Preserved Stories Blog


The context is the content

This post concerns three books:

The Moth, First Edition (2014)

Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015)

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, First U.S. Edition. (2016)

Each of these books focuses – with a high level of skill and originality – on the context of people’s lives and formative experiences, and the context within which their stories are best managed.

Context matters more than content. To say it another way (with a nod here to Marshall McLuhan), the context is the content.

The Moth (2014)

The first book, The Moth (2014), features stories built around the same theme: Keep it short and present non-fiction content that is extraordinary, based upon solid evidence, and surprising.

I can think of many systems of communications that do not follow such a format. It takes a focused effort, and a strong sense of strategy, to organize and maintain such a theme. As with any framework, there are strengths and limitations in such a model. The limitation is that a formula is a formula.

The format, in this case, creates the specified context, within which a given Moth story is experienced by the reader or the audience.

I am very impressed with this book, as well as with the two other books that are the focus of the current post.

Mr. Putin (2015)

I have already written a couple of posts about Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015):

Mr. Putin (2015) illustrates that story management is possible even in the absence of evidence-based biographical details

An exemplary study in story management: Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015)

In a future post, I’ll continue my discussion about this study, which is based upon a format developed by the Brookings Institution.

The latter organization plays a role that is in some respects similar to, but in other key respects is distinct from, a typical academic institution.

Secondhand Time (2016)

I have also been avidly reading Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, First U.S. Edition. (2016). I became interested in the book in particular after its author, Svetlana Alexievich, won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. I had borrowed some of her other books from the Toronto Public Library but had not begun a close reading of her work, until now.

I have long had an interest in the theory and practice of oral history. Over the years, I’ve recorded many hours of oral history as it relates to life stories in the Greater Toronto Area and elsewhere in the world. I’ve also read many studies dealing with recording and publishing (and broadcasting/podcasting) of oral histories. What I’ve learned, from reading Secondhand Time (2016), has vastly advanced my understanding of what oral histories are about, and how they can best be presented, for the benefit of the reader or the audience.

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2 Responses to The context is the content

  1. Jaan Pill Jaan Pill says:

    Marches seek to shape stories

    An April 20, 2017 Atlantic article is entitled: “How a Scientist Who Studies Marches Sees the March for Science: Hahrie Han explains why some protests are effective and others aren’t.”

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