Immigrant Stories Part II

This week the task has been to carry my exploration of Immigrant Stories further by creating a personal narrative through the story making tool offered on the web site. At first I was flummoxed, how could I, a native Illinoisan, create an immigration story? 


1963 Standard Oil Illinois Folding Travel Road Map Oil Gas Service Station from Terapeak

Initially, before composing my script, a tentative answer came. I thought, I have my own migration story to tell. My journey has not been geographical, it has been temporal. Because I have lived a long time, I am a “still” migrant of sorts, one who stands motionless, while the world changes around me. The world I come from is far different from the one I inhabit now. The story I would create would reveal a small picture of my native country: the past. In the end, however, after reacting to the carefully crafted prompts given in the story making tool, I found that I had another, more dynamic geographical migration story layered over my temporal one. Like nearly everyone else in the Immigration Stories web site, I grew up and emigrated because I left home.  The story making tool helped me to relive that migration and to feel a deeper kinship with the storytellers I listened to last week.


University of Minnesota, Screen Shot of Immigrant Stories Web Site

The ‘create your story” technology was created by Immigrant Stories to stream-line the technological process of creating and posting a movie on the site. It breaks the process down to seven steps. Despite the simplification, I had a few minor technological difficulties especially at step six when it was time to create the audio. The instructions said to “click this button” to start to “record your voiceover” and it was difficult to ascertain where the button was in that context. It was not on the screen but was referring to a click to be made on a different pathway within an application elsewhere. I needed help at that step and was grateful for the help I got from a tech savvy member of my family who is not confused and frustrated by instructions delivered on a computer screen. Overall, the WeVideo was a very good tool for basic video editing, however, it is missing platform compatibility between the web application and IOS. This presented a minor difficulty because I lacked a microphone and instead used a different voice recorder on my I-phone. In the end, we imported the audio to the WeVideo and the problem was solved.


Chris Sautter Mural

Perhaps it is fitting that the first and last blog entry of the semester are the most directly linked historical entries. The first entry explored a set of educational technologies, the nineteenth century Lancastrian method and twentieth century popular movies and asked questions about the agency of the people who used them. This last entry is also about an educational technology, Immigrant Stories, but the questions about agency it induces are framed quite differently. Using Immigrant Stories to tell my own story allowed me to explore my own history and therefore to ask questions about my own agency. After recording the story, I was stuck by how much my childhood was defined by the mostly unacknowledged structures and consequent values (or vice versa) that surrounded me. Further, it allowed me to deepen my understanding of those values and structures and how they embedded themselves into my experiences. It helped me to grasp one angle of the truth behind Annales historian, Fernand Braudel’s claim that individuals are uniquely shaped by their time, their circumstance, and their places in the world, and, “that the whole world claims the historian’s attention.”.[i] Creating my personal narrative for Immigration Stories did not simply reveal my story, it revealed the way that the world I came from makes me uniquely positioned to tell it. Having a platform in Immigrant Stories that encourages that insight is valuable. It teaches us something, it is historically wise.

[i] Fernand Braudel, On History. Translated by Sarah Matthews, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980, 13.


Immigration Stories


Photograph of Thai Refugee Camp

This week’s task is to explore and reflect on the digital storytelling website, Stories for the Classroom. It is an assortment of stories that are a part of a larger collection gathered by the Immigration History Research Center, a digital storytelling project in which participants recount their own immigration stories through short videos. The stories are archived and made available through the Minnesota Public Library and the Digital Public Library of America. Stories for the Classroom is a collection of thirty stories that the organizers of the project have deemed especially appropriate for the classroom. The stories are organized under fourteen subject headings that reflect the varied experiences of immigrants and reflect ideas that students in classrooms might relate to.  I will feature immigration narratives selected from a sampling of those categories in this reflection.


Photograph of Mohamed Boujinah Navigating the University of Minneapolis

Adjusting to Life in the United States:

Tunisian, Mohamed Boujinah emigrated to the United States in 2012 and settled in Minneapolis to study at the University of Minnesota. Mohamed speaks about the challenges he faced on arrival especially with navigating the city of Minneapolis. The images in his story share but do not necessarily display the confusion that he felt.

