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Database | Narrative | Archive

Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

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Database Documentary as Space for Discourse

In the late 1990s, Lev Manovich proclaimed that database and narrative stood diametrically opposed to each other, suggesting that sequencing of database content could be arbitrary and devoid of clear or intended meanings. While Manovich is right to point out that the semantics of digital databases are anything but simple, focusing on this dichotomy precludes constructive dialogue about the storytelling possibilities within database dependent projects. Furthermore, the discussion about these chasms overshadows more exciting phenomena within emerging media, which are well worth investigating. By bringing a variety of historical media and artifacts into interaction with one another, and providing opportunities for the public to facilitate those processes, we can create new possibilities for documentary practice. As a result new types of engagement and socio-political transformation become conceivable. 

Two exemplary projects currently in development (2012) are Pamela Yates’ Granito: Every Memory Matters and 18 Days in Egypt by Jigar Mehta and Yasmin Elayat. The former is noteworthy for its unorthodox archival functions, while the latter successfully employs participatory models. Like Dayton Express, each of these projects use digital media as a means to expand the borders of memory and create a space where the present and past can collide. Each project serves as a public space that fosters a meaningful discussion about the politics of memory, civic engagement and future prospects for nations in recovery. 

The way knowledge gathering happens for audiences in database narratives is fundamentally different from the way it occurs in linear forms. As a consequence, storytelling is subject to different processes as well. Further experimentation is desperately needed, but - notwithstanding the pitfalls of digital media - the story potential remains; it is the audiences' agency that changes. Authorial capacity is now dispersed, making room for a wide variety of associative processes to govern the diegesis. 

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