Bute: 4th Workshop
11th September 2014
User-testing – Pararchive Prototype 2
The island gave us another warm welcome on our most recent trip up, which we – Dean, Imran, Tom & I – made the most of, stretching our legs after the long drive north by cycling the southern central road loop upon arrival (see the Bute Growing Digital Heritage Map). And, so it was that we found ourselves saddle-sore and perched delicately around Paul’s kitchen table the next morning, alongside Allan, Roger and John for the next round of user-testing.
Before turning our minds to the digital, we began with the usual project update: how the first round of user-testing had gone in Stoke; our continuing struggle with gaining access to the BBC’s archive, and the upcoming appointment of a post-doctoral researcher at the Science Museum. Next, we handed over to the group to hear about the evolution of the three island research projects.
John kicked off with ‘An Extra Pint, Please’. Using Powerpoint, he introduced us to Victorian Rothesay through images and footage of promenading women with parasols, of Ettrick Bay jam-packed with deckchairs, and postcards of visitors sardined together in shared beds and rooms, as the tourism industry – happily – struggled to accommodate the summer flood of tourists. This was the polished veneer of Victorian-Edwardian Rothesay, of which John asked: how did Bute furnish its swollen numbers with food and all other necessities?
Peeling back this fancy frontage, John revealed the labouring quadrangles that served the swollen ranks of tourists, services that included a print room (the Buteman), a prison, as well as cow byres. It’s the latter – and the bygone trade of cowfeeding – that John focused his story upon, using a mixture of archival material and his own photographs of the dilapidated cow-houses today. With concise story-telling in mind, John had removed the (fabulous) four-minute strip of found footage (in a German loft) – now held by the National Library of Scotland and available via the Scottish Screen Archive – of Rothesay’s front c.1906-9. Shot from a tram that skirts Rothesay Bay, it’s particular interest for John’s project is the four ice cream sellers that the camera captures in its sweep.
From Edwardian Rothesay we headed further back in time to the Scottish Enlightenment and Allan’s recent re-versioning of Bessie’s story. He’d chosen to do this with Serif Webplus – web design software – which enabled the user-cum-reader to choose their route through his research, moving between the main narrative, context and other details, rather than treading a more traditional linear route. This DIY approach to adopting existing software for their own storytelling ends chimes with the Stoke Group’s use of Evernote – introduced by Danny – for purposes of self-archiving and digitisation.
Finally, Paul took us through Bridget’s story (which is being adopted by Roger and Sue) about ‘Strong Women in Bute Farming: The Martin Sisters, 1880-1920’. Again, this had a different form to it, the branching structure of a traditional family pedigree. These recountings prompted discussion of the insights, observations and questions that have arison from the weekly group meetings. Alongside feedback via user-testing, the group suggested the need for a tool to allow the author to ‘flag up’ sites where further information or artefacts are needed, or, to use another metaphor, to invite other researchers, storytellers, and, hopefully, memory institutions, to share their knowledge and join the conversation. This would then allow for ‘plug-ins’ to other stories or research (or, ‘arrows out’ as we referred to them in our Story-blocking workshop). Returning to an early concern – about the impermanence of media collections online, and what this means for stories incorporating such content – the group also thought it would be useful to include an alarm function that alerts the storyteller when digital content has been removed or changed, for example when a YouTube video has been taken down.
For Allan, however, the advantages of a linked story, through which Bessie’s tale can be situated within changing Witch Craft laws, for example, had its limitations too. He felt that in the process of opening out his narrative, he was compromising the thrust of his own story. This led on to questions about narrative authority and authorial ownership: what if storytellers don’t want to have their stories modified or added to? And, how might you mark out or signpost your original story amidst other contributions? We don’t have the answers at the moment (and probably never will), but we’d be interested to hear what you think…?