Refugee Camps and Resettlement:


Photograph of Saengmany Ratsabout

Saengmany Ratsabout is Laotian. After his family fled the Civil War in Laos, they spent  spent two and a half years in refugee camps in Thailand before emigrating to the United States. Saengmany contextualizes his family’s story of immigration by laying it alongside other historical events, such as the disaster at Chernobyl, the space shuttle Challenger explosion, and Microsoft’s founding, that occurred in the same year as his family’s arrival in 1986. It is obvious from his story that Saengmany is a reflective and thoughtful young man and that he is adept at framing his own experiences in the context of his surroundings. The images, such as the one above, that accompany his story are well placed and serve to support his contextual project.


Departure Record Document

Objects that Tell a Story:

Teng Lee, once a Hmong refugee, tells his story through the paper trail of his immigrant journey. Documents such as the one pictured above, Teng’s departure record, are enormously significant in the context of his tale. Teng’s story of his experiences with gaining US citizenship is relayed with images of crowds and flags. While Teng reflects on the impact of that day in his life, the images that accompany his words return to a photo of Teng as a baby with a large sign posted next to him documenting his existence as a refugee. This was a moving story and the images worked in tandem with the spoken words to communicate the story.The stories listed under the category, “Objects That Tell a Story” are very successful digital history projects because the blend of images and words enhance the storyteller’s narrative.


Photograph of Renita Sebastin’s mother’s wedding saree fabric

Renita Sebastin uses an item of clothing, her mother’s wedding saree, to illustrate her experience of living with and embracing two cultures, that of her mother’s home country, Tamil Nadu, India, and the one she has grown up in, the United States. As Renita talks about her mother’s experiences as an immigrant to the United States, images of her parent’s wedding accompany her words. Her mother and father are young, fresh, impressionable, and dwarfed by the finery they are wearing. Then, at the next step of the narrative, when Renita speaks of the symbolic significance and material value of her mother’s wedding saree, the images cut to photographs of the fabric laid out and looking as if it had just been unrolled from its bolt. The image is strong and the message is powerful. It relays the fact that the fabric is a talisman, and holds a symbolic value of great weight. Renita’s narrative is enriched through the digital process, the images of the fabric of the saree feel like an artifact that is a tangible trace of a different life, the one that Renita’s mother left behind but wishes to cherish and remember.


Photograph of Saymoukda Vongsay ‘s Family

Spoken Word Digital Stories:

Poet, playwright, and immigrant, Saymoukda Vongsay, recites her poem, “When Everything was Everything” and interjects it with passages with stories and photographic images from her childhood in St. Paul, Minnesota. Vongsay reflects on the fact that she had to reconstruct the stories of her childhood with her imagination, in poetry and plays to show the beauty of her childhood that was not apparent in a photo album or as a mere litany of facts. The images that Vongsay chose to accompany her words are made more touching by her reflection, and the words of the poem in the audio shine because of the photos that accompany them. Here, the sounds and images come together to create something new and emotionally evocative.

The digital narratives featured in Stories for the Classroom are a varied lot. Some, such as Saymouka Vongsay’s and Teng Lee’s are compelling because the images  and narration support one another and create a whole that is better for having both aspects. Others, such as Mohamed Boujinah’s are less successful, not because the words or the images are incorrect or rendered with a lack of reflection or feeling, but because the words and the images do not complement one another to create a whole. All the stories, however, have great value, whether successful as a digital presentation or not, because they are authentic, first person stories. That value compels me as a digital historian to make sure that I offer the best digital environment possible for first person narratives. An environment that includes not just an appropriate  web platform, or technological underpinnings, but editorial assistance, and creative guidance as well in order to make the gold of first person stories shine.

