Ramblings. Musings. Required coursework.

Category: ED 677

Digital Storytelling

Participatory Storytelling

Platform and Purpose

Participatory Storytelling in a Digital Age

Our history and collective past is rich with examples of storytelling and story-sharing. We, as humans, love to share our stories, to hear and be heard, and will take advantage of any technology to do so. This is as true today as it was centuries ago. Study the history of narrative and you will see it expand with technological advancement from oral tradition, to written word, to digital technologies (Cosco, 2011). Given our history of narrative advancement, Chris Sullivan’s query, “Technology might have made communication easier, but is it killing the art of storytelling?” makes one wonder if, much as our grandparents walked to school in the snow uphill both ways, storytellers, such as Homer (anachronism aside for the sake of argument), perceived the advent of the printing press as the death of their oral traditions (Cosco, 2011).

Rather than perceiving social media as an end, modern writers attempting to reconcile the available technologies within a rich tradition of storytelling leave the impression that “fiction is again expanding its means to process and illustrate the so-called state of the times” (Conchie, 2014). Much as Dickens wrote serialized stories for publication in 19th century papers to anticipatory audiences, authors taking advantage of social media create stories shared in serialized tweets or posts, often to avid followings. As noted by Taylor and Williams (2014), however, a different style has developed where “compression is the key, and modification of the narrative is often required.” For anyone who has read Dickens, short and sweet may actually be a saving grace of storytelling via social media. As an added bonus, the immediacy of these platforms makes “it easy to believe [a story is] really happening in the moment” as “the ordinary suspension of disbelief evaporates” in real time (Conchie, 2014). Further, where oral tradition required the face to face presence of audience and storyteller and written words required the purchase or lend of a text, social media can be accessed by anyone on any Internet-connected device. As stated by Pratten (2011), the “value [of Twitter as a platform] is in the social spread of the story and the building of audiences.” Given this, it seems that social media, instead of killing the story, presents an alternative canvas for the diffusion, reconceptualization, and expansion of participation within modern storytelling (Cosco, 2011).

Twitter as Platform

When an author chooses to present their story in social media, platform becomes a key consideration. As stated by Burns (2010), “platforms become the weapons in one’s storytelling arsenal.” As such, an author must know the unique affordances, strengths and weaknesses, language, and means to interact with audience when selection a platform (Burns, 2010). When an author takes the time to understand the full nature of a platform, they are able to manipulate it in new and creative ways to successfully tell their story. As noted by Pratten (2011), the “key to success with storytelling in any media is to work with the strengths of the platform.”

In “Social Stories: How to use Storytelling on Twitter,” Gini Dietrich (2013) reviews four ways to use Twitter for storytelling “literally—to tell a story, creatively—to tell a story in a new way, consistently—as a way to reinforce your message, and personally—to let your audience get to know you.” Given that traditional stories involved the creation of narrative by a single author delivered in linear progression, it is Dietrich’s (2013) concept of “[telling] a story in a new way” that resonates most in discussions around the medium and Twitterature (yes, that’s a thing). Based on authorial accounts, the most compelling platform-based considerations within Twitter include: the 140-character length limit, the nature of audience interaction, and the ability for a story to unfold in non-linear progression and to incorporate storylines supplemental to the primary account.

The most obvious difference when dealing with Twitter over traditional storytelling is the 140-character limitation per tweet. While such a short length may have sent 19th century authors to an early grave (Dickens, I’m looking at you!), modern authors rise to, and embrace, the challenge. As stated by Meltzer, “My canvas as a novelist is usually 500 pages. Now, I’m supposed to tell a story on what’s pretty much a postage stamp. I do think as an exercise, it’s fascinating, because it really makes you think about what it takes to tell a story” (Martin and Melzer, 2014). Alexander McCall Smith, in a similar take, sees Twitter as a platform that allows “using [just] a few brushstrokes to create a whole world…[telling] a very big story in a few lines” (Taylor and Williams, 2014). The trick in such limited space, it seems, is to create tweets that move the story forward, intrigue the audience, provoke either thought or emotional response, and maintain the element of surprise (Pratten, 2011; Crum, 2015).

Once an audience engages with a story, the unique affordances of Twitter allow for increased interaction with both plot and characters. While the audience can, at the most basic level, retweet, follow, or invite others to share in the story, the real strength of the medium lies in the ability for audience members to actively participate. As stated by Caitlin Burns, “Twitter invites direct response by the audience in a way that other media do not. Twitter breaks the fourth wall by inviting the audience to reply, simply by using the platform” (Johnson, 2011). Beyond their ability to comment, and within the constructs of a crowd-sourced, participatory novel, audience members may also drive the narrative and plot twists as they work in conjunction to create the story (Johnson, 2011).

In line with audience interaction is the notion that Twitter encourages non-linear progression of a story and allows for supplemental storytelling through the manipulation of characters outside of the primary narrative. As noted by Johnson (2011), Twitter creates an ideal environment for audience members to continue the development of characters “outside the direct plot” of the story. Through the creation of character accounts of backstories, audiences participate in “a kind of live theater…ongoing over [a period of time] with interactions among multiple characters, but still within a contained story” (Johnson, 2011). While these character narratives are not explicitly part of the driving story, Pratten (2011) furthers Johnson’s (2011) argument by stating that the supplemental feeds that work with characters should “add value to the core narrative yet at the same time be optionally consumed.” In other words, these supplemental stories and character developments add value to the primary narrative but are not required for enjoyment, understanding, or completion of the story. (For instance, I love the Star Wars movies, but have no interest whatsoever in the expanded universe. Period.)

