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Storytelling meets Humanities, Elements Within–Part 1 of 7 – countdown to The Big Why

This is the first of seven parts on disciplines/elements of Humanities that can be found in the Art of Storytelling. This is also a countdown to virtual “The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities” on Saturday, June 20, 2020 from 9:00am-10:30am MDT.

Storytelling meets Humanities, Elements Within:

Archaeology is the study of human history and prehistory through the analysis of artifacts and physical remains sometimes called “material culture.”

So what do we leave behind for our stories to then be told later on stage or among ourselves? How do we interact as human beings as a result of the material culture?

When I attended the National Storytelling Festival, I came to possess a navy blue plastic comb with Kathryn Tucker Windham’s name on it with its accompanying wax paper. This was back in 2001 so it’s now 19 years old and still a prized possession. I did not gain this item from an evacuation site, but it is an item from history, my personal history.

Usually, people think much later in time when it comes to archaeology. Pompeii. Dead Sea Scrolls. Terracotta Army. You can see a list of 10 famous archaeology finds here.

Interestingly, the narrative side of presenting archaeology finds became more popular in the 1960s and 1970s whereas the National Storytelling Festival started in 1973. The American Storytelling Movement links with how people–nationally and globally–were coming to honor storytelling on a more visible and interactive level.

Some archaeologists decided to not be as pure-science-minded and wanted to find more emotions and connections. However, that meant that the field was criticized as archaeology merged with performances and multimedia presentations. Yet, the audiences enjoyed the real-time feeling of learning of discoveries and sometimes were described as having “theatricality.”

A wonderful article to explore is “Narrative and Storytelling for Archaeological Education” written by Adrian Praetzellis and published in 2014. It can be found through and downloaded for free.

Have these items found their way into oral storytelling? The people who could tell us the most are long since dead. Yet, a storyteller can still set the scene or setting much like an archaeologist surveys the area. Instead of using a satellite for remote sensing, an oral storyteller delves into the five senses of that story.

Some historical storytellers search for items of the time period or at least have created close renditions of those items. Sometimes, those items are side-by-side with the storyteller for the audience to be transported in time.

As humans, we have have items that earn a degree of reverence while other items are treated as garbage or something that no longer keeps our attention. As time passes, what was once prized could turn to dust and no one discovers the story. What was once considered trash can be the find of the century.

Some items are preserved to the point of surviving the elements of nature. The artifacts are grouped with other artifacts as well as noted to what distance or placing these artifacts are in the area itself whether it be a within the foundations of a home, place of worship, or social gathering place.

Now, where do we keep the most important items in our homes today? If thousands of years passed by, what could people learn about you? What stories would they devise?

Keep in mind that archaeology is not always about digging up items, though that is a classic image. Some of this happens underwater such as when the Titanic was discovered. Here is an article by Kristie and Stuart (bloggers) take on the lessons from the Titanic – once details came to light as part of the 108th Anniversary of its sinking in January 2020.

The need for archaeological analysis is often triggered by how people are interacting with their world–after taking a hike, plowing through a field, or flying above a piece of land and something looks…different.

So take an archaeological approach to life…see what you can learn–and then tell–from what you discover.

For a deeper discussion, I recommend talking with Dr. Csenge Zalka, who is a performing storyteller and who studied Archaeology. She taught a virtual 90-minute workshop for Story Crossroads in May 2020 and will be featured for the 6th Annual Story Crossroads Festival on May 12, 2021.

We will be doing this 7-part Blog Series on Storytelling and connections with the Humanities as a countdown to our next adventure--join us on Saturday, June 20, 2020 from 9:00am-10:30am MDT from your computer- The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities. Our panelists, as pictured above, are: Dr. Caroliese Frink Reed, Sheila Arnold, Darci Tucker, and Brian “Fox” Ellis. We are grateful to funding from Utah Humanities.

See our 5-video playlist from the Story Crossroads Spectacular by clicking here.

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