Historians are story-tellers. While some historians might take offense to this and remind us that they weigh the evidence, analyze the facts, and think critically, the truth is that none of this allows us to know with certainty what happened in the past. No matter how much time we spend in the archives and how many primary documents we analyze, we will never be able to fully comprehend the complexities of our history. I take historical research quite seriously, but the best we can do is try to piece together the evidence, add an interpretation and come up with a story to tell our friends and colleagues.
This year, I have had many opportunities to practice history-telling. I've written for my peers, professors, clients, history-enthusiasts and the general public. I've practiced being restrained by exhibit captions, historic plaque text, newspaper word counts and the diminishing attention span of an increasingly digital and demanding audience.
Now, just a few weeks into my internship at Canada's History, I can add something else to my practice sheet.
My main project this summer will be to create virtual walking tours using Google Street View. I've just about completed my first tour, a walk down Winnipeg's Main Street, and can now outline the basic steps for you:
1) Research a city and plan a route for the tour
2) Create a customized map using Google Street View
3) Record the tour in Street View using a screencast program (right now I'm using a Firefox add-on called Capture Fox)
4) Write accompanying text for each stop (should be lively, interesting, relevant and factual — and ideally under 120 seconds)
5) Record the audio (I'm using GarageBand)
6) Combine the video and audio (I'm using iMovie)
7) Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit.
Despite the new programs and technical skills I need to learn, it was step number four that I struggled with the most. Writing text that will be spoken is completely different than writing text that will be read. In fact, I would say that it's even harder. It's even more important that your text is natural, engaging and clear. If you misplace a modifier, your audience can't stop and reread the section to figure out what's going on. And if they do stop to puzzle over something, it will be hard for them to catch up again. I guess our professors were right when they told us to read our papers out loud before handing them in.
Historians are story-tellers — so make sure you practice telling your stories!