Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics
(visit book homepage)

12. Nomadic Archives: Remix and the Drift to Praxis

Virginia Kuhn and Vicki Callahan


In opening our discussion of pedagogical strategies within the digital humanities, we begin by outlining what we see as the mission of the field. That is, while we often operate as if in agreement about what is included under the umbrella term of “digital humanities,” it is unclear that our sense of this field or its objectives extends beyond a family resemblance. For our purposes, we first define the humanities quite broadly as disciplines concerned with the ongoing life of culture, and we note our firm belief in the value of humanities education. Indeed, in Academically Adrift, a recent book which paints a dismal picture of the state of undergraduate education, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa argue that students in liberal arts majors “demonstrated significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time” than did their peers in majors such as business, education, social work and communications.1 We further contend that the mission of the digital humanities is absolutely vital, given emergent technologies’ imbrications in today’s culture and the need to engage critically with digital culture, even as the field remains somewhat nebulous. In this we align ourselves with the authors of the “Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” who argue that the digital humanities “is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices,” which are sensitive to the changes in the way knowledge is produced, expressed and disseminated in a digital age.2 Since the digital humanities are not a unified field, we feel its relative murkiness is rich with potential, and some of that potential will be actualized by sharing its “array of convergent practices” as we do here.

Therefore, we want to emphasize our view that digital humanities represents an opportunity for a new form of interdisciplinary engagement, a hybrid form of critical/creative expression that employs still and moving images, text, audio, and interactivity across and within media forms. Since current disciplinary boundaries were formed during the ascendancy of a print literate culture, we feel they must be re-imagined for a digital one. Indeed, the limitations of current disciplinary boundaries are often most evident when considering the role of interdisciplinarity. The term “interdisciplinary” typically refers to a kind of additive component, history plus literature, history plus art, and so forth. The perspective is essentially a horizontal one, linking fields without any fundamental change to the formal structures or logic of any one discipline. Generally speaking, in an interdisciplinary move, a narrative thread is enriched and enhanced by parallel yet still essentially linear story lines. This is evident in the case of a film industry discussion that combines economic, labor, gender, and aesthetic developments. The way in which that story is told is altered very little, although in some variations of the digital world that engage arts practice, we might get a more visually pleasing illustration of this history. Horizontal interdisciplinarity can be a productive endeavor, but it only takes us down one kind of pathway in the digital world, and may effectively block other possibilities.

We argue that the radicality of the digital humanities is the potential it offers to expand our understanding to the vertical plane, or more precisely, planes of research. In vertical interdisciplinarity, there is a rich layering in both the method and the practice of teaching and scholarship, and this poses challenges to the very discursive categories employed. The disruptive components are the creative, aesthetic and non-alphabetic elements, which once deployed vertically within a field radically transform its formal properties. If horizontal strategies make us imagine new narrative lines within a field, then the vertical approach forces us to rethink the narrator, what narrative form could be, and how we think, reflect, critique and express.

A key roadblock to vertical interdisciplinarity is how we understand and implement our core materials. The difficulty is often that we operate under the assumption that information received from images (both still and moving) and audio materials is aligned almost exclusively with creative/aesthetic expression and is seen as different or distinct from textual materials and critical thought/writing. Efforts that start from this point are inevitably doomed, or at best limited, as the two sides rarely speak to each other, or worse, simply repeat the same message in a different register. A successful vertically integrated praxis, however, uses these diverse materials and disciplinary strategies to engage across and within media, tools, formats, and philosophical categories, with each component in ruthless interrogation of every possible formal boundary. In other words, an approach to the digital humanities that is steeped in vertical interdisciplinarity is more a method than a field, and it can transform how we operate, what materials we engage, and with whom we work as academics.

With this in mind, we offer several possibilities for vertical strategies that engage text, sound, and image in ways that often conflict and compete, but always extend the conversation among the various elements or registers of meaning. We do this by adopting the stance of “electracy” proposed by Gregory Ulmer.3 In the digital age, there is potential for more than the progression of “writing” from a text-driven literacy to multimedia electracy—what electracy signifies is a potential seismic shift between the structures of writing (object) and the individual who writes (subject). This means more than new tools in the toolbox—there is a new “organism” in place. As Ulmer notes, the “group subject” and a new public sphere become “writable.”4 Adopting Ulmer, we become digital curators combing nomadic archives as we assemble, dissolve and remake our work as scholars and as teachers.