Maintaining Original Format

According to Martin and Melzer (2014), a story must embrace the medium in which it is created. To some this means limiting oneself to the culture, affordances, and structure of the platform (Twitter’s 140-character limit and use of hashtags, as example), while, to others, this means keeping and presenting the story in its original environment. Both Burns (2010) and Johnson (2011) believe that compiling a story outside of its original medium misses the point of selecting a specific storytelling medium. That said, Johnson (2011) does acknowledge that the timing of interactions and multiple feeds in Twitter can present a barrier to audience participation in an ongoing story and suggests the possibility of an external website to “catch people up and bring them into the current part of the story.” While discussion clearly exists around the use of external sites for ease of audience access and decisions to turn tweeted stories into print editions, the literature seems to indicate a preference for keeping and presenting a story within its original medium. As Burns (2010) rather succinctly states, “If you need a separate site with a different format to present what is intended for one medium, what is being missed?”


The Supplemental “Re” Concept

Writing is one of the most intensely personal things we do. Regardless of what drives us to write, we are sharing a part of ourselves (whether our thoughts, fears, creativity, pain, or love) with the reader. When we give voices to our words or put them on paper, we provide a glimpse into to our inner selves and create something new…something permanent. We cannot reclaim the love letter dropped in the mail before we lost our nerve, rescind the angry email we pounded out before we took the time to cool off, or take back the thing we said that the wrong person overheard.

Knowing this, whether I am penning a letter to a friend, typing a referenced and cited paper for class, or jotting down a creative story for fun, I have a plan. I think through what I want to say, making notes so I won’t forget the concepts I need to develop. I write the words, let them sit, and revisit them often, adding where necessary and callously cutting that which no longer fits. I spend the weeks before papers are due planning them in my head. As I write this post, I have my notes from the articles I read on the bottom right of my screen, a section where I jotted down random thoughts about the intersections between story and articles above, and the left of my screen is covered by the document I am working in now which is an amalgamation of plan, outline, and fragmented thoughts yet to find a home.

You can imagine my frustration, then, about a story told by a group of individuals with different experiences informing their voices and different agendas guiding their narrative. While I enjoyed seeing the progression of Re’s story and participating in the creative process that brought it to life, it drove me crazy when a thought was left dangling in the story, a character suddenly appeared with no explanation or backstory, and there was no conclusion (satisfying or otherwise) to the story in sight. When I think of the stories I love, it is the author’s ability to create a complete world with transportative power that draws me in. Something about an author creating a world, fully formed, apart from our own, entrances me and beckons my escape.

It is this concept of completeness and the affordances of Twitter discussed above, that most informed my creative approach to the story. Much as we created in Re a character whose story is fragmented due to the 140-character limit, we created a character who clearly struggles with the fragmentation of her own life story. She vacillates, throughout the story, between struggling to remember and struggling to forget her past. She is, in many ways, on a voyage of pain and discovery where knowledge comes to her in small varied bursts. Knowing this, I wanted to create a concept that respected the original intent and platform of the story (by staying within the 140-character limit), maintained the fragmented perception of her world, and fulfilled my need to have a more complete backstory. Although I considered several mechanisms, the one that made the most sense was to conceptualize the book owned by Re as a journal where she records the fragmented dreams, memories, and scraps she uses to piece together her story. While I posted the original content to Twitter in an account I created for Re (@fragmentRe), the journal is presented below using Storify for cohesion and ease of access. If you prefer the original medium and platform, the account is public. Please know this does not represent what I would see as the entire journal; rather it represents a sampling of backstory that would be fun to further develop or throw into the Twitterverse to see what happens. NOTE: If the images, which I love, aren’t showing up, please be sure to check it in Twitter…



Burns, C. (2010, May 10). Twitter fiction. Moxie Dot. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://www.moxiedot.com/2010/05/twitter-fiction/

Burton, S.J. (2016, October 22). Fragmented sky. [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/shanjeniah/30478293545

Conchie, A. (2014, March 21). Twitter Fiction Festival: How technology is changing the face of fiction. Melville House. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://www.mhpbooks.com/twitter-fiction-festival-how-technology-is-changing-the-face-of-fiction/

Cosco, A. (2011, April 6). “I challenge you to tell a great story on Twitter”—Is it possible? AdWeek. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/digital/i-challenge-you-to-tell-a-great-story-on-twitter-is-it-possible/?red=st

Crum, M. (2015, May 7). Twitter fiction reveals the power of very, very short stories. Huffington Post. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/07/twitter-fiction_n_7205686.html

Dietrich, G. (2013, June 18). Social stories: How to use storytelling on Twitter. Social Media Today. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/social-stories-how-use-storytelling-twitter

Johnson, L.J.W. (2011, March 8). Twitter storytelling. Silverstring Media. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://silverstringmedia.com/memory-insufficient-old/2011/03/08/twitter-storytelling

Martin, R. & Meltzer, B. (2014, March 16). Authors tighten up their stories for Twitter Fiction Festival. National Public Radio. [Interview]. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2014/03/16/290615041/authors-tighten-up-their-stories-for-twitter-fiction-festival

Pratten, R. (2011, March 10). Using Twitter for storytelling.  Transmedia Storyteller. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.tstoryteller.com/using-twitter-for-storytelling

Shea, S. (n.d.). The collective boutique. The Collective. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.collectiveboutique.net/index.html

Taylor, A. & Williams, M. (2014, September 20). Alexander McCall Smith on the art of Twitter fiction. ABC Radio Nation. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/beta-nav/alexander-mccall-smith-on-the-art-of-twitter-fiction/5777056




Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Remixing and Mashing

Context and Definition

When one considers the interconnectedness of the modern era, the concept of “open” cannot be ignored in creative and intellectual endeavors. We live in a world of vast cultural and knowledge exchange that occurs daily across granular and global levels of interaction. It is unfortunate, then, that copyright laws and concepts of intellectual property do not reflect this interconnectedness. While leaders in the open movement encourage creators to consider the 5 R’s of Open (retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute) when licensing creative works, the copyright industry continues to treat these works as property (Jacobs, 2012; Green, 2016). As noted by TEDGlobal Director Kirby Ferguson, although the intent of patent laws is to “promote the progress of useful arts,” they often have the opposite effect by “stifling the root of creativity” (Jacobs, 2012). Beyond the strict regulations put in place by copyright and patent laws, when an individual borrows the ideas of others and meets significant financial success, they may experience loss aversion and a change of perspective (Jacobs, 2012). Consider Steve Jobs who, in the 1980s openly admitted to stealing everything, yet, in a patent dispute with Android, threatened the equivalent of nuclear war (Jacobs, 2012). Pot? Meet Kettle.

