American Studies 429L

The Documented Life:

Constructing Our Digital Identities



Summer Session 1 (June 2 – July 13): Online Course


Dr. Jason Farman
Office Phone: 301.405.9524


Office: 4123 Susquehanna Hall

Office Hours: By appointment



The course will be about documenting identity (both personal and community identities) with digital media. We’ll be looking at topics ranging from posting selfies on Instagram to using our phones to record live events like concerts; from the relationship between our media and our memories to the archiving of oral histories of a place. We’ll explore the motivations behind wanting to document every aspect of life and the results of the pervasiveness of documentary media in our everyday lives as individuals and as people in a larger community.

Over the next six weeks, you will implement various methods for exploring documentation of identity in the digital age including autoethnography, visual analysis, media archaeology, archival practices, and digital storytelling techniques.

A note about this summer course: It is vital that you understand that we are, in essence, packing a three-month semester’s worth of material into six weeks. The pace of the course is intense and rapid, requiring an enormous amount of your focus and energy throughout the duration of the course. You will be doing roughly 30-45 pages of daily reading as well as doing some sort of assignment or quiz every single day of this summer session. While many of these assignments will be truly enjoyable, they will also require intellectual rigor and for you to step outside of your comfort zones in order to engage the material in a meaningful way.


Learning Outcomes:

Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate familiarity and facility with fundamental terminology and concepts in visual studies, documentation, and identity.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the methods used by scholars in visual cultural studies, performance studies, and cultural memory.
  • Demonstrate critical thinking in the evaluation of sources and arguments in scholarly works, or in the evaluation of approaches and techniques in the visual, literary, and performing arts.
  • Describe how language use is related to ways of thinking, cultural heritage, and cultural values.
  • Conduct research on a topic in the humanities using a variety of sources and technologies.
  • Demonstrate the ability to formulate a thesis related to a specific topic in the humanities and to support the thesis with evidence and argumentation.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the creative process and techniques used by practitioners in a specific field of the visual, literary, and performing arts.


Required Texts:

  • All texts are available on Canvas under the “Files” navigation tab.



Our class Canvas page on ELMS is our primary classroom for this course. I will post lectures, links, and other materials online. I will also keep the gradebook of your grades on all assignments on ELMS. Beyond ELMS, we will also meet on Twitter every day and will also post daily photos to Instagram.

The benefit of taking an online class is that you can work according to your own schedule. I recognize that many of you have jobs and other obligations this summer, and this course is designed for you to work in a manner that fits your day-to-day life. That said, you should check the all of the sections of our ELMS site every day, Monday through Friday.

All written assignments will be emailed to me at Since this course is entirely driven by technology, please understand that you are expected to always have access to a computer with internet access and that computer problems are not an excuse for late work. NO LATE WORK WILL BE ACCEPTED.



  • Twitter Responses:                            15%
  • Quizzes:                                              15%
  • Actor-Network Map:                                     5%
  • To Document or Not to Document:   10%
  • Tracking and Mapping:                      10%
  • Medium-Specific Analysis:                10%
  • Selfies and Reflection Paper:              15%
  • Capstone and Statement:                    20%


Written Assignments:

Note on Academic Honesty and Plagiarism: Any source that you draw ideas, quotes, or images from must be cited accurately in your paper in APA or MLA style. If you use any source in your work without correctly citing the work, this constitutes plagiarism. Any intentional plagiarism will result in a failing grade for the assignment and will likely result in a failing grade for the course (and an XF on your transcript).