Ubiquitous Objects


[i]“Science A-Z Atmosphere & Climate Grades 5-6 Science Unit,” accessed November 8, 2016,

The task today is to discuss analog objects in a digital age. To begin, analog is a tough concept for me to understand on its own. I most often think in terms of what it is not. An analog time piece is not a digital clock, it is an old world clock with hands. A CD or DVD is digital whereas a tape or vinyl record is analog. But those are hackneyed definitions of analog that do not describe the difference between analog and digital objects. In the overwhelmingly digital world of the present we need a more muscular frame of reference to define the term “analog object.”  Imagine being  suddenly introduced to a new viable world which has no air. Instead it has something else, breathable but different. In the face of such a world we would need to find new ways of defining our environments in order to understand something fundamental about the tangible but utterly invisible aura that we might or might not be surrounded with. We would need a new vocabulary to describe old air and new. In the same way, the definition of an analog object had less urgent importance before the digital age. It was simply an object. In the digital age, however, the phrase, analog object, is saturated with significance because it conjures images of what it is not. An analog object is not included in the vast array of digitized images, films, sound recordings and the range of representations offered on the world wide web. When I’m faced with this new expanded world of digital and analog objects, I’m tempted to try to substitute the word analog for the word “real.” But that is problematic. To go back to the air analogy. In the new world of two viable atmospheres, we could call the old air real, and the new air synthetic. But that would not be correct, the new air is not necessarily synthetic or fake, it is only different. Digital objects are real. However, this is a point at which the air analogy breaks down because even though digital objects are real, they are often presented as representations of objects. Perhaps for the purposes of this discussion, the word “material” is a better alternative to pair with objects when contrasted with digital ones.


[ii][1] Kim Kankiewicz, “There’s No Erasing the Chalkboard,” The Atlantic, October 13, 2016,

An intriguing pathway for understanding the complex relationship between analog or material objects and their digital counterparts can be seen in the pages of the Atlantic.  The print and digital magazine has hosted an interesting examination of material objects on a digital platform in a project called, Object Lessons. It is a series of essays and short books offered online which are edited by philosopher and game designer, Ian Bogost and English professor, Christopher Schalberg. Object Lessons features ordinary objects, such as the chalk board in the image above, and examines their meaning through the stories and histories they are associated with. The essays that are offered online encourage the reader to look again and more deeply at the simple objects featured and the objects’ meaning is enriched by their inquiry.


[iii] “The Exhibition,” Museum Of Applied Arts And Sciences, accessed November 8, 2016,

 In “Beyond the Cult of the Replicant: Museums and Historical Digital Objects-Traditional Concerns, New Discourses,” Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, Fiona Cameron takes a marked turn from the Atlantic’s investigation of the explanation of material objects by digital means to the investigation of digital objects as representations of material objects. Cameron argues that in order to understand digital objects one needs to be put them into the context of cultural understandings of the authenticity of material objects. She states that twentieth century intellectuals, such as philosopher and critical theorist, Walter Benjamin, valorized authenticity and set the tone for museum practice with material objects.[iv] Cameron pushes back at the prevailing twentieth century intellectual assessment and asserts that the digital replication of material objects in a museum setting increases their impact and authenticity because of the fact that the curator selects what and how to digitize based upon the context of their exhibition. Cameron calls this, “an active process of meaning making.”[v] In addition, the digital image or replication of the material object has the potential to become more broadly disseminated and is therefore augmented with more memories inscribed upon it. To introduce this idea, Cameron quotes sociologist and philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu who stated that, “reproductions spread cultural capital.”[vi] Cameron stresses that the introduction of new technologies such as three dimensional printing capabilities, has further blurred the lines between digital and material objects and has enhanced the role of digitization in the inscription of meaning on objects of all kinds. She provides an example of this kind of curatorial digital meaning making in Out of Hand: Materializing the Digital , an exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney Australia in which material objects held by the museum are reproduced via digital means to alter  the way the public interacts with them.