Before we continue, it bears merit to take a few moments to define the concepts of “remix” and “mashup.” According to Jessell (2013), remixing is defined as “the act of rearranging, combining, editorializing, and adding to [an original work] to create something entirely new” with the “added benefit of drawing on emotions and associations to enrich a message or point of view.” To remix, then, is to participate in “cultural evolution” wherein a creator practices “meaningful appropriation” by drawing on the patterns, processes, concepts, or characterizations of another to add to the collective body of culture or knowledge through creation and innovation (Murray, 2015). Along similar lines, mashups “[reframe] the original narrative [or content to]…produce a fresh perspective on both the source material and the context in which it first existed” (Murray, 2015). Mashups, then, take advantage of readily available tools on the Internet to “[integrate] complementary elements from two or more sources” and diffuse the product to expanded audiences (Rouse, 2016).

So, what are innovators and creators to do in this world of mashed and mixed messages, creative abundance, and overzealous lawsuits? In “Embrace the Remix,” Ferguson posits that to “remix” is to “copy, transform, and combine;” compellingly, he also defines these three elements as those most basic to creativity (Jacobs, 2012). Embrace that line of logic and the argument makes itself – “everything is a remix” (Jacobs, 2012).

As a connected society that embraces access to our common historical and cultural past, some might argue that increased access has informed this modern concept of creativity. That argument, however, demonstrates a shallow understanding of creative expression in the past. Much as Shakespeare borrowed from his contemporaries, Michelangelo created a mash-up of biblical stories in the Sistene Chapel, and scientists, such as Galileo and Copernicus, built on the discoveries and theories of others, creators of the past borrowed from those who came before by “[building] on, [taking] inspiration from, [appropriating, and transforming]” their work (Jenkins, 2006; Murray, 2015). The past stands as a landscape where “collaboration [was] a boon to creativity” and “creativity came from without, not within…proving [dependence] on each other” (Murray, 2015; Ferguson via Jacobs, 2012).

Although the passage of time is generally marked by progress and positive change in the cultural landscape, in many ways the modern era and the “challenges of [defining] originality and freshness in a world where creativity takes root in what has come before” seem to be a devolution of sorts (Jacobs, 2012). We live in a world where access to information and the free exchange of knowledge thrives, yet members of intellectual and artistic groups cling to outdated notions of ownership and creativity. Given the arguments presented, it is clear that intellectualism and creativity are in a time of reconception and transition. One can only hope that, over time, society will embrace the idea that greatness comes from “being inspired by great things, and combining/transforming them into something entirely new” (Jessell, 2013). This ability to creatively express oneself and transform existing knowledge, ideas, and works seems fundamental to the concept of modern society and, as Lawrence Lessig, co-creator of Creative Commons, notes “no free society should restrict” the “right to [remix as] a critical expression of creative freedom” (Murray, 2015).


Remixing the Mix, Mashing Self

In the process of developing a broad definition of remix and mashup and then applying it to my personal experience, two quotes stood out: Kirby Ferguson’s idea that “art cannot be created or destroyed – only remixed” (Jacobs, 2012) and Cory Doctorow’s notion that those “not making art with the intention of having it copied [are] not really making art for the 21st century” (Murray, 2015).

While I wholeheartedly embrace these concepts from an artistic standpoint, for the purposes of my argument, I posit a remix of each: “knowledge cannot be created or destroyed – only remixed” and those “not creating knowledge with the intention of having it copied [are] not really making knowledge for the 21st century.” Bearing this in mind, then, I further refine my global definitions above as follows:

  • Remixing meaningfully appropriates, and properly attributes, the thoughts, concepts, and ideas of others through rearranging, combining, editorializing, and adding to in the process of creating and defining new knowledge for the collective body to freely access and openly use
  • Mashups reframe original and integrate complementary knowledge (thoughts, concepts, and ideas) to create a new perspective, freely accessible and open for use, on the body of knowledge and the context in which said knowledge occurs

As a student in the Interdisciplinary Studies PhD program, my research represents both a remix and mashup of my fields. While the Education Department is my official home at the University, my coursework focuses on education, historiography, archives, technology, and design. Each of these fields embraces different paradigms, methodologies, and theorems that come together to form their collective bodies of knowledge. As the researcher, it is my job to find the intersection and identify complementary practices (mashup) within each to create new knowledge (remix).

Knowing that this will be my life for the next four years (Who are we kidding? Likely more.), I wanted to examine how the content with which we interact in our courses complements our prior experience and existing knowledge (mashup) and encourages us to reconsider how we approach and develop new knowledge within our fields of study (remix). The video below represents a brief attempt to do so.


(Post-Note: The title is remixed from a quote accredited to Sir Isaac Newton and Bernard of Chartes, “We stand on the shoulders of giants” (Jessell, 2013)


Green, C. (2016, December 21). Presentation to UAA. [Presentation notes].