How then, does this method work? A vertical strategy does not operate as an image or sonic substitution. It is not a metaphor, but an expression from within, which is not identical to, but rather relational or metonymic. Thus a gap or interval exists between word/image and word/sound (non-verbal or linguistic). The relative openness of the image/sound and the gap between word and image/sound create a space for shared or alternative perspectives. Since the vertical strategy offers new formal possibilities, the relationship among the elements is not addition or replacement, but illumination and elaboration.5 Indeed, contrastive rhetoric and literacy studies have long used the disparate practices of discursive communities to shed light on each other; one can learn more about the assumptions that undergird any one academic discipline by placing it in conversation with the practices and discursive strategies of others. Likewise, we argue that one can learn more about the communicative and expressive possibilities of words when comparing them to the possibilities of images and vice versa.

It is instructive to remember a prior technological advance in media formats—the moving pictures—which for many artists and intellectuals appeared to augur for a parallel paradigm shift in language, thought and action. From Dziga Vertov to Gilles Deleuze, film was the machine of social and philosophical assemblage par excellence, capable of dismantling and reconfiguring the most intransigent of forms. Indeed, the cinema, as Jean-Luc Godard notes and as Robert B. Ray reminds us, is a combination of “spectacle and research” or construction/creativity and observation; it lies at the interstitial moment between the practical/physical and the intellectual/mental.6 This mixture makes cinema—and now by extension, digital media—a “promise” of radical political intervention, a “promise” to imagine a new world unchained by past ways of singular, essentially linear thinking. In his epic video series, Histoire(s) du Cinéma, Godard acknowledges that cinema has not fulfilled this promise, and we recognize that digital media may well share a similar fate. In part, the failed promise of cinema (and media) is due to either spectacle or research dominating the enterprise.

If we follow Antonio Gramsci’s definition, praxis means those two domains should not be discrete. Gramsci reminds us that we are all philosophers but we need a fluency of language, not simply knowledge of our particular dialectic, to transform those thoughts into political action. Fluency across “languages” is the key to praxis for Gramsci.7 Incorporating this understanding of the term then, the opening and expansion of our critical and creative expression could be said to drift toward praxis. This movement or “drift” is not endemic to any of the specific tools employed, but an outcome of the process outlined above. As such, our work here is necessarily contingent but strategically so, as we select and promote conversations across the boundaries of research and teaching, within academia and from the larger culture, willing to let our thinking be refreshed, reconfigured and remade.

The Nomadic Archive

Like all scholarly remixes, the following exercises in sound sculpture, digital poster art, and filmed footage, are situated within, and dependent upon, a merger of art, critical investigation, and new digital collections that fall in the category of what has been called “participatory archives”: collections characterized by their qualities of remix, distributed and networked authorship, and the realignment of objects and investigators in research. Participatory archives, as Isto Huvila notes, move away from the traditional “record-centric” or fixed artifact approach to archives and move toward more interactive and fluid roles for archivists and users.8 Key to Huvila’s approach is a focus on the use of and conversation around a record rather than a record as an object in itself, so that “a participatory archive is not a complementary layer, but a primary knowledge repository about records and their context.”9 But records—and what we define as “records”—are clearly the tip of the iceberg in the participatory archive: Huvila as well as Rick Prelinger and Terry Cook maintain that archives, archivists, and users are also well onto the path of transformation to essentially more transparent and democratic roles.10 Both Cook and Prelinger point out that archives and archivists are rarely passive, objective entities but rather important historical agents that create new knowledge and, as Prelinger pointedly puts it, “archives make historical interventions. We intervene in the present by foregrounding the past and infusing contemporary culture with historical record.”11 Prelinger’s commentary reestablishes the link between past and present, a divide that Cook notes is a relatively new distinction, a creation of the nineteenth century whereby the past became “something to be collected, guarded, and venerated, as if on a pedestal.”12