[vii] Koorie Voices Returns: Museum Victoria,” accessed November 8, 2016,

Cultural heritage scholar, Andrea Whitcomb goes one step further than Cameron and deepens the interrogation of material and digital object relationships by obliterating some of the space between them in museums in “Developing a Materialist Approach to Understanding Media in Museums.” Whitcomb argues that digital objects in the form of digital media can do more than act as a means for examining or replicating  material objects. If left to stand on their own, Whitcomb argues, digital resources can provide a rich space of inquiry that changes their viewers’ understanding of the world. As an example, Whitcomb offers Museum Victoria Koori Voices Exhibition, which features images and video interviews of members of the Koori, an indigenous community of people native to Australia. The images and interviews are framed in an identical manner so that some of the photos surprise the viewer and seem to come to life because of their video component. The interspersed photography and video compels the viewer to look into the eyes of the photographed individuals and to pause long enough to let them gaze back at them. The inert photograph, the digital object, is brought to life by another more dynamic digital object, the video.[viii]

Whether digital objects are used to explain material ones, as seen in the pages of the Atlantic, or if digital objects inscribe new meaning on material objects through representation, as seen at the Out of Hand, Materializing the Digital exhibition, or whether digital objects stand alone as dynamic humanist representations, as exhibited in the Koori Voices exhibition, objects are as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. Unlike air, however, objects come in multiple forms and those forms are interrelated and build meanings in all of their interrelated variety. It is a central task for historians, public historians, digital humanists, and scholars of all stripes to explore them all.

[i] “Science A-Z Atmosphere & Climate Grades 5-6 Science Unit,” accessed November 8, 2016,

[ii] Kim Kankiewicz, “There’s No Erasing the Chalkboard,” The Atlantic, October 13, 2016,

[iii] “The Exhibition,” Museum Of Applied Arts And Sciences, accessed November 8, 2016,

[iv] Fiona Cameron, “Beyond the Cult of the Replicant: Museums and Historical Digital Objects – Traditional Concerns, New Discourses,”Cameron and Kenderdine, Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage (MIT, 2007): 49-75, 57.

[v] Cameron, “Beyond the Cult of the Replicant,” 57.

[vi] Cameron, 55.

[vii] “Koorie Voices Returns: Museum Victoria,” accessed November 8, 2016,

[viii] Andrea Witcomb, “The Materiality of Virtual Technologies: A New Approach to Thinking About the Impact of Multimedia in Museums,” Cameron and Kenderdine, Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage(MIT, 2007): 35-48, 41.

Textual Analysis in the Digital Age

This week my task was to investigate a Google Books text by means three different internet technological tools. First I compared the presented version the text with its counterpart in Plain Text. Secondly, I used the online analytical tool, Voyant to examine passages within the text. Finally, I used an application called N’Gram and Bookworm to isolate the text’s keywords and explore their usage over time. The work I chose to analyze was the 1793 novel, The Advantages Of Education. A Tale For Misses And Their Mammas by Mrs. West who wrote under the pseudonym of Prudentia Homespun.[i]

Google Books Offered Version                   Plain Text Version

Mrs West (Jane), The Advantages of Education; Or, The History of Maria Williams: A Tale for Misses and Their Mammas (W. Lane, 1793).

Plain Text:

My first instruction was to look at a chapter of the book in the format Google Books offered and compare it to another version rendered in Plain Text which has no formatting. The first thing I noticed with this comparison was that the Plain Text Version had two different kinds of font and the words were not aligned. The beginning of the page had sentences at the beginning and end of the page in the upper and lower left hand corners. I also noted that some sentences and phrases were arranged in a text box for no apparent reason. In repeated instances a word from a paragraph was isolated in the bottom right hand corner of the page. Finally, there was one page in which extra words were added to the text which were not included in the other Google book version of the text. This exercise revealed the amount of formatting required to present a text online in a readable format. When words are out of sync or if the linear flow is interrupted, the text is rendered nearly unreadable.