Jacobs, L. (2012, August 10). 14 brilliant quotes on remixing. TED Blog. [Web Log]. Retrieved from http://blog.ted.com/14-brilliant-quotes-on-remixing/

Jenkins, H. (2006, July 13). Learning by remixing. Media Shift. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://mediashift.org/2006/07/learning-by-remixing194/

Jessell, M. (2013, April 30). Remix culture: Rethinking what we call original content. Marketing Land. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://marketingland.com/remix-culture-rethinking-what-we-call-original-content-41791

Murray, B. (2015, March 22). Remixing culture and why the art of the mash-up matters. Tech Crunch. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2015/03/22/from-artistic-to-technological-mash-up/

Rouse, M. (2016, January). Mash-up. What Is. Retrieved from http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/mash-up

Augmented Reality: The Method and The Story

Using Augmented Reality to Enhance Food Tourism

I love food. Growing up in a family of bakers and cooks, my personal memories are inextricably tied to laughter in the kitchen, moments shared around meals, the delightful (and disastrous) creations we concocted together, and to the sense of community these moments inspired. I am not alone in this. In “Food with a Story to Tell,” Amy Fleming (2013) states there is “no doubt that flavor is inextricably linked with memory and emotion. They’re all processed by the same part of the brain.” Over meals we share stories with our families and friends as the experience takes on a life of its own. Food, then, according to Caroline Hobkinson, becomes a “manifestation of our longings [and]…how we remember holidays and big life events. It is almost the vocabulary of our life” (Fleming, 2013). A vocabulary to which new foods, travel, and experience can only add.

As someone who also loves to travel, I notice that food and flavor are becoming increasingly tied to place. While I generally eschew most forms of social media, my Instagram feed tends to focus on three subjects (my dogs, travel, and the food I make or eat) and the intersections among those (namely, the food I eat while traveling). While I could try to claim I have never visited a country just to try the local cuisine, it would be a lie as I intentionally scheduled a layover in Taipei last year to eat dumplings at Din Tai Fung. Again, it appears I am not alone. As reported by Samantha Shankman (2015) in “The Big Business of Food Tourism and Why It Matters,” “food tourism is any tourism experience in which one learns about, appreciates, and/or consumes food and drink that reflects the local, regional or national cuisine, heritage and culture.” So, in addition to being inextricably tied to memory and emotion, food further acts as a driver for travel, enriching our personal experiences and stories.

As noted by Richard Bangs (2011), “travel is, more than anything, about storytelling…about transformation, not transportation.” Bangs touches on a fundamental truth of travel – regardless of the experience, and sometimes because of it, we will forever be changed. Our memories are imbued with the sights, smells, sounds, feels, and tastes of worlds apart from our own, and, if we choose to seek them out, encounters with locals whose unique stories and lives (hopefully) add value to the experience. Further, we return home to share our stories, perhaps around a campfire or over a beer, creating an environment no marketing mechanism can match. As noted by Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads, the travel industry “cannot outsource the stories only we can tell” (2015). Through our stories, we “inspire people to see place differently” and draw them in, allowing them to relate to something previously unrelatable (Ettenberg, 2015).

While travelers of the past recorded their stories of adventures in journals and letters home to loved ones or through painstakingly preserved photographs, those who live and travel today are able to share their memories far and wide thanks to the affordances of technology, the internet, and social media outlets. In the modern world, every traveler “has the ability to digitally share their culinary experiences with friends and strangers around the world, fueling a veritable social media arms race to determine who has the most unique food and beverage experiences” (Shankman, 2015). Further, travelers take advantage of these same technologies to seek the advice and experience of locals before departure to ensure they “experience cities like a local” (Gonzalo, n.d.) Although I might argue that my intent is less arms race and more positive travel experience and sharing my life with distant family and friends, I stand guilty as charged on both counts.

Given the prevalence of tourism and storytelling across social media outlets, it is little wonder, then, that industry experts have begun to consider how Augmented Reality (AR), or the “incorporation of something virtual into something pre-existing,” might further both marketability within the industry and the individual traveler experience (Davis et al, 2007). Widely used travel apps, including Yelp’s Monocle, Google Translator, and Metro AR Pro (to name a few), allow users to interact with their environment using smart phone cameras to augment reality by highlighting nearby restaurants and sharing user reviews, translating content on signs with the press of a button, and providing superimposed directions to the nearest metro station (Chase, 2014). Although these apps represent simple solutions to frequent travel questions such as “Where should I eat?” and “How will I get there?”, according to the Digital Tourism Think Tank’s Augmented Reality Report, AR “is still widely under-utilized in the field of Tourism” (Buhalis & Yovcheva, 2013). Regardless, industry experts (including Buhalis) firmly believe that the future of travel lies in AR as travelers will be able to engage in planning and customizing travel experiences in wholly new ways (Coldwell, 2014; Think! Staff, 2017).

Although attempts “to accurately predict the future of travel [are attempts] to predict the future itself,” Travel + Leisure asked experts to do just this in “The Future of Travel” (Lindsay, n.d.). While many ideas were considered, including internet-connected contact lenses that allowed for seamless flight booking, “itineraries tailored to your physiological and genetic profile,” and real-time translation of languages, it was Michio Kaku’s following quote from Physics of the Future that grabbed my attention:

“You’ll never get lost, you’ll always know what you’re looking at, and you’ll always understand what everyone’s saying” (Lindsay, n.d.).


The Project

While storytelling is certainly nothing new to advertise Texas tourism (see Texas Monthly or The Day Tripper), the addition of augmented reality via Aurasma allows the end user to experience an enhanced story. The design begins with standard travel blog fare – each restaurant is tied to an image of one of their more well-known dishes and a personal memory shared by a “native” Texan. Reality is augmented through videos which share details about the experience, menu recommendations, and tips for a successful visit; further augmentation occurs via links to the restaurants’ Facebook pages, Yelp reviews, and directions using Google Maps. Were the content to be scaled and published for a travel blog audience, an introduction to the storyteller and project would be provided, while each of the locations would have an individual entry page. It has been condensed, however, for the purposes of this project to focus on a tour down southbound Interstate 35.

Note: To fully experience the following augmented story, you will need to download the Aurasma app and follow hmn086. Once you have downloaded the app, using it to view the images will allow you to see the augmented reality.


