As my research into multimedia and transmedia pedagogy continues, I have become more interested in the practical nature of not only teaching within the framework of a multimedia classroom, but also providing those opportunities for students through assignments and projects. I am a strong proponent of “doing” history, making the process of being a historian and research scholar something proactive and developing the necessary skills across platforms and medias to bring history into dynamic focus. It is a challenging process as the legitimacy of the work and forms of media used—including film, blogs, art, fiction and poetry, and even video games—are consistently called into question over their accuracies, or lack thereof.
I recognize the challenges and pitfalls of using multimedia work to address historical facts and present them in an effective way, but I also recognize the power that other mediums hold from a cultural perspective. For many, understanding the immense loss and pains of WWII come not only from reading about the experiences of soldiers and civilians or military and international war efforts in textbooks, but also come in the form of photography, music, artistic representations, films (documentaries or dramatizations), fiction and poetry, oral histories, and, now, interactive experiences online, in video games, and in museums. Everyone’s perspective of WWII is shaped by the forms and information presented to them, even as the essential details of events—particular battles, legislation, publications, etc.—remain in place.
This brings us to what has been conceived as “cultural memory,” a term referring to conscious understanding of historical moments, movements, and people for individuals and collectives across social groups, which effect their behaviors and attitudes toward history. Many historians and cultural studies scholars have addressed “cultural memory” in the last few decades, emphasizing the importance, as well as troubling nature, of its use in historical contexts. Emily S. Rosenberg, in her book, A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory (Duke University Press, 2003), analyzes the role that “cultural memory” plays in U.S. understandings on WWII, specifically the events at Pearl Harbor, which are impacted by the various medias I have mentioned previously, as well as war memorials, commemorative addresses and political speeches, and the 2001 Michael Bay film. No matter the level of impact that these works and outputs have on personal consciousness of the event, they become additions to understandings of the event in culture(s) at large.
Steve F. Anderson’s Technologies of History: Visual Media and the Eccentricity of the Past (Dartmouth College Press, 2011) discusses cultural memory and its relationship to historiography—his preferred term in a political sense to “history”—through various mediums including films, recreations, television, art, and other visual work, emphasizing the power and roles that these works, productions, and constructions play in cultural understandings of historical material. Rather than denigrate cultural productions as souring historical works and research, Anderson acknowledges the cultural weight that these productions have for viewers and audiences, sometimes subverting their knowledge of “known” events and presenting a new, sometimes alternative, lens to what they know. “If we understand the basic condition of historiography,” Anderson states, “to be an ongoing process of discursive and cultural struggle, then we must look for meaning beyond the ‘footnotes, bibliography, and other scholarly apparatus’ of professional historians to the way historical evidence is culturally processed, disseminated, and remembered” (Anderson 12, quoting Robert Rosenstone’s Revisioning History).
Anderson discusses the various arguments made by cultural memory theorists on the perpetual process of historical understanding. “The writing of history does not end with the creation of documents, narratives, or analyses. People consume and process written, filmed, televised, and played historiography within a web of cultural forces and interpretive contexts.” Meanings in history “evolve over time, reflecting, among other things, the extent to which our relation to the past is conditioned by present circumstances” (Anderson 50). What people consume and learn from media and mediums beyond the classroom and academic walls impact the way they conceive of history and the past, regardless of whether these are positive or negative impacts. Pointing to cultural productions emphasizes the role of interpretation in history, the very process by which history is constructed into narratives and given meaning. Cultural productions are not held up to the same standards as scholarly research in terms of evidence, review, and fact checking, which is understandable in many cases—Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor as one obvious example of a poorly conceived documentation of history—but can obfuscate the power of cultural works—like Waltz with Bashir, Persepolis, and, a personal favorite, In Cold Blood—which impact our understandings on personal, collective, and cultural levels.
Examining cultural memory and Steve F. Anderson’s work, I can begin to imagine the ways that a history classroom can emphasize the role that cultural works have in affecting, contrasting, and influencing historical meaning for students and people alike. Pulling away from the textbook as sacred allows for other works across mediums to present alternative ways of examining the past and what we know and what we do with history. The challenge comes in effectively implementing these various works and media into the classroom that strengthens understanding and activities in the classroom rather than hinder them. How multimedia and transmedia pedagogy can function effectively in the classroom, and the role and extent to which acknowledging cultural memory in interpreting and presenting the past can also come into play, are the questions I need to address and try to parse out over the next several weeks.
- Steve F. Anderson, Technologies of History: Visual Media and the Eccentricity of the Past (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2011).
- Emily S. Rosenberg, A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory (Duke University Press, 2003).
- Robert A. Rosenstone, ed., Revisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Past (Princeton University Press, 1994).