Voyant Tools,” accessed November 1, 2016,


My next textual task was to load a portion of the first chapter from  The Advantages of Education or the History of Maise Williams onto the web site, Voyant Tools. According to Humanities scholars, Geoffrey Rockwell and Stéfan Sinclair, Voyant is a set of web based tools that enable textual analysis and interpretation.[ii] As shown in the above image, the opening window of Voyant is divided into five sectors, a web cloud, a reader which holds the text, a graph of frequencies compared to document segments, a summary of words and phrases, and an intriguing segment labeled “contexts.” Voyant revealed several things about the text that I would not have known or have thought to know otherwise. Upon looking at the “word cloud” segment, I was astonished at the fact that the most frequently used word from the book’s passage is the word “man,” because the book itself is about a girl and her mother. However, after rereading the portion of text loaded onto the tool, men are the leading actors or subjects in the passage.  I was not surprised that the word “generous” and “gave” were also frequently cited words because they characterize qualities that I would expect a nineteenth-century character to embody. I found that the assumptions that I brought to the text were both refuted and reinforced. The summary of most frequently used words in the passage included the word “character” which was left out of the word cloud. I am not sure why this was so. The summary was more informative than the word cloud because it revealed the total number of words and the total number of unique word forms, or words that were used only one time. The word cloud was imaginative and allowed me to visualize the power of frequently used words apart from their context. The phrases button showed two phrases, “he had” and “a generous spirit.” It is interesting to note that the phrases refer to the most frequently used word, “man.” The “Contexts” area at the bottom left corner of the Voyant page showed sentence segments that featured the word “man” as well to show the different ways in which the word was used. The same area also had an option called “bubble lines” that I was not able to decipher. This tool is one that enabled me to gather words to use for the next fascinating on-line instrument for textual analysis, N’Gram.


“Google Ngram Viewer,” accessed November 2, 2016,[..].


Next, I took some of the most frequently used key words from the text to Google’s N’Gram Viewer, an online search engine, to track their usage over time. For example, I tried the word “character” and the viewer revealed that its frequency of use has gone down significantly from the time the text was first published in 1793 through the year 2000. Next I used some of the keywords that I have frequently used in my own historical research on women and peace activism prior to and during World War I: “citizen,” “performance,” and “represent.” I found it fascinating that the use of the word “citizen” in English reached its peak in 1918. This fact alone presents many questions that I have not thought to ask about how the meaning of the word has changed over time or whether its frequency of use reflects its political context. I also examined the term citizen in German over the same time frame between 1793 and 2000 as well. The results were very different. In German the word citizen peaked in 1952. This information sparked a lot of questions for me as a historian about what this information might have to say about whether the reason for the difference frequency of usage in German texts might reflect different political contexts.  After this, I put all three words “citizen,” “performance,” and “represent.” in order in the search box and it showed all three words together in the graph so that their usage over time could be compared. While “citizen” peaked early in the twentieth century, “represent” peaked later in 1976, and “performance” later still in 2000. This graph alone has opened new directions in regards to my thinking about the concepts behind the words and why their usages have shifted over time. This is a fantastic tool for a historian because it reveals changes and continuities that are not readily apparent.


“Bookworm HathiTrust Digital Library,” accessed November 2, 2016,


Finally, I took some of the words that I investigated through the NGram tool to another analytical device, the Bookworm application from Hathi Trust. It is a similar tool to N’Gram in that they both examine word usage over time. Bookworm revealed that the usage of the term citizen peaked in 1917. This was a similar but not exactly the same result as the 1918 results of N’Gram. I wonder if the variation in results might be because of Hathi’s different body of sources.


This set of tasks was fascinating and it made me want to dedicate a much larger chunk of time to seeking out information regarding multiple keywords having to do with my research. I think that these tools have the potential not only to add depth to my historical research by showing trends over time, but also by revealing new questions and concepts that I had not thought to explore. The three words I played with for this post are just a small sampling of the words that I hope to explore. I am especially excited about the prospect of evaluating some of my primary resources with this tool. In my research, as new keywords and their corresponding concepts gather, I will now have the tools to evaluate their context and significance with Voyant and with N’gram and Bookworm I will be able to investigate their usage over time. As a public historian these tools can be used to analyze and aggregate multiple primary sources or examples of academic work in a relatable way for the general public. If a well-reasoned argument about historical insights can be made by examining and displaying such historical concepts as change over time and continuity through the use of visuals like N’Gram graphs or the Voyant word clouds it will bring provide an imaginative and innovative public reference tool.

[i] Mrs West (Jane), The Advantages of Education; Or, The History of Maria Williams: A Tale for Misses and Their Mammas (W. Lane, 1793).

[ii] Geoffrey Rockwell and Stéfan Sinclair, Hermeneutica: Computer-Assisted Interpretation in the Humanities (Cambridge, Massachusetts ; London, England: The MIT Press, 2016), 10.

