Discovering Armenia Through Digital Storytelling

Discovering Armenia Through Digital Storytelling

UCF researchers and students are combining archaeology and storytelling in a new initiative.

Tiffany Earley-Spadoni, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of History, is the director of the Vayots Dzor Fortress Landscapes Project, an archaeological survey and excavation project exploring the historical and archaeological remains of the Vayots Dzor providence in southern Armenia.

Currently she’s examining the role of fortresses in human settlement in the area.

“We’re trying to understand why people feel sufficiently insecure to invest so much in building these fortresses, which are quite a bit of work,” Earley-Spadoni said.

But that’s just her traditional side. Earley-Spadoni recently launched Infinite Armenias, a digital storytelling initiative that endeavors to raise awareness about at-risk and disappearing Armenian cultural heritage through the production of multi-media content. The project explores notions of socially constructed landscapes through personal stories instead of “colonial stories” of Armenia’s history. Researchers, students and local stakeholders are given the support needed to create a diverse array of narratives.

“One of the things that I didn’t want to do was tell people’s stories for them,” Earley-Spadoni said. “Instead, what we are endeavoring to do is to give people a place and the opportunity to tell their own stories and introduce these sites to the entire world.”

Digital storytelling is a practice that has seen success in engaging audiences in stories that ultimately have a larger purpose. The project aims to share Armenia history and culture with the world. To help tell their stories, Earley-Spadoni took a group of UCF students to conduct field world in Armenia this summer. They helped launch the digital storytelling project, which continues today.

Assistant Professor Tiffany Earley-Spadoni and her team conducted field work in Armenia this past summer.

“I had no idea what I was going to do,” said Trevor Colaneri, a senior studying history. “So, I went over there ready to do anything in a culture that I didn’t know anything about.” Colaneri took a day-in-the-life approach to his his digital storytelling project with the hope of giving future students insight about what to expect.

For Jennifer Markowitz, who graduated in August with a major in history, the trip helped her figure out what she would do after graduation.

“The trip helped shape what I want to do going forward, as now I’m looking to apply to master’s programs that relate to zooarcheology so I can combine my love of animals and archeology,” said Markowitz, who will present a poster on digital storytelling at the American Schools of Oriental Research conference in November, an international conference dedicated to studying the ancient Near East.

“It was really fun to work with people who had a completely different background and perspective than us,” said Markowitz. Her digital storytelling project took inspiration from what she saw while traveling around Armenia, aiming to impart the feeling of what it’s like to be in Armenia.

Earley-Spadoni said the project is just scratching the surface. In addition to conducting further archaeological and excavation work in this region in the coming years, Infinite Armenias aims to empower their local partners to tell their own stories by teaching them digital storytelling through workshops.

“I feel like we’re just beginning to do this research,” she said. “I see a variety of different paths going forward and every challenge at this point is an opportunity to see something from a new point of view.”