Video and audio-recorded literacy narratives, for example, carry extensive amounts of information about geography, through accent and dialect; historical era, through clothing, slang, and reference to popular culture or technology use; to education, through individuals’ diction, vocabulary, and personal details about instructional experiences; familial resources, through anecdotes about technology access, material conditions, or the actions of siblings and parents; values and concerns, though details about reading or writing habits or the expectations of parents and peers; and political and social affiliations through the inclusion of other people and groups and the tellers’ relational identifications. And these examples identify only a few sources of the cultural and historical information contained within literacy narratives.

Autobiographical narratives are also laden with the teller’s “ideas of what a life is, or is supposed to be, if it is lived well,” (Freeman and Brockmeier, 2001, p. 75), revealing the “ethical fabric” of the social worlds from which the storytellers themselves emerge—as well as the ”specific historical and cultural realities in which their ideas originate” (p. 77).

At the same time, we contend that—especially in large numbers—these “glittering fragments” can help educators assemble robust, dimensional, multiple, and complex understandings of storytellers’ literacy practices and values, as well as the cultural, social, historic, ideological, economic, and material formations that shape and are shaped by these practices and values. Jerome Bruner (1991) describes two characteristics of narratives that inform our understanding on this point: narrative accrual and coherence by contemporaneity.

…[T]he stories people tell about themselves and one another twice encode culture, in that stories are at once practices and artifacts of culture.

(Brodkey, 1987, p. 46)

…[N]arratives do accrue, and as anthropologists insist, the accruals eventually create something variously called a “culture” or a “history,” or more loosely a “tradition."

(Bruner, 1991, p. 18)