The History of Multimodality

The History of Multimodality

One of the most important elements of understanding any concept; is starting with understanding where it came from. In this blog post I will be explaining the history of multimodality through some of the most important scholars on the topic. It is possible that you first listened to our podcast, or maybe you came from a more specific blog post as part of this project. For example the blog post on multimodality in academic research as you are possibly trying to learn how to use multimodality in your own work. Honestly, it does not really matter. All the blog posts and podcast as part of our project are designed in a way that they can be read and used separately, but together form a gateway to a more coherent understanding of multimodality. Yet, as I mentioned before, it is valuable to obtain knowledge about the history of multimodality, as this provides you with a deeper understanding of the concept. Additionally, this possibly also makes it easier to implement it to your advantage in the future!

Now, lets delve into the history of multimodality. Oral language has always been the most conventional mode to communicate, yet in Western Culture it seemed like writing took over for a while according to Claire Clivaz and Martial Sanker (2016). The conviction that this was the most important form of communication was based around the term literacy. The term literacy meant, according to Jack Goody, everything that was related to writing (Goody, 2000). The reason that literacy became really important in the 19th century is because more and more people where receiving an education. Due to this notion in the 19th century that literacy was the most important mode of communication, experts opposed this notion on history as well. Yet, this seemed to be not the case, as Clivaz and Sankar explain, in the Antiquity oral language was viewed as more important (2016). Clivaz and Sankar (2016) mention, that this piece of history about oral language and literacy is very important when we discuss multimodality in our modern society. As we now realize that writing has not necessarily always been the superior way of communicating, a question is raised: “Is there a relationship between our present awareness of plural literacies and digital culture?” (Clivaz & Sankar, 2016). Clivaz and Sankar (2016) explain that in the 1960s, it was apparent that the relationship between people and text began to be questioned and change began to take shape within this relation.

It is important to note that around the upcoming of the printing press, multimodal features were practically impossible according to Serafini (2014, p. 11). These early print techniques were only able to produce black and white text and images were very expensive and nearly impossible to mass-produce. As Serafini (2014) describes, it was hardly unimaginable for people to picture the multimodal society we live in now, and how easy it would become to produce anything multimodal.

With the rise of our digital culture, the possibility for more and more multimodal functions became available. Multimodal digital objects are now everywhere and embedded into our daily and online lives. In the early days of our digital society, creating multimodal content was complex and limited to people with extended knowledge and training. Though in the digital landscape we live in now, it has simplified drastically, granting an enormous amount of people the ability (Serafini, 2014, p. 12). 

However, Clivaz and Sankar (2006) mention, this also creates complex challenges. Issues such as distractions and how we keep focused with so many multimodal elements present online.  Yet, as we speak, more and more literature is published concerning multimodality. The relevance of multimodality is increasing everyday and we are learning how to use it to our benefit. A great example of this is the academic research that is done on multimodality in education, which is explained it another blog post. However, multimodality is also important, present and discussed in other fields like arts and Social Media, like explained in these blogposts!

Multimodality has been used from hundreds of years back until now. The Egyptians used hieroglyphs to convey stories about the death (Serafini, 2014, p. 11), while now we use multimodal models for our university websites for example!  Nevertheless it is now that we are studying the concept of multimodality further and obtain a deeper understanding of it. This projects tries to give more insights into multimodality by highlighting different aspects of the concept. If you would like to expand your knowledge further, you are free to have a read through some of our other blog posts that are linked throughout this article! Additionally, you could also listen to our podcast if that fits your preference!

Disclaimer: This blog post is part of a series of different elements in regards to the concept of multimodality. This contains multiple blog posts discussing different aspects of this concept as well as a podcast tying all of this together in verbal form. To access the other elements of the series, click the links beneath!

Introductory Blogpost

The History of Multimodality


Multimodality In Instagram Reels — Ideas Of Video Making On Social Media

Using Multimodality For In Academic Research – Creating Multimodal Text

Art & Multimodality : A Belgian Example

Teaching & Multimodality

Reference list:

Clivaz, C. & Sankar, M. (2016). Multimodal Literacies. DARIAH Teach. [Training module].

Goody, J. (2000). The Power of the Written Tradition. Smithsonian Institution Press. Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry. Washington DC.

Serafini, F. (2014). Reading the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacy. New York, pp.  11-19.


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