Tour of the International Museum of Surgical Science with Encurate

The International Museum of Surgical Science is a museum run by the International College of Surgeons, an organization whose mission is to share the history of the advancement of surgery and surgical science. The museum has four floors of artifacts, paintings, and illustrations related to surgery. The permanent exhibits include a sculpture gallery, a series of murals and a nineteenth century apothecary and dentist’s office. My mission this week has been to tour the museum with the aid of a new mobile application for my phone called Encurate.


The Encurate application was very easy to download on my I-phone and it is free. Using it was far easier than a typical transaction that I might make at another museum’s in order to procure in-house physical electronic tour paraphernalia. There are no rental fees, no kiosks with lines behind them, no pesky cords and no head phones, which also means that there is no sound. The information on the Encurate app is delivered by image and text. This means the activities that accompany typical electronic tours, such as seeking proper numbers to match numbers posted at strategic positions within the museum is not necessary. That is the Encurate App advantage, with it, your phone is supposed to lead you. The app is a rough parallel to a Google Maps app in that it leads you to your destination as a guide. It is a great advantage for what could feel like seamless navigation, but, that feature is also a disadvantage if it does not work properly or is wielded by a super novice, which I am. It can make you feel disoriented and ultimately a little disappointed.

Upon entering the museum I opened the app to a window which showed me several options including an interactive, user sensitive map, and a user sensitive tour. The above image is the Encurate map, and the yellow box indicates that I was standing in The Hall of Immortals – Sculptures by Louis Linck & Edouard Chaissing. After checking out the map option I then moved on to the tour option. There were four choices and I chose the “Architectural” option.


I noticed that there were a few difficulties with the tour option which is designed to deliver text regarding items of interest as you make your way through the museum spaces. Unfortunately a few moments after I arrived in the sculpture gallery, my app malfunctioned. Soon after I had taken a step toward the beautiful marble figures which lined the walls of the room, the phone shifted to two options, neither of which had to do with that room but referred to the two rooms that were adjacent to me. The app was anticipating my movements with little regard to my desire to stay within that room and learn more about what I was seeing then and there. I know that over time, I would be able to get better with the navigation and prevent such flummoxed messages, but my learning curve is long and my visit was necessarily short.


Despite my long learning curve, I did improve my navigation with the app during my time at the museum. After some diligent swiping and clicking I got to the tour page with information about the marble statues.  I was able to stay on that page if I remained still and made no sudden movements back, forward, left, or right. I found it a little ironic that I was as mindful with the phone as I was in the midst of so many precious monuments. Perhaps the map can also function as a kind of structural augmentation for security. Careful to remain motionless, I found the text enlightening and able to allow a complexity that simple signage might not allow.


This image both illustrates and explains the greatest difficulty I had with the app. The app sometimes popped out images that felt out of context. The above pesky little image of a fossil continued to pop onto the phone screen at what seemed to me to be random times. I think it popped up six times all told while I was navigating rooms on the second floor. I was not able to make the image, which was underlined by a sentence or two of explanatory text, stay on the screen for more than a second. I was curious about it and kept wondering what it referred to. By catching momentary glimpses at the text and the pattern of stone behind the image I was able to form a working hypothesis that it was a fossil in the floor I was standing on. I looked down repeatedly to see if the marble tiles had fossils. I could not find them where I was. I continued to look for a likely tile in which a fossil might be found. I grew discouraged that I could not hold the screen long enough to read more information about the fossil. I had my companion try as well and she was not able to read more than a snippet either. I roamed the room and finally in the hallway between three rooms on the second floor, I found that wonderful spiral. I held my phone above it and there was the text, no longer fleeting and clear as day. Because at the time I had no access to a pen, and could not use my otherwise employed phone, I cannot remember the name of the fossil now, nor the type of granite it is embedded in. Regardless of the fact that I know longer remember the information, I certainly felt gratified to read it at the time.

