Afterimages: Hosting an Online Exhibition on the Commons

Not long ago my colleague, Catherine Burdick, and I launched Afterimages, an online exhibition about the political graffiti that often stretches across the most prominent wall of Chile’s most iconic church. Selecting Humanities Commons as the project’s digital home was the first major conversation of our collaboration, and it remains one of the core decisions we have never reconsidered in the months of experimenting since.

We chose Humanities Commons for a variety of reasons, the most significant of which was ideological; the motivation behind Afterimages is to support the free public expression of social and political aspirations, the mission of Humanities Commons is to foster an open exchange of humanistic ideas. In fact, the alignment between what we wanted to do and what Humanities Commons is intended to enable struck us as so clearly organic that our direction eventually seemed self-evident. The alternative—an ad-free “.net” blog— probably would have been just fine, but with Humanities Commons we saw the chance to gain a discursive framework for highlighting our project’s broader goals.

The scale of Afterimages is modest enough that we could have changed our minds about Humanities Commons as we built and refined the site. Our commitment didn’t waver, though, primarily because the organization’s administrators have demonstrated, repeatedly and in both word and action, their dedication to independence and authenticity. This is no small thing. Afterimages constitutes a professional risk for Catherine and me in more ways than one, and Humanities Commons is the context within which that risk has taken form. Seeing the people who manage Humanities Commons indefatigably protecting the community’s integrity has reassured us that the ethos we endorse with our URL’s “” extension will not be purposefully diluted or undermined in the future.

Our small project is better for its association with Humanities Commons, so I’m happy to characterize Afterimages in part as an extension the organization’s footprint out into virtual space. I also hope what we’ve done might someday contribute to Humanities Commons’ impact, too. For my generation of humanists, at least, helping to cultivate tolerant, informed, and meaningful humanistic debate has never seemed more worth the effort.