  • Category A: Sloppiness. Automatic “0” on paper, with option to rewrite for no better than a “C”
  • Category B: Ignorance. Automatic “0” on paper, with option to rewrite for no better than a “C”
  • Category C:Obvious Conscious Cheating. Automatic “0” on paper, with no option for rewriting. Depending on the egregiousness of the violation, you may receive an XF for the course (failure due to academic dishonesty). Please see the University of Maryland’s policy’s on academic dishonesty:

For those of you who are not aware of what constitutes plagiarism, here is a breakdown of the various types:

1. Buying papers, borrowing papers, or recycling former papers unrevised and claiming these types of papers as your own for your assignment in this course. (This constitutes a Category C offense)

2. Cutting and pasting text or images from a webpage or borrowing passages from a book for your paper without properly citing these parts and claiming the material as your own for the expressed intent of cheating. (This constitutes a Category C offense)

3. Failing to use proper citation style for material you borrow, accidentally. (This constitutes either a Category A or B offense)


Twitter Responses (to Readings, Lectures, and Student Responses):

You will need a Twitter account to interact with the course readings, my video lectures, and to discuss the material with one another. You may set up a separate account just for this class (and if you use Twitter very frequently, it might be better for you to set up a separate account just for this course). Be sure that the Twitter account you use is not set to “private” since your tweets will not be searchable. As a means to facilitate the social interactions of our online class, please make sure that your icon is a picture of yourself (and not the default egg icon or an abstract icon). Please be sure to email me your username.

  • You must post to Twitter twice a day throughout the summer term:
    • once in response to the readings or my lecture for that day (you may choose which to focus on)
    • once in response to a tweet posted by another student. You must reply to another student in the class (by using the @ reply feature, e.g. by composing a tweet that says, “@farman: I actually use Instagram for very different reasons…”)

All tweets must include the hashtag #amst429L.

Your baseline score is out of 10 points; exceptional posts and uses of Twitter may garner you a bonus score up to a maximum of 15. To gain the 5 bonus points (for a total of 15 points for the semester), you must post especially insightful posts, provides useful links to outside material, or offer consistently helpful and engaged responses to classmates’ posts. Tweeting multiple times on a day will not make up for days that you don’t tweet.

I recommend following along with the course hashtag by downloading a Twitter application such as Janetter, HootSuite, Tweetdeck, YoruFukurou, or simply the Twitter homepage. Your Twitter Responses are worth 15% of your grade.



You will have quizzes nearly every day of the course (see the schedule below) that cover all the readings and lectures for that week. These quizzes are only designed to make sure that you are keeping up with the readings and lectures. There are no trick questions; if you have done the readings and watched the lectures throughout the week, you will get a good grade on these quizzes. These quizzes are taken on our ELMS site and must be completed by the end of the day they are administered. Quizzes cannot be made up if you do not take them in time. Quizzes are worth 15% of your grade.


Selfies Assignment:

This assignment runs the entirety of the summer session and is something you’ll do, Monday through Friday, until the end of the class. You must sign up for an Instagram account (or use your current account as long as it’s not private). If you don’t have a smartphone, you may use Twitter, uploading photographs from a digital camera. Using Instagram (or Twitter), you’ll take a daily selfie, tagging it with #amst429L and the week’s hashtag (see below for the unique hashtag you’ll need to incorporate each week). You must also include a caption about the photo giving us some descriptions and context about the picture.

This assignment not only helps us get to know each other a bit better (an important component since we’re not meeting face-to-face), but will immerse you in the culture of the selfie. This immersion will give you the tools you’ll need to thoughtfully analyze and critique the selfie. Each week, your selfies will need to address a certain theme/approach so no two selfies are the same during our course. Each picture you take in a week must fit within the constraints of that week (e.g., our first week, each selfie must reflect your identity in some way like taking a selfie with an important object or while doing an activity that defines who you are).

At the end of the course, you must write a 3-5 page reflection paper about your experience taking a selfie every day for 6 weeks. In this reflection paper, you must analyze the role that selfies play in identity construction (personally and in our culture more broadly). You must also reflect on the medium-specificity of Instagram (or Twitter) and the mobile device/camera (these are topics we’ll cover in the course). You may also comment on the selfie’s more unsavory aspects like narcissism or the positive aspects like self-exploration and identity construction/activism.

A selfie must be taken every day, Monday through Friday, until the end of the course. Taking multiple selfies in a day will not make up for days that you miss. Your reflection paper on the selfie assignment is due on Friday, July 11. This project is worth 15% of your grade. No late work will be accepted.

