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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday May 31, 2021

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Beth Daley

Beth Daley

Editorial Adviser , Europeana Foundation

Seven tips for digital storytelling with cultural heritage

Digital storytelling is the topic in focus this month on Europeana Pro, as we hear from the Europeana Network Association’s Task Force on Europeana as a ‘powerful platform for storytelling’. Today, discover the Task Force’s seven tips for digital storytelling with cultural heritage.

Picture of a young woman and two men in an ark and the Sun above - serigraphy.
A tenger kincse
Szász Endre
Rippl-Rónai Megyei Hatókörű Városi Múzeum - Kaposvár

There is an exciting - and sometimes overwhelming - array of possible storytelling methods available online. But while digital storytelling can take many different forms, the best examples all engage people on a personal and emotional level. 

Audiences want to feel informed by digital stories, but also curious, immersed, inspired and connected by them. It is this that sets storytelling apart from other content types; and it is this that gives storytelling such a role to play in engagement and community-building across the cultural heritage sector.

Based on the emotional engagement experienced by Task Force members and the trends identified in the numerous examples we considered, we recommend the following tips for creating emotionally engaging storytelling with digital culture. 

Seven tips for digital storytelling with cultural heritage (full text below)
Seven tips for digital storytelling with cultural heritage
Maggy Szynkielewska
Europeana Foundation
Seven tips for digital storytelling with cultural heritage (full text below)

  1. Be personal: Personal stories can bring the past to life and help people relate to history on an emotional level. Consider the human significance of cultural artefacts and sites. Help people imagine themselves in someone else’s shoes. We like:  Your Story, Our Story (Tenement Museum, New York), Wellcome Stories (Wellcome Collection, London) and The stories of the National Archaeological Museum of the Marche.

  2. Be informal but expert: People want to learn from experts, but it shouldn’t be a chore. As long as the content is well-informed, the format and tone of your story can be experimental and playful. Finding the right balance is important. We like: ‘There is a bat in the library’ (Museum of English Rural Life, Reading) and The Royal Game of Ur (British Museum, London).

  3. Tell those hidden stories: So much cultural history remains untold. When choosing subjects, consider who is missing from the picture, and try to give a voice to a range of people and communities.  We like People Not Property (Historic Hudson Valley, USA), Minority Report: The Jews of Lebanon (Arab News) and Hidden Histories of Exploration (Royal Geographical Society, London).

  4. Illustrate your points: A key strength of the cultural heritage sector is its wealth of visual imagery. Long written or spoken narratives can be hard to engage with. Breaking up the story with visual (or audio) material, and building in time to reflect on it, can enrich the experience. We like Las hilanderas. Una historia en imágenes (Museo del Prado, Madrid), MetKids and Gods In Color (Liebieghaus, Frankfurt).

  5. Signpost your journey:The best stories take people on a clear journey. In digital storytelling - particularly on complex or experimental platforms - clear narrative structure is essential. Keep the navigation simple, so the visitor always knows where they are. We like Things that Talk (Things That Talk Foundation) and A Picture of Change for a World in Constant Motion (New York Times).

  6. Be specific: Specific topics can still engage a broad audience. Start from a particular detail that lies at the heart of your story, then move to the bigger picture. Personal stories and well-chosen images can help keep your focus. We like Artwork in Focus (Art UK) and A Closer Look (Louvre, Paris).

  7. Be evocative: Cultural history stories need to be based in fact, but the facts don’t need to be dry. Don’t be afraid to use descriptive and evocative imagery and approaches and invite the viewer to place themselves within the scene. We like You Are Flora Seville (Egham Museum), Faint Signals (British Library, London) and 80s.NYC (New York City Municipal Archives’ Department of Finance Collection).

You can view these tips as an infographic, or as a recorded presentation and slidedeck, or find an extended version of this article on Medium. You can also find the tips translated into other languages. 

And if you would like to find out more about the work of the storytelling Task Force, don’t miss our webinar on 9 June!