Anna Pisarevskaya, Antonina Puchkovskaia, Andrey Vlasov (ITMO University, St Petersburg)

GULAG’s Digital Storytelling Project

The repressive GULAG system existed for thirty years, during which time hundreds of thousands of the Soviet Union citizens became its victims. Many of them are still alive, but the memory of the GULAG is becoming a forgotten page of the past. In addition, today in the digital culture age, the consumption of information is moving to a different level — visual. Given this, the topic of the repressive system of the USSR remains barely covered in the digital space, due to its complexity and extremely sensitive data. The project aims at visualizing the repressive system of USSR, given the current trends in information consumption. After analyzing theories of perception of information, we discovered that the average attention span has decreased to 8 seconds and has dropped by 30 percent over the past 15 years. Moreover, if the data is submitted orally, the person remembers about 10% of it, in the case of images this figure rises to 65 %. 90% of the information a person perceives through vision. Thus, we figured out that to solve the problem we would need to create an interactive application with immersive design taking into account the tendencies of perception of information. We called this web application “GULAG Retrospective”, which reflects the development of the system over time. One of the most accessible ways of presenting information is storytelling. From the dawn of time, people used stories to share common experiences, to teach, and to pass on traditions. Furthermore, interesting and immersive narrative makes the body release oxytocin, which in turn makes people feel better and helps to digest information faster. Stories capture attention. With the average human short attention span, stories are a way to break people free of distractions, draw them in, and get them to pay attention to submitted information. Using this approach, we show the user a complete picture of the repressive system by visualizing the micro and macro levels of history. The macro level demonstrates an impersonal system where the participants in the events are only its tools. Each topic at the macro level describes certain events, which help the user to come to a complete understanding of the whole picture, without overloading it with unnecessary information. The micro level demonstrates the fate of people in terms of how events at the macro level influenced them. This is done to make people aware of how decisions made at the very top affect the fate of millions of people. The main task during the presentation of the material was to create an emotional response through the use of modern design practices, game mechanics and representativeness of information. All this is for the sake of creating a sense of belonging with the user, so that human destinies do not remain just pixels on the screen. For example, in the process of disclosing a specific topic, the user can interact with carefully selected material in the required sequence — documents that have influenced the fates of millions of people, the leaders’ conclusions which have led to serious policy changes. Thus, we built a logical sequence of events that demonstrate how a particular fact influenced an individual and the country as a whole, as well as our present. The basis of our study was 120 pages of statistical data obtained from the Museum of the history of the GULAG. These data have not been used in historical resources before, so one of the urgent tasks was also to visualize them in an accessible form to an unprepared reader. That is why our stories about the development of the GULAG system are made in the format of interactive infographics with extensive visual content. To create micro- level stories, we used data from historical victim database . To ensure that these data are «talking» with the user, stories of the victims of the GULAG were composed in the format of a personal diary in the first person.

The results of the research can be used in the compilation of interactive content by cultural institutions, as well as in the teaching of 20th century history by teachers and professors of history.

Keywords: digital memory data modelling, visualization and presentation