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The History of Storytelling in 10 Minutes

Matt Peters
October 25, 2018

The history of storytelling goes back thousands of years. Cave dwellers used pigment to paint on walls with their hands to create stories and myths. The ancient Greeks carved their language into walls to tell how history was moving forward. The narrative voice in writing speaks volumes about each of the culture’s everyday life. As generations grow and develop, daily life turns into another mark on history.

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Through the tradition of storytelling, humanity gets stronger and tales and myths are created with new and exciting innovations and technology.

The Chauvet Cave lives in the mountains of Southern France and contains incredibly well-preserved cave drawings dating back to 30,000 years ago. On the walls of the cave, explorers found paintings depicting the prehistoric period. This was how they formed unspoken and unwritten language to communicate. The cave drawings told stories about encountering mammoths, lions and rhinos. The paintings depicted their every day activities of using homemade weapons and using every piece of inch of an animal to survive.

The Ancient Greeks lived on islands and fished for food. They discovered ways to use their tools to carve messages into tombs and slates. Their stories for thousands of years were communicated only through oral storytelling. The Greeks are also the first known civilization to develop writing and apply it to storytelling, which they used to leave messages and write poems. They used animals like pigeons to deliver urgent messages. Most of their communication was in times of sorrow, war, and celebration.

The Epic of Gilgamesh” was a story that started as an epic poem by the Sumerian King in the Third Millennium BC. This story was about a man named Gilgamesh and a "wild man" named Enkidu who befriends Gilgamesh after a fight, and they set off on a journey to find the key to immortality. Epic poems are referred to as such because they could fill a 500-page book by today's standards, but because the Greeks were so passionate about the art of oral storytelling, these stories were written as poems to help the storytellers remember and perform the whole story.

Over the next several centuries, the art of the written word and storytelling would evolve and develop into cohesive works like the Bible and everything William Shakespeare. The Bible was written back in 1,300 BC, with stories, myths, and legends about kings, gods, and prophets. They were tales and lessons with religious purpose that people learned through orally speaking before being written.

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William Shakespeare was an English-speaking writer, actor, and poet born in 1564. Although his life was short by today's standards, Shakespeare was a large and wrote 37 plays during his lifetime including Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare was a huge stepping stone in building storytelling because his work was so expansive and was relatable to everyone. To this day, Shakespeare is still the most performed playwright of all time and is continuously adapted for film and is a cultural phenomenon.

Not too long after the era of Shakespeare, stories that would come to be known as fairy tales started in France. Many fairy tales from this point in time were stories that were passed down from generations before, and simply needed to be put to paper.

The tales were mostly written with children in mind. They were created to teach children basic life lessons in storytelling form. The story of Hansel and Gretel was meant to scare children from wandering off in the woods. Telling a story is a tangible example of how legends and myths make storytelling that much more valuable to an audience.


Since nothing like the newspaper had ever existed, its invention shook the world. The first modern newspaper was created in 1709 using three plates with red, yellow, and blue inks. The First newspaper was published and distributed in 1690 and called Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestic. Shortly after that, in 1704 the first Boston Newsletter was created, it was named The Statute of Anne.

While the invention of the printed word was undoubtedly no small achievement, the design of the printed photo would be even more impactful. The gift of photography in the 21st century is impressive, although if it weren't for a man named Joseph Nicephore Niepce, we wouldn't have photography. He was the first person to take a photograph and have it shown to the world.

He and his brothers used light to reproduce negatives of images, and in 1813 developed the art of Lithography to transpose those negatives onto paper and create actual photographs. Niepce’s work is very much alive in the art of photography. By using the proper digital tools, we now have photos are taken in the best resolution, and the best quality. 

In 1949 Frank N. Magill founded a publishing company that was called Salem Press. It was first placed on Fifth Avenue in New York City across from a Public Library.

Salem Press and Harper & Row agreed and sold eleven reference titles. In 1975 Salem Press moved from New York City to Englewood Cliffs New Jersey. It developed a new approach to telephone sales, not long after Frank produced an editorial office in Pasadena California. He began building staff to develop a full line of reference resources. Frank later died in 1947, but his publishing company is still active for the world to enjoy.

Another massive part of Frank's legacy would be the development of printed magazines, which came when mass printing of small books was made more affordable. Print magazines have fluctuated in recent years and we have made it possible to have digital media be our main source of reading.

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In 1939 the ‘Magical Box’ was invented that would be known as the television. The first television broadcast was Franklin D Roosevelt on NBC. After the first broadcast was sent off, the company RCA began to sell televisions, and it became a huge hit. Since the TV was designed to look just like furniture, it was appealing to consumers and fit right in every living room. 

The first commercial arcade video game was created in 1971 and called Computer Space. It was produced by a company called Nutting Associates. Video games would go on to become one of the most popular mediums for telling simple stories of the 20th and 21st centuries. By presenting to the world a new way to be in a story, video games have made it possible for you to be put yourself in the shoes of a characters and go adventures and journeys as if it were real.


The 1980's was the time for crazy perms, insane outfits, a rocker attitude, and music that made you get up and dance. It was also the time when music videos had come to prominence and were used to give deeper meaning to the song in the video. It was the start to a decade that was upbeat and craving something different. People created and shared music videos to spread ideas through music. This was a mixture of audio and visual that told stories in a whole new way.

In this day and age, having a social media account means you have access to see everyone's life without actually being there. With social media looking someone up on the internet has never been easier. The internet has created a space for blogs, posting pictures, and events that you attend.

Social media has become the modern way we tell the stories of our lives and in the 21st-century, social media is a time capsule for all humankind.

The evolution of storytelling in reflects how people learn and communicate. Through oral storytelling or written storytelling, the voice of narration will always have a way place and a purpose. Though the mediums have changed, the core concept of using a sequence of events in an exciting narrative has remained the same.

Traditional Storytelling is how history was created and how it was developed. In the new generation of VR, we are taking bigger steps into the modern world and are creating a social aspect of storytelling. In some ways with the advent of VR in the modern era, we have circled back to visual storytelling as brands strive to find their narrative. 

Below is an infographic to put the complicated history of storytelling in a more vertical fashion! 

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