One example of the potential transformation within participatory archives can be found in Sally Potter’s digital archive, SP-ARK (, a project still in its early stages of development but with several features of interest. Here the filmmaker has put materials from her film, Orlando, in an online and open archive, including pre-production sketches, script drafts, photographs of costumes and sets, information on distribution, and other “artifacts” related to the production. Digitizing and open-sourcing this sort of information provides a wealth of material to film scholars but the online collection is simply the first step of the enterprise. SP-ARK also features the ability to leave a research “trail” as well as engage in conversation with other researchers and their “trails” or pathways through the material. Forums allow teachers to pose questions to students or researchers to make commentaries that are then essentially “recorded” as part of the archive itself, thereby making new “artifacts” within the archive. While the objects “created” through the forums might, at first glance, not seem terribly significant, the larger historiographic process involved moves us away from the binary understanding of past and present since the artifacts of the recorded research trail and the dialogue via commentary are both inside and yet “freed” from history. The distributed researcher formed by SP-ARK is equally inside and outside history, plunged into the artifacts but also into a stream of other voices and perspectives, destabilizing singular and deterministic (or, indeed, random) paths through the material.

We argue that scholarly remix builds on the transformative qualities of distributed authorship by shifting the “site” of the archive itself, or at the very least creating new mini archives within each remix. Moreover, since the scholarly project contains a range of “artifacts” through the download process (sonic, visual, textual) and circulates through any number of venues (Internet Archive, Critical Commons, YouTube, Vimeo), we might well now argue that the participatory archive, through this transportable dynamic, becomes a mobile or nomadic entity: it lives nowhere and everywhere at once. Our choice of the term nomadic is, as might well be expected, not accidental and references the structure and the purpose of the rhizome in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: “[A] rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations, and power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social sciences.”13

Our rhizomatic connections might often be unexpected, but they are never random. Careful curation is vital, and indeed we underline our context as scholarly remix. As we will see in the “auto-tune” examples discussed below,14 remixes can quickly fall into the domain of parody attendant alongside cynicism, passivity and political paralysis. While we encourage a resourceful—indeed, at times, hacktivist—approach to the collection of materials, these are accompanied by meticulous guidelines for citation, contextualization and reflection. Even here the process is still not complete for our students. Peer review plays a crucial role in our remix and students are encouraged to revise once the review is completed—in other words, yet another remix of their remix. Of course, students may choose not to do this, but by framing the assignment this way, we highlight the ongoing conversation or process of the participatory archive—that it is always open, fluid, and in motion, rather than a fixed entity.

The politics of remix, as performed within our scholarly context, integrates and builds on our history, but also moves us past tired ideological divides and is informed by what Elizabeth Grosz calls “thinking the new”—that is, thinking beyond established categories and boundaries, and thinking with “direction without destination, movement without prediction.”15 For Grosz, this entails thinking beyond our established being into a transformative becoming. We have now shifted from a time structure that associates past and present to one that propels both forward into the future, and becomes a change agent for public access that is aligned with thoughtful reflection of the media.

In this chapter, we offer three examples of the nomadic archive emerging from classes we teach at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML) at the University of Southern California. Founded in 1998 with the premise that contemporary students must “write” with images as well as they write with words, the IML has a long interdisciplinary history. Although IML practices are continually updated in response to shifts in the affordances of digital media, they remain founded in the principles of intellectual rigor and scholarly digital media. As such, IML research, scholarship, and pedagogy are closely intertwined. The course units we describe here are taken from foundational courses with the presumption of no previous experience with digital media.

