Anastasia Salter


“But if I’m not the same, the next question is, who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!’”

The absurdist adventures of Alice in the logically-inverted world of Wonderland have been continually rewritten and remediated, from the numerous versions of the work reimagined by different illustrators to early adaptations and parodies such as Alice in Blunderland (1907) and On the Way to Wonderland (1885). The existing University of Florida “Afterlife of Alice & Her Adventures in Wonderland” digital collection of Alice in Wonderland versions and adaptations offers a digitized prelude to the reincarnations of Alice currently around the web. Alice’s journey through the rabbit hole has become a metaphor for digital space itself and serves as a space to explore the consequences of digitization and remediation to our understanding of a text’s character.

Digital humanities has struggled with many internal battles of definition. In 2009, Tara McPherson called for uniting “the insights of decades of film and media studies with the new modes of information management, visualization, and dissemination that digital technologies are enabling.”[1] Alex Reid evoked this same tension with regard to studying the “digital” version of something that once existed only in print: the nineteenth-century novel gone digital cannot be divorced from its status as a twenty-first-century digital artifact. The interrogation of a resituated text (such as Roger Whitson and Jason Whittaker have recently completed with William Blake[2]) reveals that what Walter Ong once called the finality of print is revoked by the very act of digitization.[3] Even the scanning of a print work apparently whole is altered by translation, as Andrew Piper’s critique of the apparent “absence” of the book when removed from its physical body recently explored.[4] The apparent tension of manuscript-printed codex-adaptation-digital remediation blurs as we understand each as the product of its own technology with according rules and structures—but those rules and structures are far from transparent. Lori Emerson rightly cautions against taking the interface of technology (which she defines as the “intermediary layer between reader and writing”) for granted—and assuming that any interface, whether the touch of the iPad screen or the shuffling of the pages of the book, is truly invisible ignores the significance of the platform. Even the original manuscript charts by Carroll, the original Alice “interface,” reflected a tight control over physical layout and a strong intentionality between illustrations and text, to the point of detailing alterations to the text to support the “layers of visual and verbal interplay.”[5] As that interplay has been remediated and Alice’s identity has been linked to new texts and illustrations, “Wonderland” has been transformed.

Alice’s own identity is tied to the text and illustrations that embody her—her own relationship with text is even probed in adaptations, such as the start of the Disney movie, as Ron Shenk describes: “Alice is bored with the textual reading of classical history being given by her uptight Victorian sister. Instead, she wants images, pictures in a book. She sees image as world. ‘In my world, books will have nothing but pictures,’ she declares. This thought takes her further into her imagination and the deconstructive realm it creates. ‘Everything will be what it isn’t and not be what it is.’” What would Alice, with her love of pictures, make of the reconstruction of her own text into a new visualization (sans illustration) via a tool such as TextArc? Chaomei Chen looked at the visualization of Alice in Wonderland in TextArc as a case that draws to light the tension between aesthetics and engineering: that same tension is present in every adaptation, though in perhaps a less clearly visual structure.

I propose to use the dueling/dual lenses of digital humanities and new media studies to probe the spectrum of digital adaptation of text and its consequent transformation, particularly with regard to the experience of the reader. The existing digital collection of Alice in Wonderland versions offers a digitized prelude to the reincarnations of Alice currently around the web. Alice has herself become a centerpiece for exploring what it means to go digital: the iPad launched with a “magical” version of Alice as app, Inanimate Alice features Alice in an augmented future as part of a platform for “born digital education,” and the Alice Suite features the familiar avatar of Alice at the center of a system for procedural learning and interactive narrative.  This, then, is the next stage of Alice’s “afterlife,” and offers a provocation to revisit Alice’s own question: if Alice is not the same as she was yesterday, who is she now? How does continual remediation and adaptation alter the original, and how must new media studies and digital humanities methods cooperate for an understanding of the text that considers this complete and mutating identity?

