Friends, Scholars, Businesspeople, lend me your ears: Storytelling beyond the book.

by Ryan Trauman


Soon enough, I’m going to really start making a case for power of storytelling practices and narrative theory for getting us to rethink certain parts of scholarship (read: the unassailable tower of logocentrism). But for now, I’m just going to hint at it, and to point you to an excellent blog post (“Why Storytelling Is The Ultimate Weapon“) written by Jonathan Gottschall for Gottschall is the author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. It’s only been available for a month, and I just ordered it today, so I’ll update you later about the book itself. For now, let’s stick to the blog post…

Nutshell: Gottschall reflects on a few  of Peter Guber’s claims (in PG’s book, Tell to Win,  about the power of storytelling in the business world. I know. Snooze-fest. But his prose is surprisingly fair and corporate-speak-free. In fact, he seems to have a great, if not understated prose style and a respect for the texts he engages. Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:

The new gospel of business storytelling offers a challenge to common views of human nature. When we call ourselves Homo sapiens, we are arguing that it is human sapience–wisdom, intelligence–that really sets our species apart. And when we think we can best persuade with dispassionate presentation of costs and benefits, we are implicitly endorsing this view. But we are beasts of emotion more than logic. We are creatures of story, and the process of changing one mind or the whole world must begin with “Once upon a time.”

The post is impressive. I’m really excited to read Gottschall’s book because of my own long-time interest/investment in digital storytelling. However, I’m hoping that The Storytelling Animal offers insights equally applicable to scholarship, especially digital scholarship. Mostly, I’m thinking about relatively subtle narrative devices that can play-well with the dominant logocentric modes, tones, and languages of traditional humanities scholarship. For instance, I’m interested in strategies for introducing dramatic tension scholarly tension early into a text in order to cultivate reader attention. Or techniques of multiple plot lines in order to foster robust connections within a particular discipline. Maybe even techniques like character development, establishing setting, or cliff-hanger ending might be relevant, somehow, to digital scholarship.

For now, I’m not sure, and I can’t point to any examples. But I am a huge proponent of the power of narrative. When told well, stories can compel us to pay closer attention, please us aesthetically, improve memory, and make relevance more clear. And yet, we know very little about why narrative affects us in these ways. Which is where I always return when I remind myself that scholarship is a creative pursuit. With enormous untapped potential for relevance it hasn’t already established.

(note: image cc-licensed by r_rahul) (this entry is cross-posted here at