Virginia Kuhn, (chair), University of Southern California
Nike Nivar Ortiz, University of Southern California
Maria Zalewska, University of Southern California

In considering the future of design education, Ken Friedman argues for interdisciplinarity since current (and, no doubt, future) design challenges “require analytic and synthetic planning skills that can’t be developed through the practice of contemporary design professions alone.”[1] He creates a taxonomy of domain knowledge and skills necessary for design professionals, the nexus of which includes theoretical work from the humanities and liberal arts, with practical work from the creative and applied arts.

In this panel, we highlight strategic approaches to interdisciplinarity that might inform contemporary design challenges. Paying special attention to the theories and practices associated with archives, panelists will consider the possibilities for digital scholarship across disciplinary divides. Using Friedman’s taxonomy, we argue for a type of vertical interdisciplinarity,[2] one that is not additive (art plus history) but that radically reimagines the boundaries of current academic disciplines, as well as the work we do as teachers and scholars.


Paper 1: Virginia Kuhn

Rhetoric = Theory + Practice = Design

What new kind of knowledge will exist exclusively in the form of images?
—Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive

If the “visual turn” of the 20th century called attention to the rising cultural importance of image-based forms of representation, specifically linking art history and classical film theory, the early 21st century’s “digital turn” promises to bring core questions of visual rhetoric and design theory to bear upon the rapidly proliferating digitization of filmic media and their concomitant archives.  What possibilities open up with an available language of images that can be created and disseminated with relative ease in a globally networked world?

Building on the work of Joost & Scheuermann, [3] who argue that design is a form of rhetoric which is inherently rule-based and interdisciplinary, I argue for conceptualizing image archives as contemporary alphabets that can undergird digital scholarship. In this model, I contend, the theory-practice binary is no longer the exception but rather the rule.



Paper 2: Nike Nivar Ortiz
Towards a Hospitable Archive: Reorienting the Narrative of Operation Just Cause
in Scalar

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.

—Virginia Kuhn and Vicki Callahan, “Nomadic Archives”

The archive, by and large, is a rather unwelcoming place. Documents offering historical “truth” are held under lock and key, often requiring institutional affiliation to access, and all subject to many rules of order that regulate how one interacts with them. Digitization is often touted as the road towards democratization, yet it is undeniable that there is a certain politics and economy to the digital archive—a privileging of what gets digitized, and institutional biases that affect access. Even when digital, archives may still only serve to reproduce the failings of the physical archive; it may only engender narratives that work within the archive’s structure of power—not those that challenge it. Using materials from Operation Just Cause found at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. as a case study, I will explore how the online publishing platform Scalar can function to further the democratic power of the digital by destabilizing the univocality of the traditional archive. I argue that Scalar’s modular archival structure, its multi-media functionality, and integrated design tools can help us create narratives that critically engage historical documents and disrupt ossified modes of archivization. Beyond just a digital publishing platform, Scalar offers a hospitable space of consignment.


Paper 3: Maria Zalewska
Designing Archives of Memory: The Epistemology of Chronicling Digital Encounters with the Holocaust Past

Each year fewer survivors arrive in Auschwitz to commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 2005, nearly 1500 survivors attended the anniversary; in 2015, only 300 survivors came to Auschwitz. This year, 60 former prisoners arrived in Birkenau to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Therefore, as the last survivors and witnesses are dying and the memory of the Holocaust increasingly depends on commemoration and re-telling of the story for new generations, Holocaust-related educational institutions and scholars search for innovative ways to bridge the past with the present. How digital communities interact with the memory of the Holocaust via images, blog posts, 3D holograms, virtual and augmented reality applications, and social media shareable content is becoming increasingly relevant to media and genocide scholars. Similarly, pioneering archival regimes of memory (eg.: Yad Vashem online archives; Stanford University Spatial History Project: Holocaust Geographies Collaborative, etc) force us to consider the process of securing Holocaust memory as apparently inseparable from the technological advancements of our time.

Using the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive as my case study, I explore the epistemological strategies associated with the design and development of contemporary archives of Holocaust memory. I argue that we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the design of curated systems of Holocaust memory which are moving away from archived and mediated bodies of knowledge towards a network of interactive memory practices. The embodied archive of three-dimensional holograms created by the USC Shoah Foundation illustrates this intention to mediate the loss of living witnesses by creating their interactive substitutes.


Virginia Kuhn, PhD., Associate Professor, Media Arts + Practice Division, School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California

Nike Nivar Ortiz,, Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture, 2016-18 Digital Humanities Mellon Fellow, University of Southern California

Maria Zalewska,, Cinema and Media Studies Division, School of Cinematic Arts, 2016-18 Digital Humanities Mellon Fellow, University of Southern California


[1] Ken Friedman. “Models of Design: Envisioning a Future Design Education,” Visible Language 46.1/2 2012.

[2] Virginia Kuhn and Vicki Callahan. “Nomadic Archives: Remix and the Drift to Praxis,” Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics, Brett Hirsch, ED. 2012.

[3] Gesche Joost and Arne Scheuermann. “Design As Rhetoric: Basic Principles for Design Research.” 2008.