Multimodal Representations / Todd Suomela

How do different types of media affect the representation of groups? This study path will look at examples of multimodal representation and also offer an opportunity to document a community using different modes of media.

by Todd Suomela, Interim Assistant Director, Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship, Bertrand Library at Bucknell University


How do different types of media affect the representation of groups? This study path will look at examples of multimodal representation and also offer an opportunity to document a community using different modes of media.

Different types of media may be used to represent a group. A non-fiction book or newspaper article may present a very different picture of a group than a participant memoir or a documentary film. This study path will suggest some possible topics to explore in order to learn more about how a group may be represented in different ways across multiple types of media. The study path also includes a suggested activity for documenting a group using different media types.


Some prior experience creating media in different formats/modes: written, video, audio, GIS, etc. will help the student complete this study path quicker.

Learning Objectives

This course of study will prepare learners to:

  • Understand how different representations of a group may alter the perspective on an activity or group.
  • Develop their own plan for representing a group and suggest how choices of media type, genre, and topic may affect the outcome.
  • Understand the different ways that multiple types of media may be described in a catalog or finding aid.


This study path includes two activities:

Background Reading and analysis

This activity includes suggestions for topics that will give students an opportunity to explore different types of media representation across multiple types of media. The topics are only suggestions and may easily be substituted for topics that are specific to a course or the interests of the students.

  1. Preliminary work
    • Students may be formed into small groups or conduct this activity individually.
  2. Topic selection
    • Pick a topic which has been represented in a variety of media formats. Consider including both fiction and non-fiction.
    • Suggestions
      • AIDS history and activism.
        • Written material – books, newspaper articles, memoirs, etc.
        • Audio-visual – documentary and fictional films based on the events. E.g BPM (2017) film about French AIDS activism
        • Physical artifacts – the AIDS quilt project
      • First Nations / Native Americans
        • Written material – history, non-fiction, and fiction could all be included. Fiction by Louise Erdrich for example, or non-fiction such as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (which was also made into a film).
        • Audio-visual – documentary and fictional films. The range of possibilities here is massive.
        • Physical artifacts – visit a memorial or museum if accessible.
      • Labor protests
        • Written material – history, non-fiction, and fiction.
        • Audio-visual – documentary [Harlan County USA, God’s Country] fiction [Matewan]
        • GIS – a possible starting point is the Mapping American Social Movements website –
      • Analysis
        • Write, map, create a video essay or produce some other format of criticism that describes the different representations across multiple media types.
        • Are there any commonalities between the effectiveness of representations based on the type of media used?
        • What are the types of rhetorical appeals made by your different examples? Do these appeals work better in one media versus another? Information on the 3 main types of rhetorical appeals (ethos – character, pathos – emotion, logos – reason) can be found online. –


Hands-on activity

This activity involves different types of media in order to document an event or group. Documenting an event may be a smaller scale activity, suitable for a shorter activity, while documenting a group could be an extended activity, involving multiple parts, over the course of an entire class.

  1. Preliminary
    • Students may be formed into small groups or conduct this activity individually. This depends on the scope of the assignment / activity.
    • Groups might be created based on preexisting skills in video, audio, GIS, or other knowledge production technologies. These are the different modes of production.
  2. First steps
    • The group or individual should identify a community or event which they want to document.
    • Choosing a larger group or community may offer more material but runs the risk of becoming too large to complete a finished activity. For example, documenting homelessness would be a daunting topic for a semester project.
    • A large topic could be reduced in scale by confining the geographic scope to a specific location (e.g. homelessness in your local community, a community food bank, etc.)  Other dimensions to limit include: time (how long the project takes or the length of time it covers), number of subjects included (a single interview subject or multiple people)
    • Consider documenting an event that seems mundane or boring (a city council, school board meeting); other possibilities include parades, public holiday events, etc.
  3. Documenting an event in a variety of modes may work better for a group, so that individual group members can focus on a particular mode.
  4. Documentation
    • Group or individuals will document a community or event using some or all of these modes.
      1. Video
      2. Audio
      3. Text
      4. Photographs
      5. Objects
      6. Mapping (GIS)
  5. Questions and reflection
    1. How do different modes of representation impact your perception of a community?
    2. Do different modes of representation lead to different levels of engagement with the materials?
    3. How should these different materials be described and / or cataloged in platform or system?
    4. How can different modes of representation be better linked to each in the representation of events and/or communities?

    Smaller scale

    • This assignment could be adapted so that students use existing documentary materials, in a variety of modes, to examine the effect of different modes on representation of an event or group.
    • Using Mukurtu or another archive, look for objects that are described in different way, for example in text and video, then compare and contrast the different descriptions.


    1. The final outputs of the documentary activity can be examined for differences of representation and rhetoric.
    2. A report on the different representations found during the research may be in written or other formats. The report should be evaluated on how successfully it describes the documents and the comparisons it leads to.
    3. Students should produce a catalog record or finding aid for the different media presentations they create during the hands-on activity. Do different media types present different challenges for cataloging or describing?



    Chan, Sebastian, and Aaron Cope. 2015. “Strategies against Architecture: Interactive Media and Transformative Technology at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.” Curator: The Museum Journal 58 (3): 352–68.
    Christel, Michael G. 2009. Automated Metadata in Multimedia Information Systems: Creation, Refinement, Use in Surrogates, and Evaluation. Synthesis Lectures on Information Concepts, Retrieval, and Services. Morgan & Claypool.

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