Digital Storytelling and Mind-weaving Women

The words 'textus' and 'contextus' in Latin were associated with weaving, plaiting, interlacing, wrought together, interwoven ...

Weaving was a complex process that was often the work of women as part of their domestic duties. The most famous weaver in Western classical culture was Odysseus's wife Penelope. To fend off unwanted suitors during her husband's absence, she tells them that she will marry only when she has finished weaving a funeral shroud for her husband's father Laertes.

But each night she undoes part of her completed work in order to delay being forced to accept one of the suitors. Her 'cunning' (metis) is a form of knowledge, a kind of artifice, and therefore demonstrates the relationship between the craft of the storyteller and the weaving of the narrative cloth. She is similar to and different from the character role of Helen, who also weaves; but in this case the heroic deeds depicted are a representation of her story.

The complex weaving process began to be automated during the nineteenth century and it was from that technology that the first punch card 'program' was developed. Punch cards were used in early computing, and I still recall using them at my high school in Leeds UK in 1982.

So gender, weaving, and computing are actually intertwined. Moreover, the multiple timelines in our digital editing software also allow us to weave together multiple strands.

Today, digital storytelling is being explored as the most meaningful and memorable way of organizing knowledge (curating), as well as a means to motivate and inspire others in business and in education. Storytelling builds on trust and may involve a 'storylistening trance' if it is successful in gaining the reader or listener's full attention. Effective storytelling requires sustained immersion. Listeners sometimes report being in a timeless state when they are wrapt by the story.

Digital storytelling weaves together sequences of digital images, layers of music or sounds, and /or voiced commentaries. It is these multiple elements working together that making digital storytelling such a powerful means of communicating a multi-media message. Easy-to-use software means that complex and intricate or detailed narratives can be composed deploying material gather from a variety of people or sources.

At its most powerful effective storytelling depends on familiarity and novelty, on enchantment and surprise. Elements of good storytelling can be learned as a set of craft skills, but great storytelling is quite rare, and is quite difficult to define or explain.

Both in terms of the variety of source materials and the multiple authorship roles that can be accommodated,  digital storytelling presents opportunities for collective and collaborative community activity. There is also the risk, with intricate materials and infinite subtlety passing through too many hands that the core message(s) is lost.

If your aim is advertising or advocacy, or promotional fund-raising then you will want to have one clear message that has a lasting impact. Remember that Penelope devised a simple story that was quite effective in its own right. Her husband also, as we later learn, was the brilliant narrator of own his own fantastic and marvellous adventures. Both genders participate in the weaving of narrative.

But Penelope's weaving is part of a larger weaving on an epic scale. So enjoy complexity, take your time and weave a delightful, multi-stranded,  marvellous canvas. Tapestries (see Bayeux) recorded history and served as a collective memory in much the same way as the oral epic poem which served as the memory and memorial of a culture's history, its customs and traditions.

We now know that the great foundational classics of the Western tradition - Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey were in fact the amalgamation of a range of storytelling. In ancient times, 'Literature' was more collective and collaborative than the romantic notion of the solitary genius.

With modern technologies digital storytelling opens up opportunities for collaboration, parody, transmedia transformations, mashing and mixing. Mind weaving is the warp and weft of digital storytelling.

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Dr Ian McCormick is the author of 

The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (Quibble Academic, 2013)

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of Secret Sexualities: A Sourcebook (London and New York: Routledge) and Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 (Four Volumes. Subcultures and Subversions. Routledge). He has recently contributed a chapter on gothic sexuality published in Sex and Death in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Jolene Zigarovich (Routledge, 2013). A new book on Shakespearean Tragedy will be published in 2013.

© Dr Ian McCormick. But please do contact me if you want to use this article as a guest post on your blog.With attribution offered I seldom refuse!

Bibliography of Recent Research Articles and Books

Alexander, Bryan. The new digital storytelling: Creating narratives with new media. ABC-CLIO, 2011.

