Telling Stories / Stories That Tell

“People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being.”

– Studs Terkel, American popular historian/social scientist

“You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.”

– Margaret Atwood, Canadian novelist

“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.”

– Mary Catherine Bateson, American anthropologist

“The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.”

– Ben Okri, Nigerian poet and novelist

Telling stories makes us human. But what makes a story “telling”? This exhibit showcases a cross-section of Vanderbilt faculty research engaged with the role of story—in anthropology, archaeology, cinema and media arts, English literature, history, Jewish studies, Italian literature, music, religious studies, sociology, and urban studies.

Our common interest in storytelling drew us together for a year of conversation. New questions emerged: How do stories rehydrate our memories? What are the ethical dimensions of telling someone else’s story? How do you find the story under the story? Why do stories matter? As we told each other about the origins of our teaching and research passions, we noticed that our exchanges grew more personal —family reminiscences, long-held memories, cherished objects, life-changing moments, unresolved uncertainties about perception, faith, and work inflected our conversations. Different disciplines can seem like separate planets within a university, all speaking different languages. Bringing together 10 people from those worlds forced us to translate and illustrate the stories central to our research so that they speak across these boundaries.

Learning to talk to each other gave us confidence to tell these stories to you, too. We wanted to bring the storytelling in our respective disciplines to the public in interactive, intelligible, and provocative ways. We sought out new modes to convey our research that would provide you, as viewer, listener, and reader, with an engaging, multi-sensory experience.

To that end, our project became a collaboration between us and Nashville artist Britt Stadig, who represented each of us—our lives, work, and disciplines—in series of unique, large-format 3D “pages.” Freely crossing borders between sculpture, painting, collage, photography, video, print, and sound, the pages combine into a single volume exploring how our individual projects investigate or reflect human experiences.

Are these stories meaningful to you? In what way are they telling? What stories do they awaken in you, and in what form would you tell them? Stories make up the harmonies and dissonance of human sociability, but the ones that resonate speak to shared and unresolved questions about the nature of life.

Ellen T. Armour, Divinity

James F. Brooks, History and Anthropology (visiting scholar from University of California, Santa Barbara)

Laura M. Carpenter, Sociology

Stan Link, Music

John W. Janusek, Anthropology

Shaul Kelner, Sociology and Jewish Studies

Letizia Modena, Italian

Catherine Molineux, History

Jonathan Rattner, Cinema & Media Arts and Studio Arts

Haerin Shin, English Literature, Asian Studies, and Cinema & Media Arts

Book Dimensions

Piece closed is L 24” x W 34” D 30”

Piece opened is variable. The individual panels attach to one another by drop hinge. Attached they form an accordion structure.