Bridging the Gap Between Young, Old

Smoky Mountain News (Waynesville, NC), June 12, 2013


“I remember thinking what a shame it was that the old-timers and former Civilian Conservation Corps members were disappearing,” Beth Bramhall, a seasonal education ranger with Great Smoky Mountains National Park said. “The time to talk with these folks is now, while they’re still around to tell their stories first hand.”

The idea for “Passing It On” came to Bramhall during hikes she’d take in the Greenbrier section of the national park, where she’d often meet and have a chance to talk with “old-timers” who remembered what it was like to grow up in the early part of the 20th century in the mountain region that became the park in 1934. Bramhall thought it would be a perfect fit to send students into the field, equipped with the latest audio-visual equipment, to catalog the stories and ensure their survival.

The first step, however, was to get their teachers even more excited about the curriculum possibilities of such a project. Following a history and digital storytelling workshop, which attracted nearly 30 teachers from Tennessee and North Carolina, Bramhall was able to recruit several to sign on to the project. They took the idea of digital storytelling back to their classrooms.

Once hooked by the latest bells and whistles, including movie-making software, sound equipment and digital cameras, students took the project to heart and began to collect stories about the past. Some could even interview their own family members. Meanwhile, teachers oversaw the classroom research and story development.

“I loved being able to focus students on their heritage, their place in it and the place of story,” said Kathy Wiggins at Swain County High.

The result was digital storytelling that mixes a narrator’s voice, still photographs that appear to move through camera sweeps, forgotten letters written to loved ones, old maps outlining boundaries, and mountain-style music that creates the mood and, of course, the words and memories straight from the men and women who lived the experience.

“Basically, it’s the high-tech version of an ancient art form,” Bramhall said. “The idea is still to tell a great story, just using all the art forms available.”


Subjects Covered: digital storytelling, education, personal storytelling

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