The Encurate app was easy to start and use but not particularly easy to use effectively. It has great potential for a skilled user or even a person with ample time to play with it. It was especially gratifying that I could choose multiple tours that took me to different rooms with little regard for spatial proximity. I was not skillful enough with the app to use it to its full potential. However, a deft phone user might be able move through the museum according to their interests rather than the museum’s architectural geography.

The Lost Experience: Chaotic Fictions or Alternate Reality Games


The computer screen is solid black with a lone block of white text in its southwest corner. The website is a memorial marker describing what used to live there: The alternate reality game (ARG), The Lost Experience. The game, which is described as a combination of commercials, bogus websites, blogs, and videos was created by the producers of a popular television show LOST. The game explored some of the multiple backstories that the show touched on but did not fully reveal. The memorial is signed, The Hanso Foundation,,, Apollo Candy, Hansoexposed, DJDan, [i] The puzzling signature represents a small sampling of the mysterious elements that made the game compelling to players throughout the world. In addition, it is a specimen of the enigmatic features that make The Lost Experience a fit vehicle for investigating ARGs as an example of digital storytelling.


ARGs are elaborate collaborative constructions that reveal detailed stories over time within the game’s components. They are like puzzle pieces found in multiple places on the web, embedded in media, or in the real world, that reveal plot points bit by bit. Those pieces carry the story forward and develop it as they are gathered.[ii] In this way they resemble detective fiction but instead of having their clues amassed by a mustached detective, or a hard boiled private eye, they are carried in mysterious email addresses, short lived phone numbers answered by recorded voicemails, or sentence fragments printed on the wrappers of real candy bars purchased at fantasy book stores. ARGs are often sponsored by the producers of television shows, films, or even video games as a marketing platform for their most ardent fans who might wish to find out more about the worlds in which the films or TV shows are set.

ARGs are frequently discovered by surprise rather than sought out in the usual way. In The New Digital Storytelling, Creating Narratives with New Media, Bryan Alexander calls this kind of narrative encounter a “rabbit hole.” He describes a scene in which a potential game player may be watching a trailer for a movie she might be looking forward to. The potential fan finds a URL in a strange position on the screen and out of curiosity, types it into her computer and is brought to the threshold of the game.  This “rabbit hole” thrill of discovery is augmented further by the ensuing game’s convoluted format which blends the real world with the virtual in multiple ways. ARGs offer a combination of fantastical fictional plot points and characters, and nonfiction devices such as URLs with intact destinations which might be in the form of realistic employee web pages, or phone numbers with genuine human voices on the other end. Additionally, ARGS are not meant to be played alone, they are designed to foster collaborative efforts with other players.  Successful games create a community of fans and followers that compare notes and compile their clues in order to reach satisfying narrative conclusions. Unlike other game formats, ARGs most often have a limited life span. When their narrative conclusions have been reached, the game’s creators then draw them to a close.


Jane McGonigal, Massively Multi-Player… Thumb-Wrestling?, accessed October 18, 2016,

Though The Lost Experience had a life span of only four months, the community fostered by its play left behind more traces than its web grave site might indicate. Forums which reveal the conversations of players who searched for clues together still exist.  Discovering the remnants of long abandoned mutual enthusiasms can be a melancholy exercise, but certainly the original experience was anything but. ARG game designer, Jane McGonigal created a powerful image to represent the level of collaboration that gamers can achieve. During a Ted Talk she taught her audience how to utilize every thumb in their crowded auditorium to produce one massive, interlinking thumb wrestling contest. While the audience found and bested each other’s opposable digit amidst confusion and conversation, McGonigal asserted that their group effort mirrored the kind of collaboration that ARG players achieve every day. Their efforts, like that of gamers, created the potential for each participant to feel emotions they might not normally have the opportunity to experience, such as joy, relief, love, surprise, pride, curiosity, excitement, wonder, or contentment.[iii] It is a long list and the hope of achieving even one of them is a worthy goal for any kind of narrative effort.

[i] “Hello You Are Looking at a Video.,” accessed October 18, 2016,

[ii] Bryan Alexander, The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media, 3.8.2011 edition (Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger, 2011), 152.

[iii] Ibid.