Alexander, Bryan, and Alan Levine. "Web 2.0 storytelling: Emergence of a new genre." EDUCAUSE review 43.6 (2008): 40-56.

Benmayor, Rina. "Digital storytelling as a signature pedagogy for the new humanities." Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 7.2 (2008): 188-204.

Benson, Samantha, Rosa Solorio, and Allen Cheadle. Exploring Digital Storytelling Applications in the Community. Diss. Masters Thesis. University of Washington School of Public Health, 2012.

Bidwell, Nicola J., et al. "Designing with mobile digital storytelling in rural Africa." Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2010.

Burgess, Jean. "Hearing ordinary voices: Cultural studies, vernacular creativity and digital storytelling." Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 20.2 (2006): 201-214.

Coventry, Michael. "Engaging Gender Student application of theory through digital storytelling." Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 7.2 (2008): 205-219.

Ekelin, Annelie, Pirjo Elovaara, and Christina Mörtberg. "Exploring digital storytelling as a method for participatory design." Proceedings of the Tenth Anniversary Conference on Participatory Design 2008. Indiana University, 2008.

Figa, Elizabeth. "The emergent properties of multimedia applications for storytelling pedagogy in a distance education online learning community." Storytelling, Self, Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Storytelling Studies 3.1 (2007): 50-72.

Frohlich, David M., et al. "StoryBank: mobile digital storytelling in a development context." Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2009.

Göbel, Stefan, et al. "80days: Adaptive digital storytelling for digital educational games." Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Story-Telling and Educational Games (STEG’09). Vol. 498. No. 498. 2009.

Göbel, Stefan, et al. "Serious games for health: personalized exergames." Proceedings of the international conference on Multimedia. ACM, 2010.

Gubrium, Aline. "Digital storytelling: An emergent method for health promotion research and practice." Health Promotion Practice 10.2 (2009): 186.

Guillory, Dayle, Walter Gonsoulin, and Robin Ward. "Igniting Your Imagination Through Digital Storytelling." Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference. Vol. 2006. No. 1. 2006.

Hansson, Thomas. Handbook of research on digital information technologies: innovations, methods, and ethical issues. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, 2008.

Hill, Amy L. "8 Digital storytelling for gender justice." Confronting Global Gender Justice: Women’s Lives, Human Rights (2010): 126.

Hopkins, Candice. "Making things our own: The indigenous aesthetic in digital storytelling." Leonardo 39.4 (2006): 341-344.

Hull, Glynda A., and Mira-Lisa Katz. "Crafting an agentive self: Case studies of digital storytelling." Research in the Teaching of English (2006): 43-81.

Hull, Glynda A., et al. "Many versions of masculine: An exploration of boys' identity formation through digital storytelling in an afterschool program." The Robert Bowne Foundation: Occasional paper series 6 (2006): 1-42.

Jenkins, Henry. "Transmedia storytelling and entertainment: An annotated syllabus." Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 24.6 (2010): 943-958.

Jenkins, Martin, and Phil Gravestock. "Digital storytelling synthesis." (2010).

Jetnikoff, Anita. "Digital storytelling, podcasts, blogs and vlogs: exploring a range of new media texts and forms in English." English in Australia 44.2 (2009): 55-62.

Kafai, Yasmin B. "Considering gender in digital games: Implications for serious game designs in the learning sciences." Proceedings of the 8th international conference on International conference for the learning sciences-Volume 1. International Society of the Learning Sciences, 2008.

Klaebe, Helen G., et al. "Digital storytelling and history lines: Community engagement in a master-planned development." Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Virtual Systems and Multimedia: Exchange and Experience in Space and Place, VSMM 2007. Australasian Cooperative Research Centre for Interaction Design Pty, Limited, 2007.

Klaebe, Helen Grace. "Sharing stories: problems and potentials of oral history and digital storytelling and the writer/producer's role in constructing a public place." (2006).

Lambert, Joe. Digital storytelling: Capturing lives, creating community. Routledge, 2013.