Alice’s Wonderland has been renamed a “puzzle-land” by Raymond Smullyan in 1982—”the Carrollian realm of the imagination, where the puzzle instinct resides.”[6] More obscure adaptations, such as the LIDA collective’s performance of “Alice,” further complicate the relationship of Alice’s identity to the web. The Alice “electronONic” theatre performance was “thematically based on an exploration of similarities between Alice’s Wonderland and today’s ‘Wonderland’ of cyberspace.” Alice’s “Wonderland” easily serves as a metaphor not only for the Internet and virtual experiences online but for the databases and structures beneath these adaptations and archives. The web already holds many “Wonderlands” from the Open Wonderland toolkit for 3D worlds. Other virtual projects, such as the ALICE cultural computing interactive experience, take both the text of Alice and the text’s challenge to “the strongly held belief of a linear, single track and sequential reality” as their foundation. In that experiment, the user is invited to become Alice and encouraged “to experience the same sequence of emotional and behavioral states as Alice did in her quest through surreal locations and events.”

Alice’s many faces through the digital looking glass are a perfect opportunity to interrogate the construction of the “eBook.” I’ll use an exploratory digital journey akin to Alice’s own tumble to move through the adaptations as a conversation about the intervention of digital forms—both “born” and “born again” digital. The form is a response to Johanna Drucker’s provocation: “Can we create graphical interfaces and digital platforms from humanistic methods?”[7] I propose to build a hypertextual exploration of material from the archives juxtaposed with methods of digital interpretation borrowed from later adaptations, using the metaphor of the journey through text to ground the interface of study. How is the text itself transformed by its media context?

The final study will use HTML5, the Canvas, and JavaScript to situate the evolution of Alice and her journey of digitization. In its final form, it will be a nonlinear visual essay through approximately thirty short hypertext nodes, remediating materials from the archives alongside modern adaptations and original illustrations and interactive visualizations. The nonlinear format will encourage multiple paths of traversal reflecting the different critical lenses of study of and through the digital as well as through the layers of code—the rules that create the digital Wonderland. Formally, it will resemble the precedents set by electronic literature and hypertext scholarship, but with attention to the use of existing material linked to (and interrogating and further exposing) the context and procedures of the SobekCM-based digital archive. The work will be designed with responsive web design rules in mind, accessible using any computer, tablet, or mobile device, and accessible to an audience of digital humanities and new media scholars and students interested in further exploring the intersection of these disciplines. The flexibility afforded by web-scripting will also allow me to mimic the interactivity and playfulness of such adaptations as the Alice iPad app while peeling away through layers of rules to expose Wonderland.

The study itself will move through the formal/structural systems in which Alice’s identity is bound and interrogate how those systems have reconstructed Alice, beginning with Carroll’s carefully constrained manuscript and Tenniel’s original illustrations and moving through various revisions and adaptations. As I progress, I will consider not only the surface of the texts (the  visible illustrations and narrative) but also the underlying structures, whether in rules or in code, and use nonlinearity (and nonsense) to expose how Alice herself breaks and toys with the “rules” of her Wonderland. I feel that hypertext is appropriate for this play in part because its inherent simplicity is accompanied by a power of linking and exploration that we are still probing. As Mark Matienzo has observed, hypertext and its kin amount to “stories + data,” and provide a simple platform for the challenge of traveling in the spaces between linked and archived texts. Throughout, I will create different “portraits” of Alice in relationship to the text, images, and rules of each remediation; together, they tell the story of a multiplatform Alice and her many Wonderlands.



[1] McPherson, T. (2009). Introduction: Media Studies and the Digital Humanities. Cinema Journal 48, No 2, 119-123.

[2] Whitson, R., & Whittaker, J. (2012). William Blake and the Digital Humanities: Collaboration, Participation, and Social Media. New York: Routledge.

[3] Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality and Literacy. London: Routledge.

[4] Piper, A. (2012). Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

[5] Wang, Mou-Lan (2009). Generations of Re-generation: Re-creating Wonderland through Text, Illustrations and the Reader’s Hands. In C. Hollingsworth, Alice beyond Wonderland: Essays for the Twenty-First Century. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press.

[6] Danesi, Marcel (2002). The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

[7] Drucker, J. (2012). “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” In M. K. Gold, Debates in the Digital Humanities (pp. 85-95). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.