The Tangle of Digital Archives


“Card_catalog.jpg (944×606),” accessed October 12, 2016,

In January of 2015, Harvard professor and New Yorker resident historian, Jill Lepore examined the instability of information on the World Wide Web in an article, “The Cobweb.” In that context, Lepore came to the conclusion that the web is, “ethereal, ephemeral, unstable, and unreliable.”[i] Lepore found someone who has dedicated himself to addressing that assessment of instablility, Brewster Kahle, founder of San Francisco’s Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine is an organization that uses robots to crawl through the web and collect every website it finds unless it is locked. Then the organization stores the resulting collection of data on its Internet Archive. As of January 2015, the Internet Archive was storing more than four hundred billion web pages.[ii] The Internet Archive has a massive amount of data on its hands. Ultimately Lepore concluded that the work of the archive has not been effective. It has not made the information that it has gathered retrievable. The Internet Archive needs what it does not yet have, a vast organizational system, a virtual card catalog. Like all archives, great and small, the Internet Archive needs adequate metadata.

Metadata is data about data, or as Steven J. Miller observed, it is, “information about information.”[iii] Metadata manages knowledge objects and makes them searchable by displaying various aspects of their contents or creation, such as the object’s title, creator, subject, or publisher.[iv] The primary functions of metadata are the contextualization, organization, verification, and retrieval of objects.[v]According to the document management company, MFiles, metadata has been utilized for organizing knowledge since the Great Library of Alexandria tagged its resources in 280 BCE. A later example of metadata for libraries is the Dewey Decimal System that was developed in 1876. In the 1960s, Machine Readable Catalogue Standards (MARC) were developed by the Library of Congress. The MARC system was widely adopted by libraries and is still in use today.[vi]

Archives, however, are not libraries, and they have a unique set of knowledge management problems. Archives hold collections that might typically include multiple types of records such as administrative documents, personal papers, photographs, blueprints, or artifacts. Those records might be in tangible or in digital forms. Such distinctive sets of records require multiple metadata systems. On their web site, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) notes that archival metadata is organized into categories and each category establishes its own set of values and therefore sometimes requires different forms of metadata. For example, MARC is a typical form of metadata for tangible archival collections, whereas Dublin Core is typically used by archives for digital collections on the Web.[vii] Dublin Core is a style of metadata that uses fifteen basic components for describing the resources it organizes. A small sampling of those components are the object’s creator, date, language, format, and source.[viii]

In addition to requiring appropriate metadata with appropriate components, digital materials pose a unique set of challenges for archivists. Data retrieval for digital archives, especially digital images, can be problematic. Digital archivist for the Smithsonian Institute Archives, Lynda Schmitz Furhig reports that, “digital images appear in unexpected places, and internet searches take unexpected turns.”[ix] Furhig urges members of the public who post images on the web to embed metadata with their files.[x] There has been an initiative, the Embedded Metadata Manifesto, which urges all people who “handle digital media to recognize the crucial role of metadata.” It urges people to describe their content adequately.[xi] As archivists like Furhig continue to grapple with the challenges that retrieving digital records entails, they will help to untie the knots in the tangle that makes Lepore’s Internet Archive so unapproachable. Embedded metadata might someday contribute to the kind of adequate digital cataloguing system that the unstable “cobweb” of the web requires.

[i] Jill Lepore, “The Cobweb,” The New Yorker, accessed October 11, 2016,

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] “Metadata Resources | Steven J. Miller,” accessed October 9, 2016,

[iv] “User Guide – Dublin Core  DCMI_MediaWiki,” accessed October 8, 2016,

[v] Anne J. Gilliland, “Setting the Stage,” in Introduction to Metadata, Murtha Baca, Editor, Getty Research Institute accessed October 8, 2016,

[vi] “Infographic – The History of Metadata,” M-Files, accessed October 11, 2016,

[vii] “Metadata | Society of American Archivists,” accessed October 11, 2016,

[viii] “User Guide – Dublin Core  DCMI_MediaWiki.”

[ix] Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, “Three Cheers for Embedded Metadata,” Smithsonian Institution Archives, February 28, 2012,

[x] Ibid.

[xi] “Embedded Metadata Initiative,” accessed October 11, 2016,