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

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Keywords: Transmedia

Transmedia (\ˈtranzˈmē-dē-ə\): 
A process in which integral elements of a fiction (or course content, or scholarly argument) get dispersed systematically across multiple platforms to create a unified and coordinated entertainment (or learning) experience.

Though the concept of “transmedia” or cross-platform storytelling is often considered a convergence-era phenomenon, most often associated with the work of media scholar Henry Jenkins, the term itself was coined by Marsha Kinder in 1991.  In her book Playing With Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , Kinder described franchises’ “commercial supersystem of transmedia intertextuality as a byproduct of multinational conglomeration.  This notion of transmedia as an industrial survival strategy remains central to the continued embrace of this model.  Through this project, we suggest that a similar discussion should emerge around transmedia scholarship as traditional forms of scholarly publishing confront their obsolescence. 

This direct link to Kinder’s work aside, the current conception of transmedia storytelling is also heavily informed by Umberto Eco’s work on intertextuality and “open” texts and Gérard Genette’s narratological interventions, such as in his 1982 book Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree.  Other scholarship on the movement of narratives and franchises across literature, film, comic books, television, and other forms emerged roughly concurrently with Kinder’s work, including Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio's 1991 collection The Many Lives of the Batman.  Broadly, the growing body of work on the affordances and consumptive pleasures of serialized and cross-platform storytelling, from Jennifer Hayward’s 1997 book Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to Soap Opera, to Marie-Laure Ryan's 2004 collection Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling, have also informed and infused present conceptions of transmedia storytelling.

Though many contemporary transmedia scholars, such as Christy Dena and Geoffrey Long, have nuanced and challenged Jenkins’ definition, for the sake of cohesion we have chosen to focus this project around the seven “core principles” of transmedia storytelling identified by Jenkins.  Not only do these principles recur across scholarly work on transmedia storytelling, they have been the core concepts that have been most directly applied to emergent concepts of transmedia education and, here, scholarship. 

In a 2010 blog post titled "Transmedia Education: The 7 Principles Revisited," Henry Jenkins suggested that the underlying qualities that make transmedia stories compelling for audiences might be applied to education, engaging our students as transmedia storytellers engage audiences, and creating a more participatory pedagogical model.  Building on this post, our project suggests that that these underlying qualities might be productively applied to developing a model of transmedia scholarship.  Many scholars have begun crafting digital "extensions" of their scholarly work, but these have overwhelmingly been multimedia (rather than multimodal or transmedia) endeavors.  As Jenkins notes:
Multimedia and Transmedia assume very different roles for spectators/consumers/readers. In a multimedia application, all the readers needs to do is click a mouse and the content comes to them. In a transmedia presentation, students need to actively seek out content through a hunting and gathering process which leads them across multiple media platforms. Students have to decide whether what they find belongs to the same story and world as other elements. They have to weigh the reliability of information that emerges in different contexts. No two people will find the same content and so they end up needing to compare notes and pool knowledge with others. That's why our skill is transmedia navigation - the capacity to seek out, evaluate, and integrate information conveyed across multiple media.
If transmedia ultimately marks a shift in how culture is produced and consumed, it might provide a critical lens through which we consider how scholarship is produced and consumed, challenging the hierarchies of "traditional" publishing and embracing emergent forms of publication.
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