Sound, Montage, Remix

The drift to praxis is remarkably played out in a sound remix exercise that is assigned as part of a class on social media and remix culture. Aware that we are situated in a sonically saturated culture, students are challenged to de-familiarize the everyday soundscape and undertake a “Rhythm Science Sound Sculpture” or a “forensic investigation of sound as a vector of coded language,”16 which then might generate new ideas and/or identities. This outcome becomes particularly challenging when audio/music is often reduced to an ambient or illustrative context, adding little more than restful or rhythmic backdrop to established narrative lines. But if familiarity is one problem, audio projects are further complicated by musical remixes that fall well on the spectacle side of Godard’s equation. The Gregory Brothers’ Barely Political site (, featuring its “Auto-Tune the News,” provides endless examples here. An infectious beat and catchy tune, alongside a voice altered to eliminate extreme pitch fluctuations flattens even the most serious subjects, from rape to robbery to historical events—as in “Martin Luther King, Jr. Sings ‘I Have a Dream’”—into banal or laughable entertainment. Even apolitical mashups such as DJ Earworm’s “United State of Pop” series ( veers from the pop wallpaper to consumerist spectacle through seamless editing that dazzles the viewer through the sheer consistency of American pop music sonically and visually. Looking at these examples, one might think all is already lost for the remix aesthetic beyond a critique of late capitalism and post-modernism.

Certainly a critique of these examples is a starting point, although students will quite rightly hold on to their pop culture pleasures. The key is to demonstrate the diversity and complexity of remixes and to move them past mere passive consumption or even “creative” reproduction (as content creators) of these spectacle variants. In other words, how do we ensure that providing the skills to mix generates and adds something new and not simply additional material for the consumer spectacle? In part, important distinctions can be made even within “suspect” sources. For example, the Gregory Brothers’ later “Martin Luther King, Jr. Sings in Memphis” provides a pointed contrast to their “I Have a Dream” remix in that this later piece situates the speech visually in the larger civil rights history. Moreover, “Memphis” ends the sound track with King’s authentic, un-doctored voice, concluding with an important reminder of the individual, unique presence and life’s work behind the video. The simple act of ending with King’s actual voice resituates the mix in history and retrospectively re-contextualizes the “auto-tune” segment as a pop culture homage formed in solidarity with the ideas expressed. It playfully but powerfully links past history with contemporary culture, something the “Dream” speech remix failed to do.

From this example, students see that context and richly nuanced detail can be employed on a number of levels, visually, musically, historically, with specific and distinct impact on narrative, voice, and authorship. In effect, when students take on their own sound sculptures, they are working through Michel Chion’s three modes of listening, from “casual” (or “the most common,” collecting information about a cause or source of sound) to “semantic” (coded language in need of interpretation) to “reduced” (close attention to “the traits of sound itself, independent of its cause or meaning”).17 For the “Rhythm Science” assignment, students are charged with crafting and thus listening to different registers of audio including at least one voice, two different music tracks, ambient sound, and one free track of their choice. The multiple yet distinct types of tracks required provide a pathway to think about context both in terms of content and form—in other words, both informational and aesthetic choices of “materials” are key. Students are thereby steered away from more mashup (two-track) strategies into deeper and more robust layering of sounds and ideas. At the same time, the engagement of materials using at least one musical element (as opposed to only voice and/or ambient materials) situates the exercise in time, that is, with a structured temporal component. Music thereby gives the sound sculpture a more jazz-like or improvisatory framework, which, as Vijay Iyer convincingly argues, is both an embodied and cognitive experience.18 As Iyer notes, the successful jazz artist must actively listen to know what to add next, and since the event occurs “in time” the audience is equally an active and embodied participant.19 In some ways, Iyer’s commentary helps us understand the power of musical remixes (we must tap our feet, keep up the rhythm), but the depth of our participation as remixers and as listeners comes with the layering of sounds and contexts.

Students typically respond to the “Rhythm Science” assignment with some of the most inspired work of the semester (which includes photo, video, and social media remixes). This outcome is arguably the result of an approach that engages them not only with a new subject or technology, but also involves them in the complex layering and interaction of intellectual and physically embodied skills. The layering also deters or destabilizes the usual ideological formulas—the narrative lines of student work have a logic and arc but are rarely linear or didactic. The students seem to engage deeply with the reading for the assignment:

This is a world where all meaning has been untethered from the ground of its origins and all signposts point to a road that you make up as you travel through the text. Rotate, reconfigure, edit and render the form. Contemporary sound composition is an involution machine.20

Perhaps this lack of fixed categories helps to make the peer review session for the project the most productive and heartfelt of all class meetings. Discussions are simultaneously passionate and respectful across sometimes difficult and sensitive terrain. The openness of students’ responses might also be traced to their active and embodied listening practices, both as remix creators and audiences, and the very blurring of those roles itself. Our remix class begins the semester with William S. Burroughs’s invocation from Tristan Tzara that “everyone is a poet” and the “Rhythm Science Sound Sculpture” provides a venue to enact this axiom of distributed authorship across diverse sonic planes.21

