About StoryPlaces

Who are we, and how did we get here?

The Original Project

StoryPlaces started in 2015 when the Leverhulme Trust funded the original StoryPlaces project as an interdisciplinary research project to explore the poetics of location-based storytelling, based at the University of Southampton, as a collaboration between the departments of Electronics and Computer Science, and English.

In fact the University has been involved in location-based storytelling for many years, and our first experiments in the area were in 2003, when as part of the Equator Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (funded by the EPSRC, 2000-2006) we ran a location-based story project at Chawton House in Hampshire. Back then we referred to the work as location-based hypertext or even physical hypermedia, and the technology was comparatively basic, but even with those early mobile devices it was clear that storytelling in-situ had huge cultural potential.

Since then location-based services have become commonplace, and with the arrival of more powerful devices, many other research groups, companies, and individuals have experimented with the idea, which has come to be known as locative literature. However, in 2015 we were struck by how little was still understood about the interactive potential of locative literature (most of the systems had very simple structures), and also how little was really known about what sort of stories worked well in-situ, and how they worked in tandem with place to create the experience for the reader.

The original StoryPlaces project therefore had the goal of developing a poetic understanding of how locative literature works, with the ambition to co-design and prototype authoring tools that embodied those poetics and that enabled new locative creations, which in turn could be evaluated and analysed. By bringing together computer scientists, hypertext theorists, and narrative and literary experts it aimed to explore interdisciplinary ways of working together in order to build systems that led to real innovation in both technology and the creative arts.

StoryPlaces Objectives

The original project aimed to explore how an understanding of poetics can inform software engineering, specifically the design of innovative creative software. It did this through three story deployments, the first in Southampton Old Town, the second in Bournemouth in collaboration with the BNSS, and the third in Crystal Palace Park. The idea being that the lessons learned by creating stories and tools for each deployment would lead into the next, ultimately resulting in software for reading and authoring, as well as a toolkit for authors.

The research questions were:

  • What are the poetics of location-based storytelling? Through a number of separate story projects based around three complimentary places the project explored the poetics of location-based stories. Our assumption was that the character of place and affordances of the location-based technology would shape the narrative, and in turn that the narrative will shape the experience of place.
  • How can these poetics be reinforced/encouraged through software? Exploratory work in the story projects transitioned into a more focused analysis of how narrative structures relate to location-based technology, and which authoring processes are common or especially useful to authors. The staggered nature of the story projects meant that the analysis of each story project could inform the technology development for the next project, developing tools that supported the emerging poetics, whilst encouraging additional exploration, and in turn informing the next stage of co-design.
  • What are the processes/practices that enable critical theory to inform software design and engineering? Existing co-design methods formed a good basis to begin the project, but by reflecting on the interactions between authors and developers, and on the way in which critical observations transform into new technology requirements, we attempted to refine these methods for critical theory in the first story project, and in the second two story projects, develop and evaluate new co-design interaction methods.

StoryPlaces Today

Today StoryPlaces is an umbrella project for many activities happening at the University of Southampton, with the intention that all of these feed into the software and toolkit. The StoryPlaces software is also being used by the University of Bournemouth and the University of Greenwich - and we are always keen to hear from others who wish to try the software, or collaborate on projects.

Amongst other things we are exploring how StoryPlaces could be used as an archive to resurrect some of the lost stories from the first decade of locative literature, and how the sculptural hypertext model that underpins StoryPlaces could be used to support multi-participant narratives - where many people's personal narrative experience intertwines and interacts.

You can find out more about our ongoing work by looking at our publication page.

The Research Team

StoryPlaces is an interdisciplinary activity that draws on expertise from Computer Science, English, and the University's iSolutions team.

Dr. David Millard (dem@soton.ac.uk) is the principle contact for the project. David is Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and the Principle Investigator of StoryPlaces. David has been involved in location-based information systems, hypertext modelling and interactive narratives for over fifteen years. David was co-author of Isle of Brine, the story set on the island of Tiree.

Dr. Charlie Hargood (chargood@bournemouth.ac.uk) is Senior Lecturer in Games Design at the University of Bournemouth, and previously the ECS Research Fellow on StoryPlaces responsible for the original design of the StoryPlaces engine. Charlie was also co-author of Isle of Brine.

Dr. Verity Hunt was the Research Fellow on the original StoryPlaces project, based in the English department, and responsible for developing the poetic theory around locative storytelling.

Dr. Yvonne Howard (ymh@ecs.soton.ac.uk) is a Senior Teaching Fellow at Southampton University, based in ECS, and has led on the co-design and engagement activities at Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.

Dr. Heather Packer (hp3@ecs.soton.ac.uk) is a Teaching Fellow at Southampton University, and previously an ECS Research Fellow on StoryPlaces, leading on the data analysis and experimental aspects of the project at Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.

Dr. Petros Papadopoulos was an ECS Research Fellows on StoryPlaces, and contributed to system development and the technical infrastructure for the Crystal Palace deployment.

Original StoryPlaces Steering Group

Dr. Will May is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of English at the University of Southampton. He is a member of the Centre for Modern and Contemporary Writing (CMCW), and oversaw the student writing process for the Southampton deployment.

Dr. James Jordan is Karten Lecturer at the Parkes Institute for Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, University of Southampton. James supported the student writers on the Southampton deployment around the Emigrants’ Home.

Philip Hoare is a visiting Fellow at the University of Southampton, and Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the Marine Institute, Plymouth University. An experienced writer and broadcaster, Philip worked to support writers during the Southampton deployment, and was the main liaison with the BNSS for the Bournemouth deployment.

Dr. Mark Weal is an Associate Professor of Web Science at the University of Southampton, with experience of information infrastructures for multi-user pervasive experiences. Mark has supported the technical development of the StoryPlaces hypertext models.

Additional Support

We would also like to thank the members of the University's iSolutions team who have made huge contributions to the StoryPlaces codebase. In particular, Pat McSweeney, Andy Day, and Kevin Puplett, who rewrote the StoryPlaces client for the Aurelia framework, and are also behind the StoryPlaces authoring tool.

Finally, StoryPlaces would have come this far without the amazing work of our writers. The people who volunteered their time and creative energies to explore this exciting new form with us at various workshops and meetings, and our commissioned authors: Tory L. Dawson, who wrote The Destitute and the Alien set in Old Town Southampton; James Cole, who wrote Pathways of Destiny, a family story set around the fabulous Bournemouth seafront and gardens; and Katie Lyons, who wrote Fallen Branches set in the faded splendour of Crystal Palace Park in London.