which accompanied the artwork. Together these constitute one of the most important Civil War documents ever produced . . . "

"Eye of the Storm takes you on an unforgettable journey through the Civil War. Through this online interpretation, you can experience the life of a Civil War soldier through Sneden's journal entries. Audio accounts of Sneden's narrative with commentary by the Director of the Virginia Historical Society, Charles F. Bryan, Jr. can be heard by visiting the movies section of this site. Also included here are forums through which visitors can discuss the work and Civil War history."

This intriguing site could serve as a model for online storytelling. I like how the little flash movies combine historical commentary, a reading of the primary sources, and images from Sneden's watercolors to tell stories. And the site is a reminder that you do not need a thousand historic images to tell a simple story. The Balloon is Loose! for example uses a single watercolor painting, cropping and animating images to produce movement and interest.

In the Northwest it is easy to imagine a similar site involving the Mullan Road or the 1918 Influenza epidemic or really any story where telling documents and interesting illustrations exist.

Musarium, the online sponsor of Eye of the Storm, has some other interesting virtual exhibits. The most powerful is Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, taken from the book of the same name. Without Sanctuary features lynching photographs from 19th and 20th century America, the flash movies of them with commentary is profoundly disturbing. See also Balkan Portraits and Border States (the later features photographs from Arizona and Sonora). Access the full Musarium archive here.

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