A Wandering Foodie’s Travels in Texas

Growing up Texan meant a childhood spent exploring open roads and untamed landscapes with little comprehension of the size of the world around us. It was weekends spent bumping down the road in a rust-tinged ‘75 Chevy Blazer, top off, wind in our hair, listening to Motown as the highway’s yellow lines flew by, driving past fields of freshly mowed hay, the sweet smell tickling our noses, seeking to camp in parts unknown, and falling asleep under a starry sky as the cicadas hummed us to sleep. A childhood spent sitting on the front porch, staring down pounding rain as bright flashes of lightning tore across the sky, standing our ground as booming claps of thunder shook our resolve to stay outside. Growing up Texan is almost impossible to explain to someone who did not. As an adult, who has moved away, few things will take me back to those moments as quickly as Pat Green’s Songs About Texas or the foods of my childhood home.


Much as Green understands and describes the je ne sais quoi that is the experience of Texas, my grandmother and mother understood the importance of food in bringing a family together. Working side by side, three generations strong, we prepared meals and served them on a dining room table, formally set, around which we shared our stories, engaged in topics of the day, and encouraged each other in moments of struggle and triumph. They fundamentally understood that, without the interaction of loved ones around the dinner table, food is, as Alton Brown so eloquently points out during his Incredible Edible tour, “just shit in the making.”Given my childhood, it should surprise no one that food and the experiences I had around it tie strongly to my sense of place and memory. Nor should it surprise anyone that I bought a soft-top Jeep Wrangler as soon as I could afford to and spent my free weekends exploring the highways closest to my home. I drove thousands of miles, road tripping with friends, exploring both new and familiar destinations, and trying a million and one different ways to prevent “Jeep hair” from happening (yes, it’s a thing and, no, nothing works).

One of our favorite paths to explore was Interstate 35, although, to this day, I’m not entirely sure why. As a major artery of international travel, I-35 feeds Texas commerce. As arteries sometimes go, however, it is subject to frequent blockage and the surgical need to reroute, reconnect, and rebuild. For as many hours as we spent driving I-35, we spent just as many crawling along at a snail’s pace, sweltering under the Texas sun. Although never in the moment, but in retrospect, perhaps, the traffic was part of the charm; we discovered many of our favorite restaurants on congested days when random side roads and exits seemed far more appealing than roasting on 100+ degree asphalt. We found others by word of mouth, billboard, or complete accident. Regardless of how we discovered our favorite places, they are each imbued with stories of wonderful times shared with friends as we explored the expansive world that was our home.

Although I’m sharing a few of my favorite places along I-35 (ordered north to south, of course) and the stories that make them special to me, I would encourage you to visit Texas, rent a convertible (or big diesel if you want to feel properly Texan), seek them out, and build your own amazing stories around each with your family or friends. (If you do this, though, don’t forget to pack the stretchy pants…you will have a delicious trip, but you’re going to gain some weight!)


Roanoke: Babe’s Chicken Dinner House

Fried chicken, chicken fried steak, coconut cream pie, and side dishes including: creamed corn, green beans, mashed potates and gravy, and buttermilk biscuits

Fried Chicken, Chicken Fried Steak, and Coconut Cream Pie with unlimited family-style sides; image from Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau

It’s probably time to confess I didn’t grow up in a native-Texan home. The child of Yankees, I was born in the Midwest before my Dad moved the family to Texas when I was just shy of 18 months old. While Texas is the only home I remember, to a Texan, it just doesn’t count. I’ll never forget the first time I met my college boyfriend’s parents; we were smitten and it was time to meet the family. I was nervous, but confident – parents loved me. So, you can imagine my shock when he said, “Dad, this is Heather,” and I replied, “Nice to meet you, Mr. X.” The man looked me up and down in dismay, didn’t make a peep at me, instead directing his indignant, “You’re dating a YANKEE?!?” to his son… I’m sure it will surprise no one that I needed some pronto consoling after that little meeting and boyfriend’s solution was Babe’s.

While it didn’t make it fully better, that delicious fried chicken, funky décor, Hokey Pokey dancing, and all the homestyle sides I could eat sure did help ease the sting. To this day, when I go home it’s among the first places I visit. (And, for those who are curious, Mr. X and I actually got along great in the long run…but he never let me live down the “Yankee-thing” as he liked to call it.)


West: The Czech Stop and Bakery

Box of strawberry and blueberry cream cheese kolaches

Box of strawberry and blueberry cream cheese kolaches; image from Instagram

Ask any Texan where to get kolaches and “the Czech Stop” will be the answer. Doesn’t matter what part of Texas they’re from, how long it’s been since they passed Exit 353, or how far you are from West, they know…it’s always the Czech Stop. I made this comment to a visiting friend one time who was so sure I was wrong, he brazenly bet a dozen kolaches without pause. Imagine his surprise when, mere seconds later, a complete stranger approached us saying, “I heard you say ‘best kolaches’ – you have to be talking about the Czech Stop in West…dude, they are the BEST. Period.” Needless to say, I won a dozen kolaches and he learned Texans don’t exaggerate when it comes to delicious, buttery Eastern European pastries!


Waco: Health Camp

A Super Burger with a side of onion rings in front of condiments

Health Camp’s signature Super Burger and a side of onion rings; image from Waco Today

Although I’ve been to Health Camp more times than I can count, whether on road trips back from floating the river or the time my Mom first went with me and thought she could order a salad (HA!), the story I’ll never forget was the day my dogs almost didn’t make it.