Selfie Themes week by week:

  1. Your identity (things/activities that define who you are). Hashtag: #identity
  2. Photography skills (rule of thirds, negative space, head space, lead room, chiaroscuro). Hashtag: #PhotoSkills
  3. Tour of where you are this week (your town/city, on vacation, etc). Hashtag: #tour
  4. Day in the life (Work/leisure, etc. What does your typical summer day look like?). Hashtag: #DayInTheLife
  5. Social selfies (Who are you with this week?). Hashtag: #SocialSelfie
  6. Rethink the selfie (Do your selfies in a way that you haven’t in the previous 5 weeks). Hashtag: #RethinkTheSelfie


Students with Disabilities: The University is legally obligated to provide appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities. The campus’ Disability Support Services Office (DSS) works with students and faculty to address a variety of issues ranging from test anxiety to physical and psychological disabilities. If a student or instructor believes that the student may have a disability, they should consult with DSS (4-7682, email Note that to receive accommodations, students must first have their disabilities documented by DSS. The office then prepares an Accommodation Letter for course instructors regarding needed accommodations. Students are responsible for presenting this letter to their instructors.

Please Note: This syllabus is subject to change at any time according to the professor’s discretion.  The assignments below may also include readings handed out in class, which each student is responsible for completing.




Week 1: Mediated Memories: The Live vs. the Document


Monday, June 2:


Tuesday, June 3:

  • Van Dijck, Mediated Memories, Ch. 1
  • Take quiz on Canvas


Wednesday, June 4:


Thursday, June 5:

  • Auslander, Liveness, Chapters 1-2
  • Take quiz on Canvas


Friday, June 6


Week 2: The Rise of Ubiquitous Photography

Monday, June 9:

  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
  • Liza Potts, “Using Actor Network Theory to Trace and Improve Multimodal Communication Design” (from bottom of pg. 285 to top of 294)
  • Take quiz on Canvas


Tuesday, June 10:

  • Sontag, “In Plato’s Cave,” from On Photography
  • Take quiz on Canvas


Wednesday, June 11:


Thursday, June 12:

  • Hand, Ubiquitous Photography, Ch. 1 (pg. 1-18) and Ch. 2
  • Take quiz on Canvas


Friday, June 13:

  • Actor-Network Map Assignment Due


Week 3: Digital Documentation: Selfies, Authenticity, and Identity

Monday, June 16:

  • Take quiz on Canvas


Tuesday, June 17:


Wednesday, June 18:

  • Take quiz on Canvas


Thursday, June 19:

  • Take quiz on Canvas


Friday, June 20:

  • To Document or Not to Document Assignment Due


Week 4: Memory, Performing the Self, and Surveillance

Monday, June 23:

  • Watch Memento (streaming on our Canvas site under “Modules” and then “Online Media Reserves)
  • Hayles, “Print is Flat, Code is Deep”
  • Take quiz on Canvas


Tuesday, June 24:


Wednesday, June 25:

  • Take quiz on Canvas


Thursday, June 26:


Friday, June 27:

  • Medium-Specific Analysis Assignment Due


Week 5: Leaving Traces of Ourselves: Location Tracking and Mobile Media

Assignment: on a particular day/time, we collectively document our movements

Monday, June 30:

  • Take quiz on Canvas


Tuesday, July 1:

  • Schwartz and Halegoua, “The Spatial Self”
  • Take quiz on Canvas


Wednesday, July 2:


Thursday, July 3:


Friday, July 4:

  • Tracking and Mapping Assignment Due (log movements, map cameras/traces left)



Week 6: The Future Archive: Where Do We Go From Here?

Monday, July 7:

  • Jason Farman, “Site-Specific Storytelling and Reading Interfaces,” from Mobile Interface Theory
  • Take quiz on Canvas


Tuesday, July 8:


Wednesday, July 9:


Thursday, July 10:

  • Work on final projects


Friday, July 11:

  • Selfies Assignment Reflection Paper Due
  • Final capstone project due