Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

History alive!

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 21, 2009

The world shared a very important anniversary this week: 40 years since man landed on the moon.

Some call it the biggest single moment of the 2oth century; they all call it a day history was made.

But what does history have to show for it? It is a subject in decline, both academically and in the mainstream. That, however, could be changing and the moon landing anniversary has spawned a project which I think symobilises history’s rebirth as a popular subject.


We Choose The Moon began a week ago, and lets its visitors follow the Apollo 11 mission in real time. At it’s centre: a beautiful 3d animation showing key sequences including the Apollo launch (above). Original audio recordings from mission control and the lunar module let you relive the event. At certain stages you can click around an interactive multimedia display to look at video, pictures and audio.

You can follow history in real time, in not one – but 3 different twitter accounts.

It is a fantastic – and rare – example of multimedia being used creatively and with innovation, not to tell news stories, but the news stories of the past. And I really think there’s a future in this.


There is another one I’ve found, albeit on a newspaper site. Ted Kennedy: A Life In Politics, set in the same iconic era as We Choose The Moon is a multimedia biography of the brother of the man who uttered that immortal space-race phrase.

Less innovative than the moon landing story, it is still packed with beautiful images and video. What I really like is the carousel at the bottom of each chapter, giving you access to original documents from the past.


Could this be the start of a much needed retelling of history? I think history is a fantastic subject for multimedia storytelling to embrace. History is already leaving the dull theoretical debates behind for the academics; for the average punter I think an exciting new fascination awaits: focused on using video, original archive material and interactivity to tell amazing stories. It’s a heady mix of surprising facts, gripping narratives and great personalities. There might even be money in it.

Who’s with me?


5 Responses

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  1. Christopher Sleight said, on July 22, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Another interesting post, Adam. In short, yes I think multimedia is a great way to retell history.

    I was actually on the launch team for a BBC project that mixed audio, video, stills and text to report historical events. The news was written as it happened and we also had eyewitness accounts – some people we tracked down ourselves and others contacted us. Oh and we had an interactive timeline of sorts.

    We launched in 2002. BBC News mothballed it a few years ago after the first round of cuts. It would look dated now, but was pretty good for its time I think.

  2. adamwestbrook said, on July 22, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Hi Christopher
    Sorry to hear the Beeb mothballed that one-sounds like a great project. BBC History website isn’t too bad as they go…their TV programmes aren’t so great though…

  3. Christopher Sleight said, on July 22, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    To be fair it was a pretty unwieldy project covering thousands of stories all with context boxes – many of which needed constantly updating as people died, wars ended, etc. Unsustainable really. Focusing on a handful of big events in history would be much more powerful and effective.

  4. adamwestbrook said, on July 23, 2009 at 4:25 am

    I agree – individual stories told really well – the emphasis being on good storytelling. Do you think there’s a market for it?

  5. Jon Moss said, on August 7, 2009 at 6:13 am

    Absolutely a market for it, and not only history in the strictest sense of the word (marketing hat on), but the history of companies and brands can also be brought alive. Successful brands can tell a story, either their history, or if they are a new and challenging brand, how they came about.

    The web is a perfect platform for rich interactive media, just like We choose the moon. It draws people in and provides an experience.

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