Image and the Praxis of Identity

In a culture that is increasingly visually mediated, the impact of images on identity formation is a topic that must be addressed in a praxis-based approach. Indeed, the same technologies that allow for the creation and dissemination of recorded images via digital cameras and digitized archives also allow for societal surveillance via cameras placed in the public sphere with no need for operators. These disembodied institutional agents serve as emblems to the distributed authority that bumps up against the liberatory potential of the nomadic archive.

We begin our unit on image editing by foregrounding the political nature of images as artwork, looking specifically to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, a BBC series based on Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”22 The benefit of using Berger’s work, rather than what one might consider the “primary text” of Benjamin, lies in the enactment and translation of the concepts across both a book and a “filmic text.”23 Since Ways of Seeing is both a television series—which one can now find on YouTube—as well as a book,24 its very form highlights the possibilities for expression across image, text, and sound and prepares students for the move to speaking with and in the language of images.

We move on to examining the work of graphic artists Barbara Kruger and Shepard Fairey. This has proven extremely productive in complicating notions of the politics of the image, the definition of a public personality and the veracity of visually mediated information. We explore Kruger’s work in its historic, political and ethical contexts. We discuss the formal strategies Kruger uses, such as irony, scale, composition, and wordplay, in addition to the topics she addresses: gender, science, race, and corporate culture. Students must choose one of the dozen or so photojournalistic images supplied to them, all of which have become iconic in US culture: from the World War II victory kiss to the Apollo moon landing; from the atomic bomb to the Wright Brothers’ early flight; from the Kent state student shooting to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Using one of these seminal images, students apply Kruger-like techniques in order to reveal meanings that are submerged or to re-contextualize these meanings to say something new. The beauty of this assignment is that any re-contextualization necessarily includes research into the image’s original context, as well as its subsequent iconic usages and meanings. The image of the Apollo astronaut, for example, was updated and popularized by the MTV logo.

While the meanings of many of these images may seem over-determined by their placement within Kruger’s political landscape, students are surprisingly adept at shedding these constraints for the purposes of their own personal and political expression. Being required to mimic the formal elements of Kruger’s work also reveals the communicative aspect of language. Whether verbal or image-based, graphic expression requires some form of agreement about its meaning, which shapes its communicative and expressive potential. Moreover, the constraint of designing like Kruger forces a degree of intentionality in students’ use of image editing software, in this case Photoshop, rather than learning such tools in a strictly instrumental way. Indeed, we are always alert to the difference between teaching the tools and appreciating their historical and political contexts. Students do not have to adopt a particular political stance, but they do have to defend their own approach. Even the choice of de-politicization is a response to a particular ideology and therefore political in nature.

The second part of this image assignment loosens some of the constraints as it asks students to choose a contemporary political figure and work in the style of Shepard Fairey. We start with Fairey’s prominent Obama Hope image, which became an important touchstone in the election of the first non-white US president. This image also represents a break with the artist’s previous work, which has been described as political critique. The Hope poster represents a more productive piece in the sense that it offers a remedy and is optimistic. It also became the basis for a pivotal case of copyright and fair use when the Associated Press (AP) sued Fairey for copyright infringement, arguing that a photo taken by Mannie Garcia provided the root image for the Hope poster. The AP asserted its ownership of the photo taken by Garcia, an interesting aspect of current copyright conventions itself, particularly since Garcia also asserted ownership claiming that he was not a regular employee of the AP and, as such, need not relinquish his rights to the AP as an employer. Fairey maintained that the source image was a different photo, but subsequently confessed that the Garcia photo was in fact the source image. Fairey’s legal counsel then dropped the case, noting that even though it still had merit, they could not defend a client who lies and conceals information. The extent to which Fairey remixed the photo becomes fodder for our discussion of the doctrine of fair use and the attendant legal drama offers rich opportunities for exploring all of the social, political and technological implications of an image-based culture. Since the implications of the case are ongoing,25 students have the opportunity to explore these considerations in a way that seems particularly alive and grounded in the real world.

