Margaret Mackey

Landscape, Memory, and Literary Lives

The theme of this symposium is “Digital Narratives around the World,” but I propose to explore this idea through the paradoxical channel of using digital options to study the importance of narrative close to home.  My project works from the organizing principle that young children must initially draw on local understanding to interpret the texts that are made available to them.  As they grow, they gain exposure to virtual experiences through books, television, film, and animation, apps, audio materials, and online worlds.  To construe these materials, they must use their early schemas and scripts of how the world works; and such templates for sense-making are initially developed in domestic surroundings and within the predictable prescriptions of a local world.  As these children master the skill of reading, they hear their own local cadences in the voices of their caregivers and in their own internal voices.  Inescapably, they bring some of that rooted understanding to their interpretation of their texts.

My project explores the significance of local landscape in the development of literate lives.  Using digital mapping affordances, I invite young adults to create a map of a landscape that was important to them as they grew into literacy.  The map may be of a real place or of a fictional universe that played a consequential role in the growth of their imaginative lives in their youth.  Interviews highlight the role of this landscape as participants developed and enhanced their own literary understanding.

A mapping approach allows participants to discuss their literary development in platform-neutral terms.  Their narrative preferences may come in book, game, virtual world, or moving image forms.  The spatial emphasis of the prompt makes room for temporal questions to draw out how the relationship between world and literacy developed over time.

Margaret Mackey is Professor Emerita in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta.  She teaches and researches in the areas of print, media, and digital literacies.  Her most recent book is One Child Reading:  My Auto-Bibliography (University of Alberta Press, 2016).