Digital Storytelling in Iceland

Digital Storytelling in Iceland

ANTH 299  •  Justin Armstrong

Students looking out at a foggy view of water and green hills

As an anthropologist teaching and researching in the fields of cultural anthropology and cultural geography, I am increasingly looking to incorporate more digital technologies into my work with students. I believe that it is important to outline for students the significance of maintaining a productive dialogue across fields through the study, utilization and critical analysis of digital methodologies both in the field and in the classroom. During the course, students explored questions of epistemology (can we come to a true knowledge of authenticity in a touristic experience?), interpretation (how can we read tourism as a cultural text?), and phenomenology (what is my experience of this place and how might I begin to unpack and decode my own responses to this environment?). To answer these types of questions, students developed hypertext audio-visual essays that included embedded soundscapes, video clips, interactive maps, and still images. The end result was a hybrid of ethnographic writing/research and digital technologies—essentially, an interactive, multimedia essay that documented individual research projects undertaken by students in Iceland.

Using applications including Adobe Spark, Prezi, and Medium, students employed digital technologies to ask and answer anthropological questions about tourism as well as the role of the environment in the development of unique cultural adaptations. In this way, a synthesis of micro-blogging, digital-visual essays, and podcasts provided a fertile and creative space for exploring the collaborative potential that underlies increasingly blurred boundaries in academia, technology and travel.

Adding this experimental component to the existing course was quite successful and offered the students a new way to synthesize their research and experiences in the field. These projects allowed the students to apply hands-on ethnographic research to an easily distributed and shareable medium, one that presented an multi-sensory account of their time in Iceland as practicing student-anthropologists. I will certainly be including this element in all upcoming iterations of the course.