After this work on the Hope image, students create their own project by choosing a contemporary political figure and applying Fairey’s techniques to transform a photorealistic image into their own visual statement. Students show great imagination in the political figures they choose as their subject, and they are told that as long as the choice is defensible, they are free to take liberties with their selection. Indeed, a course mantra is “challenge authority,” so when students challenge any or all of the three descriptors of the assignment—“contemporary,” “political,” “figure”—by choosing, for example, J. Edgar Hoover, the Dalai Lama, and an oil rig respectively, their defense of choice proves gratifying in terms of its clear display of their critical skills. To date, the political figures students have submitted have included the usual suspects, such as Sarah Palin, John Boehner, and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but they have also used personalities such as USC president Max Nikias, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, pundit Stephen Colbert, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, to name just a few. As such, this project requires an active engagement with key contemporary issues and demands consideration of their historic, political, social, and economic contexts and implications.

All image projects are peer reviewed in a structured way, adding another layer of critical engagement. Students are assigned a colleague’s piece to review and asked to comment on the following four aspects: the idea that informs the image, the extent to which the project follows the assignment (e.g. the creative constraints), the technical efficacy of the image editing and finally, the textual rationale that accompanies each image. This last component is important, for while we try not to allow the words to prevail—indeed a main goal of this project is to gain fluency with the language of images—we do recognize the dominance of verbal language in academic argument, even as we witness the emergence of new forms. This tension becomes a method for staying anchored in the past, while also anticipating the future.

The work with Kruger and Fairey necessarily includes an exploration of the ways in which the images that circulate in contemporary culture influence individual’s subjectivity, and, indeed, their self-image. And while we often like to think that as enlightened and savvy media consumers we remain immune to the impossibly thin, flawlessly beautiful photos that grace the covers of magazines and advertising, the continued increase in eating disorders and plastic surgery in the US suggest that these images exert significant impact on individual’s sense of self. To what extent does the ability to edit one’s photographic image foster the sense that editing one’s physical looks via plastic surgery is a natural path? To extend such questions, we shift the focus to images that move.

Framing Reality: Camera Praxis

The role of surveillance on identity and citizenship is expanded when we work with moving images—specifically those that we frame by way of original footage that students record. Working in small groups of three or four, students create a three to five minute film, the subject of which is an aspect of the increase in surveillance culture brought about by emergent technologies. We begin by revisiting Ways of Seeing and Berger’s argument that women are always aware of being surveyed, causing them to split their identity, since

[f]rom earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman.26

This link between identity and surveillance, as the assignment directions contend, is exacerbated by the increasing presence of surveillance cameras in public spaces. Furthermore, this type of surveillance is far more generalized and impacts on both men and women, and again we add, anyone whose appearance is somehow outside of the norm. To lend weight to this topic, Michel Foucault’s discussion of the impact of the gaze is written directly into the assignment vis-à-vis a surveillance society in which

[t]here is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze that each individual under its weight will end by interiorizing to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over, and against, himself. A superb formula: power exercised continuously and for what turns out to be a minimal cost.27

Early discourse around computers and teaching used the panopticon metaphor to describe the potential for disciplining students with circular computer formations that left all screens open to the authority housed in the center—the all powerful instructor machine. Indeed, while this formation was often valorized as a way of calculating student engagement, humanists more often saw it as a way of scrutinizing student work and censoring their internet use by force rather than by actively engaging them in coursework. As Andrew Feenberg argues in his seminal book, The Critical Theory of Technology, technology is ultimately ambivalent—its functions can be used for more (or less) democratic purposes even as their reasons for being are ideologically imbued.28