My grandmother, who had been in the hospital for weeks, was finally, in her words, “being sprung.” I couldn’t wait to see her and spent the morning baking a wonderfully fragrant apple crisp as a surprise. Once it cooled, I packed the biggest truck I had, putting the dogs in the back seat, our gear in the bed, and that beautiful, foil-covered crisp up front beside me. Not surprisingly, there was an accident on I-35. Well-versed in Texas traffic, I rolled the windows down to the cool fall day, turned up the music, and prepared to wait. And wait I did. Traffic crawled. Two hours later, and maybe 20 miles down the road, left leg aching from the perpetual weight of the clutch, I caught a whiff of something. A smell you only want to smell in the back corner of your yard or when you have baggies on hand. I spun around to see my Border Collie hiding in the corner, avoiding my look, “guilty” written all over her hunched shoulders and sagging head. “Son-of-a-bitch!!!” I exclaimed as I whipped onto the shoulder to get to the next exit.

I pulled over, tied the dogs to the bumper, and cleaned up the stinky (but luckily contained) mess. I walked them quickly for safe measure and put the Hound in first and turned to the Collie. I heard his collar tags jingle, not thinking much of it, until I turned around and realized he wasn’t in the back. Then I heard it…that “I’m chomping as fast as I can because I know you’ll stop me as soon as you can” noise. And I know. I opened my front door to find the Hound, buried up to his chubby little legs in my beautiful apple crisp, greedily eating whatever he could before I could wrench it away. I. Lost. It. I threw what was left of the crisp into the bed of the truck and took a walk…because, no matter how much I love my mutts, at that moment they were both on THAT list.

When I’d calmed down enough to drive, traffic was moving again. I was still mad, no denying it. And then I saw the sign for Health Camp; the least healthy, take your mind off how mad you are mecca of deliciously, greasy burgers. I’m sure you won’t fault me when I say I took the exit, left the dogs (windows down with water, of course) in the truck, grabbed the greasiest burger I could find, and relocated my inner calm while slurping a lovely chocolate malt.


Hutto: The Texan Cafe & Pie Shop

Hot, bubbling Brandy Apple Pie a la Mode in a cast iron skillet

Hot, bubbling Brandy Apple Pie a la mode from Hutto’s Texan Cafe; image from Texan Cafe’s Twitter

If you’ve never been to Austin, it’s a thoroughly weird and liberal mecca in the center of red Texas. Hell, the town’s slogan is “Keep Austin Weird” – and I don’t say that in jest…it’s on everything! Given this, I’m sure you can imagine my conservative family’s concern when I announced I’d been accepted to the University of Texas for grad school; further, I’m sure you can imagine their equal concern when I announced I was moving home a semester before graduation to help with my grandmother, work 3 hours (roundtrip) from home, and commute to Austin one day a week for my last class. For those of you who like math, that’s 5,149.5 miles of I-35 in a semester. One semester. Yes, I’m crazy.

Anywho, after one long and particularly grueling, accident-halted drive, I arrived in Austin with outrageous Jeep hair, a butt that felt flatter than Kansas, and grumpy written all over me. My project partner took one look at me and announced I needed a “pie friendtervention.” Having never been to a pie friendtervention before, I had no clue what awaited me. Turns out – they’re amazing! She called a few of our Austin friends, we all met at the Texan Café (my first time), and we ordered five different types of pie. FIVE! (And it took significant time to pick those five – they had 19 pies that day and you need a good balance of chocolate, fruit, cream, etc.!).  We each grabbed a fork and, when it was our turn, shared a complaint about grad school, everyone took a bite, and we all passed to the left. It was the best, and I mean BEST, way to air and relieve the stress we were all buckling under.


Driftwood: The Salt Lick BBQ

Thurman's Plate, including: beef brisket, pork ribs, and sausage with German potato salad, coleslaw, and baked beans; sauce and condiments in the background

Thurman’s Plate with German potato salad, coleslaw, and baked beans; image from Yelp

When you’re a country girl living in the city, sometimes you just need to get away. During grad school, Driftwood was my escape. About an hour outside of Austin, nothing was better than grabbing a few friends, throwing the top off the Jeep, winding through the bluebonnet-covered roads of the Hill Country, listening to Texas Country, and forgetting you had a care in the world. No matter how many times I made the drive, it was always the smell that told me I was close. Beneath the sweetly-scented air of warm sunshine, freshly cut hay, and wildflowers, my nose would tease out the smell of wood smoke. Faint at first, and then growing stronger, my stomach always started to rumble before I saw the low wooden buildings. We’d pull into the white rocked drive, tires kicking up dust, and pile out, always eager for a table under the big oaks lining the property…unless it was June, July, or August…then you begged for a coveted table in the cool interior. Little wonder, given my love of the BBQ here, that I’d frequently drive guests in Dallas the 3.5 hours to Driftwood for dinner. They never believed me when I said we were road-tripping for dinner…but they always understood (even if they were still incredulously shaking their heads at the lengths to which I would go for good BBQ). What can I say? Texans love their BBQ!


Gruene: The Gristmill River Restaurant

Chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes covered in white peppered gravy

Chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes covered in white peppered gravy; image from Yelp

It’s a universal fact that in college, you’re going to cause trouble. Most parents just cross their fingers and hope the trouble doesn’t land their kids in jail. While my friends were (mostly) well-behaved and (somewhat) studious, every April, all bets were off as a group of 50+ of us packed our trucks with tents, dogs, gear, and swimsuits (oh, who am I kidding, there were kegs too) to drive to Gruene, TX and float the Comal or Guadalupe Rivers for a weekend of fun, drunken shenanigans with 400 of our closest, new friends on the river. We always finished Friday classes before heading out, which meant a trafficky drive down I-35 and late-night tent pitching at our favorite camping spot. The requisite “pre-gaming” occurred to the sound of the rushing river, crackling fire, singing cicadas, and the inevitably grossed-out city girl who “couldn’t possibly…go…in the bushes!”