Lotherington, Heather. "Digital epistemologies and classroom multiliteracies." Handbook of research on digital information technologies: Innovations, methods, and ethical issues (2008): 263-282.

Page, Ruth, and Bronwen Thomas, eds. New Narratives: Stories and Storytelling in the Digital Age. U of Nebraska Press, 2011.

Powell, Timothy B., William Weems, and Freeman Owle. "Native/American Digital Storytelling: Situating the Cherokee Oral Tradition within American Literary History." Literature Compass 4.1 (2007): 1-23.

Roby, Teshia. "Identity, Efficacy, and Inclusion in the Classroom through Digital Storytelling." Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference. Vol. 2010. No. 1. 2010.

Scott Nixon, Althea. "Mediating social thought through digital storytelling." Pedagogies: An International Journal 4.1 (2009): 63-76.

Skains, R. Lyle. "The Shifting Author—Reader Dynamic Online Novel Communities as a Bridge from Print to Digital Literature." Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 16.1 (2010): 95-111.

Stanley, Nile, and Brett Dillingham. "Making learners click with digital storytelling." Language Magazine 10.6 (2011): 24-29.

Thue, David, et al. "Interactive Storytelling: A Player Modelling Approach." AIIDE. 2007.

Vivienne, Sonja. "Trans digital storytelling: everyday activism, mutable identity and the problem of visibility." Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review 7.1 (2011): 43-54.

Youngs, Gillian, ed. The Digital World: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights. Routledge, 2013.

Yee, Nick. "Maps of digital desires: Exploring the topography of gender and play in online games." Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New perspectives on gender and gaming (2008): 83-96.

Yuksel, Pelin, Bernard Robin, and Sara McNeil. "Educational uses of digital storytelling all around the world." Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference. Vol. 2011. No. 1. 2011.


  1. Follow Ian McCormick on Twitter: "PostFilm" !

  2. Brilliant Ian!
    I'm going to quote you and make copies of this post to hand around to the women who sometimes (that would be me too!) need a concrete reason to understand why they are weaving their stories into digital tapestries.
    Thank you for your explanation of a primary need that is often difficult to explain to family and the culture at large. When the "weaving" is public (in the plain sight of the community) it is a mysterious process that people want to join and at a very deep level.
    Our community/feature film project ( is so much as you describe on so many levels.
    Thank you again for your words and your work. Christi

  3. We are about to start our search for the most interesting examples of community film and participatory video 2010-12. Let me know if you are interested. Films will be screened across the world during September 2012 as part of the International Community Film Festival.

  4. Very interesting - thanks. Ian could you sent a link to the International Community Film Festival 2012 and where it is?

  5. Screenings will take place in the UK, India, Australia, and the United States (if all our partnership plans work out) 28 Sept-5th October 2012.

    Thanks for showing an interest in this event:

    The International Community Film Festival (ICFF) has announced its intention to branch out in 2012 with selected screenings of the best films to be made available through key partners worldwide.

    2012 will be the Fourth Festival organized by Dr Ian McCormick. If you're interested in looking at the work of ICFF in the recent past, click here.

    Are you able to help? How can you participate in free ICFF film screenings in your part of the world ?

    1. Please send me an email or message if you are interested in screening a selection of the best films from ICFF 2012 in your home town or city during September-October 2012. (You will be able to set your own specific date)

    2. You will need access to a free cinema space, or to a school, college, community centre, public building, or university space that is equipped with a suitable DVD player/laptop, projector, and a screen.

    3. Ideally, you will want to organise your own events and speakers around the screening and - crucial detail - be self-financing as we do not have a top-down budget to dispense (at this stage - and I can't make any promises for the future).

    4. ICFF will provide help and support with Press Releases, Publicity, Social Media, Building Local Partnerships and how to gain Sponsorship.

    5. Some evidence of festival and/or organizational experience, or other relevant skills would be a major advantage.

    6. New partners will be listed in the forthcoming 2012 Call for Films.

    I look forward to hearing from you and to exploring partnership opportunities,

    Dr Ian McCormick
    ICFF Director.


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