But the more subtle ways in which the gaze exerts pressure on subjectivity can be enumerated by looking at other fields. During this unit, we read recent research on the impact of the gaze, which reveals the ways in which the practices of the social sciences can enhance and extend the theoretical models of humanities research. In “When What You See Is What You Get: The Consequences of the Objectifying Gaze for Women and Men,” psychologists Sarah J. Gervais, Theresa K. Vescio, and Jill Allen report the findings of a research study in which undergraduate men and women were exposed to an objectifying gaze—interpersonal sexual objectification—by a member of the opposite sex. They found that women’s math skills declined when their bodies were sexualized by this gaze. Oddly enough, they also found that the women displayed more willingness to interact with those who had objectified them, and the authors hypothesize that this may be due to stereotype threat and women’s desire to combat stereotypes, leading to a “vicious cycle where women underperform and then continue to interact with those who led them to underperform in the first place.”29 Although the authors did not find a direct correlation to body image or body surveillance in these interactions, it seems reasonable to speculate that the cumulative effect of sexual objectification and stereotyping would lead to such self surveillance. And, indeed, bringing these types of studies into the discussion of the camera project, we help students foster a more critical engagement with the materials they use for their own projects.

The Nomadic Archive: A Caveat

Insofar as the public sphere becomes writable, the university classroom needs some protection; a certain contingent erasure from the public sphere. While students ought to do work that is alive in the world—indeed, they report feeling more engaged when they do so—there is also an important need for a buffer zone, since undergraduate education gives students the freedom to take risks, to experiment, and to fail. Moreover, part of being digital deeply means being discriminating about how, when and where one places one’s work and information online. If students are using social networking extensively, they are free to post their work (and often do) but should demonstrate critical intentionality when they do so. As we have seen on sites like Facebook, students can share information that they are later sorry to have shared when it comes back to haunt them. Likewise, they may not want less than polished work persisting online when they apply for a job or to graduate school. It is the very assumption that all work ought to be public because it can be put online that allows contemporary culture to be monitored so thoroughly. To contribute to the notion that everything should be online simply because it can be demonstrates a lack of critical engagement with digital tools and, thus, it is a bad model. The line between the public and private is increasingly porous—social networking tools not only encourage the sharing of private information, their developers often harvest the information with convoluted security protocols. When Facebook shifted its default to public, forcing users to “opt in” to privacy, the sea change was most apparent.

Our classes address these concerns both practically and conceptually. Many of our assignments are posted to a closed site that ensures students’ experimentation and expression. In some instances though, we do want to explore the potential of social media and the public space, but we initiate that process through a discussion of online privacy. We spend time on the variables of sharing within different platforms with the clarification that online need not exclusively mean public. The option of using an avatar or alias is certainly broached and always an option, but more profoundly, the question of personal privacy represents an opportunity for additional ethical concerns of online space to be examined, from issues of anonymous commentary to sharing/tagging of friends or third party images and speech. Privacy alongside questions of fair use is then linked into an important conversation regarding the responsible circulation and use of information in the digital age.

Prolegomena to Any Future Remixes

The implications of digital humanities pedagogy are potentially revolutionary, for not only does this work disrupt monolithic truth claims, it challenges the hegemony of verbal language as the only avenue for the expression of sophisticated concepts and complex argument. While the written word is still highly valued, it is one register among many, each with its own set of potentials as semiotic resources. This method, and the student projects that result, uncovers more questions than answers. In order to counter the adoption of a preachy stance that attempts to have the last word on an issue and thus prevents a new remix even as it blocks circulation of the nomadic archive, we adopt Trinh T. Minh-ha’s notion that her work does not lead to instant gratification on the part of either the viewer or the maker; rather, it contributes to long term change by impacting the way we view ourselves and each other. Thus, as she notes, disclosure of one’s subject position is always the responsibility of the maker.30

Digital media praxis is not a utopian state (from which democracy will necessarily and inevitably flow) but a central skillful practice, an integration of analytical and creative process, which will serve as an essential foundation for an informed and participatory citizenry and public sphere. Fundamental to this idea of praxis is not just media literacy (recognition) but media fluency that reconfigures the tools of language not only in line with media age but in concert with a new social subject that is not isolated and insular but open and connected.