Saturday mornings usually got off to a slow start as we packed our float bags and snacks and grabbed a quick breakfast before floating the river. The float, if done right, takes about 8 hours, so it’s a long, hot, relaxing day. Rather than individual tubes, we opted for large rafts that would hold about 6 with kegs floating in tubes tied behind. Floating the river is an experience in and of itself: random ropes hang by the water begging for a swing; slithery companions fall into boats drifting too close to the bank; more than one will fall prey to “battle” wounds courtesy of rapids, tree branches, or simple, drunken stupidity; you’ll always make new friends; at least one (always military) group will sing “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” to an unsuspecting, but pretty, girl; and, as kegs get low, beer piracy inevitably causes arguments between boats. You can’t beat it.

The first year I went on the trip, the day went by smoothly…until the end. Not a big drinker, I was stone-cold sober as we neared the last rapids. I prepared as best you can, however, didn’t anticipate a last-minute bump, followed by a jolt, that threw me over the edge. I was, it appeared, going to join the already broken foot as a 2002 “battle” wound of the river. By the time they pulled me out, I’d lost my glasses, been forced to do a hasty fix of the bikini, and the mottled red marks on my side were accented by rapidly fanning streaks of blue. Feeling sorry for me, my friends decided to forgo the traditional hotdogs and asked the locals for a dinner recommendation (did I mention I was generally the main dinner cook?). They recommended the Gristmill and the rest, as they say, is history. From that year on, it became our go-to for post-float food…and we could usually be found in Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas, post-river finery in place, dancing across scarred wooden floors to the sounds of Pat Green and Texas Country, after.


San Antonio: Mi Tierra Café y Panadería

A Chilaquiles Famoso and a Monterrey Special on blue plates

A Chilaquiles Famoso plate and a Monterrey Special; image from San Antonio today

Mi Tierra is a bit like the Czech Stop; ask most Texans for a recommendation in San Antonio and it’s going to be their answer. Perhaps it’s the strong, frosty margaritas, the counters full of bakery items, or the plentiful menu of delicious Mexican food that earns this recommendation, but I think it’s more the experience. Once you’ve been, you’ll never forget Mi Tierra. Set in the small, somewhat dilapidated, yet quaint, Mexican Market, Mi Tierra is bold, colorful, and inviting. Wide-open windows and doors, fill the tiny cobbled paths of the markets with sounds and smells that draw you in.

Unless you go at an off-time, there’s usually a line. The waiting area, heated during the winter and cooled during the summer, is outside and friends are easily made; Texans, after all, don’t believe in strangers. When your name is called and you walk past the hostess, cheerful color assaults your eyes as you wind through the maze of dining rooms, some dazzlingly silver, others colorful like Christmas, to your table. Depending on the size of your party, your table may be set for two or 20, yet you will always maintain the sense of intimacy felt in a cozy home. Many great stories are shared at these tables, words drifting and mingling with the lively tunes of the roving Mariachi band.


A Final Note…

These restaurants and stories represent only a fraction of the adventure that one can find driving the seemingly never-ending roads that cross the 268,820 square miles of my home. For those of you who visit, once is never enough. Texas is a state that takes a visit to love, but a lifetime to explore. Need further convincing? Don’t leave before you listen to the Josh Abbott Band and Pat Green’s My Texas.



Bangs, R. (2011, February 28). Travel as storytelling. The Huffington Post. [Web log]. Retreived from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-bangs/post_1774_b_829261.html

Buhalis, D. & Yovcheva, Z. (2013). Augmented reality in tourism: 10 unique applications explained. Digital Tourism Think Tank. [Report]. Retrieved from http://thinkdigital.travel/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/10-AR-Best-Practices-in-Tourism.pdf

Chase, J. (2014, March 31). These augmented reality apps take travel to a whole new level. Conde Nast Traveler. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2014-03-31/best-augmented-reality-travel-apps

Coldwell, W. (2014, October 25). Travel industry switches on to virtual reality. The Guardian. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/oct/25/travel-industry-virtual-augmented-reality

Davis, M., Oum, K., & Deimler, N. (2007). Augmented reality. Digital Storytelling. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~mcd332/Augmented.htm

Ettenberg, J. (2015, October 28). Why travel blogging needs more storytelling. Legal Nomads. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.legalnomads.com/more-storytelling/

Fleming, A. (2013, September 11). Food with a story to tell. The Guardian. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/sep/11/food-with-story-to-tell

Gonzalo, F. (n.d.). 5 success factors for effective storytelling in travel. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://fredericgonzalo.com/en/2015/03/30/5-success-factors-for-effective-storytelling-in-travel/

Lindsay, G. (n.d.). The future of travel: Augmented reality. Travel + Leisure. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/the-future-of-travel/5

Shankman, S. (2015, February 23). The big business of food tourism and why it matters. Skift. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://skift.com/2015/02/23/the-big-business-of-food-tourism-and-why-it-matters/

Think! Staff. (2017, January 10). How will augmented reality support the tourism experience? Destination Think! [Web log]. Retrieved from https://destinationthink.com/augmented-reality-tourism-experience/


























Storytelling in a Digital World: A Reflection

The Elements of a Story

Words hold power—the power to soothe, excite, offend, embrace, and cut. They are “events unto themselves” (Sidwell, Community, 2007). Stories, as amalgamations of words, possess the same power. Great stories grab our attention—they evoke deep and lingering emotions as they transport us, excite our senses, preserve our past, create a sense of community, or engage us fully. Our lives are transformed by great stories.

Which, of course, begs the question, “What makes a story great?”

Vonnegut humorously posits that great stories follow prescribed paths along the Y-Axis of “Good Fortune” and the X-Axis of “Beginning to End” wherein the hero (or heroine) experiences personal growth and challenge before (undoubtedly) triumphing in the end (Comberg, 2010). Although not explicitly stated, Vonnegut’s description assumes a dramatic arc as his recounted stories begin with exposition, continue through rising action to climax, and experience a fall in action as a denouement signals the (usually) happy ending (Comberg, 2010; Melcher, 2012).

