Curating an ebook

The Build image

The Earth in Vision team are busy making a 2-volume ebook and associated linked website. The ebook form seems an ideal home both for our interactive multimedia storytelling and for showcasing broadcasts from the BBC archives, alongside the wish list of uses and tools our ‘digital citizen’ have for emerging Digital Broadcast Archives (DBAs). Ebooks can combine text, video and audio clips with photos, scanned documents and pictures. This helps to give archive materials a multimedia context and bring archives alive by telling histories using the full range of historical materials now available via digitisation. It’s an exciting and daunting task, and we are pleased to have Alison Kahn of Moving by Design Press on board as our media curator.  The layout and build of our ebook is inspired by Alison’s curation methodology: we are assembling the ebook in the spirit of a museum. In this way, each specific items of archive material is foregrounded, like artefacts or objects, in a range of galleries. This allows the artefacts to provide a lead for the developing historical narrative, understanding and analysis.

In Volume I we are writing three new environmental histories with broadcasting written into the script, using BBC digital and paper archives, and images and interviews with programme makers.  These illustrate the potential of DBAs (here the BBC archives) for telling new histories, and will look at different aspects of the BBC’s place and role as itself a maker of environmental histories. Volume I is divided into three ebook stories. In turn, these examine: the iconic role of Sir David Attenborough in BBC environmental programming; the ways in which BBC programming produces and reproduces ideas of British landscape; and the BBCs role in shaping our global environmental imagination, particularly around issues such as pollution, population and climate change.

Volume II is dedicated to collecting together the data we have gathered around building DBAs that meet user’s needs, and the kinds of ‘behind the scenes’ contextualising metadata that might exceed those expectations. In this volume we will also present some of the creative opportunities DBAs offer, showing for example what secondary school teachers made of a climate change voiceover exercise, and the mash-up videos made by a class of secondary school students who were given access to some cleared programmes from our sample archive. Linking to a website, archive content and exercise resources will be available to download for use and re-use.

The ebook presents us with the challenge of learning a new and different way of ‘writing’. As we assemble the artefacts in our exhibition galleries, we have to consider the limitations of on screen reading, but also the creative and questioning ways in which readers consume video, audio and stills imagery. This demands that we takes seriously multiple ways in and through a particular historical story and its possible layering in terms of detail, context and evidence. Just like a website, the multiple possibilities for user/reader navigation makes it possible for e-book writers to build in a wide variety of possible routes into and through the history being told enabling the reader a larger degree of reader control. In this way writing a multi-media e-book history becomes much more like curating an exhibition with a variety of objects on display than writing a narrative written text.


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