Perhaps the most salient aspect of teaching the digital humanities that binds its practitioners lies in the way that the expression of knowledge is in flux and we can no longer say with any confidence what an academic argument consists of, a fact that makes assigning student work a contested practice. Another result of sweeping technological change comes in the blurring of the boundary between scholarship and pedagogy. As the New London Group’s watershed manifesto argued, contemporary teachers and learners are not only left with established patterns of meaning-making, we are also “active designers of meaning,” and as such, we are “designers of social futures, public futures and community futures.”31 They outline six elements of the meaning-making process: “Linguistic Meaning, Visual Meaning, Audio Meaning, Gestural Meaning, Spatial Meaning and Multimodal patterns of meaning that relate the first five modes of meaning to each other.”32 We sample and mix practices employed by various fields and institutions in order to shed a more complete light on the systematically complex issues of a globally networked, digital world.


1 Richard Arum and Josipa Roska, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 22.

2 Todd Presner and Jeffrey Schnapp et al., “Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” University of California, Los Angeles, May 29, 2009,

3 Gregory Ulmer, Electronic Monuments (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).

4 Ulmer, Electronic Monuments, xviii.

5 For an excellent discussion about the difference between illustration and illumination, see Craig Stroupe, “Visualizing English: Recognizing the Hybrid Literacy of Visual and Verbal Authorship on the Web,” College English 62, no. 5 (2000): 607–32.

6 Robert B. Ray, How a Film Theory Got Lost and Other Mysteries in Cultural Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 3.

7 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1972), 323–35.

8 Isto Huvila, “Participatory Archive: Towards Decentralized Curation, Radical User Orientation, and Broader Contextualization of Records Management,” Archival Science 8, no. 1 (2008): 17.

9 Huvila, “Participatory Archive,” 27.

10 Terry Cook, “The Archive is a Foreign Country: Historians, Archivists and the Changing Archival Landscape,” The Canadian Historical Review 90, no. 3 (2009): 497–534; and Rick Prelinger, “Points of Origin: Discovering Ourselves through Access,” The Moving Image 9, no. 2 (2009): 164–75.

11 Prelinger, “Points of Origin,” 165.

12 Cook, “The Archive is a Foreign Country,” 515.

13 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 7.

14 For example, consider the sensation surrounding the “Bed Intruder Song,” an “auto-tune” remix by the Gregory Brothers of a TV news story (aired July 29, 2010) about an attempted rape in Huntsville, Alabama, which went viral shortly after its release on YouTube. See Philip Kennicott, “Auto-Tune Turns the Operatic Ideal into a Shoddy Joke,” The Washington Post, August 29, 2010,

15 Elizabeth Grosz, “Thinking the New: Of Futures Yet Unthought,” in Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory, and the Future, ed. Elizabeth Grosz (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), 19.

16 Paul D. Miller, Rhythm Science (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), 4–5.

17 Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, trans. Claudia Gorbman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 25–35.

18 Vijay Iyer, “On Improvisation, Temporality, and Embodied Experience,” in Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture, ed. Paul D. Miller (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), 273–92, 275–76.

19 Iyer, “On Improvisation,” 276.

20 Miller, Rhythm Science, 5.

21 William S. Burroughs, “The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin,” originally published in A Casebook on the Beat, ed. Thomas Parkinson (New York: Crowell, 1961), 105–06, and published later in revised form in William S. Burroughs and Brion Gyson, The Third Mind (New York: Viking, 1978), 29–33.

22 Ways of Seeing, four-part TV mini-series, written by John Berger (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972); and Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 217–51.

23 The term “filmic text” implies one that was created in film but has since been digitized such that it shares more functions with a book than with a film. For a further discussion of this term, see Virginia Kuhn, “Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate,” International Journal of Learning and Media 2, no. 2–3 (2010),

24 The series scripts were adapted into a book: John Berger, Ways of Seeing (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972).

25 The parties settled out of court in January 2011; the settlement details remain confidential.

26 Berger, Ways of Seeing, 46.

27 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980), 155.

28 Andrew Feenberg, The Critical Theory of Technology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

29 Sarah J. Gervais, Theresa K. Vescio, and Jill Allen, “When What You See Is What You Get: The Consequences of the Objectifying Gaze for Women and Men,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 35, no. 1 (2011): 5.

30 Trinh T. Minh-ha, Cinema Interval (New York: Routledge, 1999), 71.

31 New London Group, “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures,” Harvard Educational Review 66, no. 1 (1996): 65.

32 New London Group, “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies,” 65.