Tongue-in-cheek aside, it is our experience of shared humanity in a story that holds our attention. In The Clues to a Great Story, Karin Hueck & Rafael Quick (2013) posit great stories “make me care, take me with you, [are] intentional, let me like you, and delight me.” The National Storytelling Network (n.d.) describes interactivity, the use of word and action, presentation of a story, and the active imagination of the listener as fundamental characteristics of a compelling story.

Although “storytelling isn’t a one size fits all” (Stevenson, n.d.) approach, in a great story, the listener creates “vivid, multi-sensory images, actions, characters, and events…based on the performance of the teller and the listener’s own past experiences, beliefs, [and] understandings” (National Storytelling Network, n.d.). Powerful stories…great stories…require our participation as they enrapture us in the world of vivid pictures they paint. As Sidwell (Community, 2007), states “When you want to give information, write it down; when you want to give images, tell a story.”

Why do we tell stories?

Stories teach us to understand our individual place in the world and embrace interdependence as we see the intrinsic value of others through their stories. We experience the universal emotions of love, death, joy, grief, and aching sadness intimately and personally and as a part of the collective whole (Sidwell, Community, 2007). Through story, we teach new generations, “[passing] on traditions, community and cultural paradigms, and moral and ethical codes” (Sidwell, Community, 2007). In short, stories shine the light of our humanity, enabling us to vividly see the connection of self to the whole.

Powerful stories push the boundaries of experience shared to embrace experience created. A phenomenal storyteller understands the capacity of an individual to capture the hearts of a community, provoke an emotional response, and affect real change. “When a system is unjust, our voices must be heard. When a community is suffering, our voices must be heard. When children and families are hurting, our voices must be heard; and when process has been compromised and corrupted, we must speak out and tell our stories” (National Association of Black Storytellers, n.d.) [original emphasis]. “Powerful stories illustrate our shared humanity and show how much more we [have] in common than divides us…every story matters and every voice counts” (StoryCorps, Discover, n.d.).

Finally, “the simple pleasure of remembering is another reason to tell our own stories” (Sidwell, Telling, 2007). Our stories become welcome friends and ageless comforts as time passes; remembering a parent’s love, sharing a fiery grandmother’s tales of her youth, holding a child for the first time, reminiscing time spent in the arms of an unforgettable lover, or something as simple as driving down a dark country road, feeling the warmth of a loved one’s hand resting on your knee as a warm wind caresses your cheeks and rustles your hair, the radio softly playing the music you hear in bars with scarred wooden floors beaten by the boots of “regulars” as they keep time to the antiquated jukebox in a small Texas town, watching the headlights weave in and out of trees, occasionally lighting the eyes of something wild, as the powder blue 67’ Chevy bumps and rattles over hills and dips lending infinity to the moment only a teenager could experience but one whose feeling we, aging though we may be, will never forget.

We tell our stories because our lives matter and we want to be heard. (StoryCorps, About, n.d.)


How does “digital” change stories?

Digital stories do not vary from the traditional concept of storytelling in element or purpose; we expect both to enthrall our senses, engage our emotion, and carry us with the story (Iwancio, 2011; Hueck & Quick, 2013; Smith, 2013). A great story is a great story regardless of environment or delivery.

Digital diverges, however, as its affordances allow readers to interact with and “experience the story differently” (A.C., 2015). In a digital environment, the storyteller may select the platform(s), increase interactivity with the story, include stronger images and content, or choose the medium/media that best tell the story (Smith, 2013). Digital media allows for bold experimentation and “[nudges] the reader into a new kind of relationship with the story” (A.C., 2015).

Further, multimedia expands the canvas for storytellers, creating “transmedia storytelling” wherein our interactions take advantage of machines, as opposed to “organic communication” to bring “orality [back] into the communal circle as a core human activity” (Jenkins, 2010). Using social media and other Web 2.0 platforms, anyone can tell a story to a potentially unlimited audience; the widespread availability of these platforms encourages mass engagement around both the most important and most mundane stories in the global community in a way that would have been impossible in years past (Jenkins, 2010).

Digital; to what end?

The greatest affordance of digital storytelling is its ability to reach audiences around the world, creating intimately shared experience across the global community. In the last ten years, my world has expanded exponentially. Whereas before “snooze” was my favorite morning activity, when I wake up now, through Instagram, I see StoryCorps blurbs about fellow citizens whose lives are very different from mine but with whom I find commonality. I read stories of love, loss, fear, rejection, and overwhelming hope on Humans of New York, and I relate. People willingly bare their souls, even when “it’s hard and scary,” and I see their fearlessness as a gift (Choi, 2015; Sidwell, Telling, 2007).

Digital storytelling empowers those whom circumstance has marginalized. By teaching people how to use digital media to tell their stories, the Center for Digital Storytelling, pushes for a new “literacy” as they teach the language of production and ask participants to tell “the story that only [they] can tell” (Martin, 2009). The technology associated with digital storytelling allows those oral cultures whose language and  are at risk or those whose disability or age has “trapped [their stories] in their minds,” to “continue to nourish these [communal] relationships even when the traditional means of reciting stories aren’t available” (Cook, 2014).

As an educator, historian, and archivist, the potential to use digital storytelling to weave context and story around historical primary source records fascinates me. I long for a day when classrooms move beyond a textbook, instead asking students to engage with the original voices of history to make meaning of our shared past. Where they, and not only historians, act as detectives and explorers of our shared past. I learned to love the relationship of object and communal story as a young girl when my grandmother would share family stories with me around objects I’d dug up in her home. As I hope to inspire this in other someday, I’m very excited to see where digital takes us.

“The breath of life,
The spirit of life,
The word of life,
It flies to you and you and you,
Always the word.” – Maori Proverb
(Sidwell, Telling, 2007)


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StoryCorps. (n.d.) About. Retrieved from https://storycorps.org/about/

StoryCorps. (n.d.) Discover StoryCorps. Retrieved from https://storycorps.org/discover/







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