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'Chicago 1919': Narrative as teleology

Jean Colson, Association for Information Management

Traditional narrative history might be defined as one of the oldest forms of the construction of knowledge. It is the reconstruction of the causation of a series of events. Narrative history can also be defined as interpretative stories revealing past hum an experiences, actions, thoughts and endeavours. All basic premises of the argument of the narrative will be seen to be implicit within the language and text of the narrative. By its very nature - narrative is seen to be 'seamless'.

Human thought on the contrary is the conscious collection of events, the perception of events, and the mental processes involved in understanding what is going on around us are multithreaded. Our thought processes filter the experience of events through a ll our senses, especially our eyes and ears. We rely on others' reports of what they heard or saw. We compare it with the complex network of information stored in our memory. We compare it with what we think, know or not know. The thinking process is not a linear experience but the process of representing this in discourse, in speaking to other people, has to follow a linear sequence.

When we prepare to speak or write, we first organize our thoughts. A narrative requires that we position what we deem to be the most significant features of our thoughts in a linear shape and hang the evidence and its references at the sides: the footnote s and endnotes of written text. This is a very tidy and spare way to set out an argument, in which only the most important parts appear in front of the reader/listener. Bits of the supporting evidence can be deftly woven in to suggest the line of thought which is being used. If the reader wishes to pursue the line of thought to its fullest form, references can be taken up.

To be persuasive the argument must be 'seamless'. This word 'seamless' suggests that a requirement of good narrative be presented with no apparent 'cracks' between its parts.

A very skilful narrative may be able to present more than one voice, but because the focus on singularity makes the delivery of the point of the article more forceful, multilinear argument and multiple voices are very difficult to sustain in the narrative form except by the most skilful of writers.

The Chicago Race Riots of July 1919 provide an excellent example of open hypermedia architectures can privilege the representation of multi-threaded narrative. The July Riots were sparked by an episode on the 27th of July, 1919, on the 26th street beach r esulting in the death of a young Afro-American. The scale of the riot was such that the state troops policed the city. That 5 day blood bath occurred in the US's 'Second City' giving rise to a very considerable literature, including a substantial official report, extensive press comments, and an oral and informal tradition of the city's history. These various 'histories' are best set against each other, allowing for a forensic analysis - the unravelling of the inclusions, exclusions, contradictions, and the delineation of further layers of comment through scholarly endeavour. The end result would hopefully be a set of sensitive analyses of the event. The paper focuses on 'Chicago 1919', an open hypermedia version of the history of one year in the city, p ublished in 1997 and discusses its success as a multithreaded narrative.