Scholars' Lab Blog //Zine-making as Critical DH Pedagogy
Blog //Zine-making as Critical DH Pedagogy

Last semester (sorry, this post is super late) during our pedagogy unit, I and my fellow Praxis fellows were tasked with creating our own digital humanities teaching workshops, with the challenge that the workshops use only pencil and paper, no digital technology, to complete. Our cohort’s ultimate objective for the year is to create an open educational resource (OER) to teach coding to humanists, and the pedagogy unit helped us identify the pedagogical approaches we want to bring to the project.

My own teaching philosophy is influenced by critical pedagogy theorists like Paolo Freire and bell hooks, who insist that learning must be a process of liberation that destabilizes hegemonic constructs including white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. There is a robust literature on how zines can be an excellent tool to engage critical pedagogy techniques in the classroom.1

My workshop will reflect these values by emphasizing the anti-capitalist ideologies shared by the field of digital humanities and the creative practice of zine-making. The digital humanities has created space to critique the academy, from its toxic work culture to its hesitation towards OER and open-access publishing and even the refusal in certain circles to accept the necessity of digital literacy in our contemporary world. DH is a big fan of the manifesto, emphasizes the use of open-source materials and supports the broader “open movement,” and even sometimes calls for subverting copyright restrictions and sabotaging traditional disciplines. Both zine makers and DH practitioners believe that information should be free and accessible, not hidden behind paywalls or in expensive textbooks. Zines are an excellent, hands-on tool to use to introduce people to the digital humanities and open-access publishing, while keeping the politics of the open movement at the forefront of the conversation.

Zines, short for “fanzines,” are self-made publications created to spread a message or unite a subculture. Some historians date the birth of zines to science fiction fandoms of the 1930s and 1940s, while others argue that radical political tracts dating back to the nineteenth century are clear ancestors to the political zines of the twentieth century (the UNC Chapel Hill Rare Book library’s blog has a great brief history of zines). Prior to the birth of the internet, zines were an important way for subcultures and niche groups to connect with each other and spread information. The classic zine is a handmade booklet reproduced using a mimeograph or copy machine, but zines have adapted to the digital age. To the surprise of some, physical zines remain popular, and libraries around the country offer zine-making workshops. Zine makers have also utilized technology to create digital zines that are distributed online. Printed zines can allow for greater anonymity in distribution and consumption and can reach different audiences than those curated by social media platforms. Many zine makers choose to do both, creating PDFs of zines that are posted to social media, organizations’ websites, or spaces like the Anarchist Library as well as printed and distributed IRL.

Zines comprise a major part of the archival research I am currently engaged in for my dissertation project on musical and politically radical subcultures in postindustrial Detroit. By emphasizing the ideas presented in zines produced by the punk and techno subcultures in Detroit during the 1980s and 1990s alongside those groups’ musical production, I argue that the suburban teenagers who reclaimed inner city Detroit’s abandoned spaces during a time many consider to be the city’s nadir period were not just artists but also intellectuals radically reimagining the American city. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s punks, anarchists, Black radicals, and techno artists leveraged the spaces abandoned by capital and the state and created a utopic vision of what a postindustrial city could be. Zines are one of the formats all these different groups used to articulate their visions.

The Workshop

My workshop asks participants to consider how they might invert power dynamics within the ivory tower by translating their research from a monograph or paper into a zine. The zine format illustrates a community-centered, anti-profit way of conceptualizing knowledge production. Zines take an explicit stance and make calls for action, while monographs and papers emphasize objectivity and rigor. Zines’ insistence on open and free distribution will trigger a discussion about the open movement and the broader implications of who should have to pay how much for accessing what kinds of knowledge.

In this workshop, participants will be given a brief introduction to the zine and then asked to consider how that medium could reshape their own research. For a group of graduate students or scholars, the workshop would ask participants to imagine how shifting a current research project from the medium of an article or monograph to a zine might alter their research. This would lead us to consider how radical praxes like zine-making could shift or disrupt the flow of information in academia. For a group of undergraduates, the prompt would ask participants to reconceptualize a final project for a class they are taking, from any subject or field, as a zine.

After attending the workshop, the participants would be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is a zine? Why do people make them?
  • What are some possibilities that could be opened up by distributing the knowledge circulated within academia in zine form?
  • How do zines disrupt power/control over information?
  • How to use simple tools to make a zine.

The workshop would begin with a brief overview of what zines are and how they fit into the world of digital humanities. I would show participants physical examples of paper zines as well as digital examples of zines from the Anarchist Library and the Internet Archive and then ask their initial impressions of the zines’ art and rhetoric.


  • How would you describe zines’ rhetorical style?
  • How would you describe zine art?
  • What do you think the purpose or goal of zines is? Why do people make these?
  • Why do you think zine creators eschew the idea of copyright and ownership over their work?
  • How are the zines we have looked at so far similar and different in terms of style, tone, objective?
  • What do you think some pros and cons are for creating and/or distributing zines physically versus digitally?

Then I would ask the participants to compare and contrast the zines examined to either academic work in their departments (grad students/academics) or typical final-project assignments (undergrads).


  • What might academic work look like if it was allowed to take the radical approach of zine creators?
  • Zines often call on their readers to take bold actions, what would scholars in your field like to ask their readers to do? (for academics)
  • What would you take away from your class differently if your final project was a zine rather than a paper or an exam? (for undergrads)

The meat of the workshop will consist of a pen-and-paper exercise in which participants “translate” their own work into a zine. Participants will be given paper, pens, and markers and free reign to do a rough mock-up of a zine version of a book, article, paper, or argument they are currently working on. Because time would be limited, this zine should be a mock-up or a map rather than a draft. For example, I would suggest that instead of attempting to draw a detailed diagram or image, the participants should quickly sketch an outline or even write “diagram of X here.” Participants could choose if they would rather flesh out a single page in detail or create a rough big picture of several pages in the allotted time. Physical copies of a variety of zines will be distributed on the tables as examples/inspiration.

I would write the following questions on a white board as participants begin making their rough copy zines:

  • What is a piece of information from your research that you would like to make broadly accessible in a zine format?
  • What argument do you want to make?
  • Do you want readers to take an action after reading your zine?
  • How would your language change vs. a traditional paper?
  • How would your conclusions change vs. a traditional paper?


In order to mitigate some of the anxiety that can accompany creative exercises (I honestly would not want anyone to see my attempts at drawing), no one would be asked to show their rough zine to the group. Instead, to conclude the workshop we would focus on having a conversation about the insights gained through the act of zine translation. First, we would discuss participant’s specific projects, then move to broader questions about the implications of using a form like the zine to share the knowledge gained in the academy.


  • How do you feel about your zine version of your work?
  • How did your language change?
  • How did your conclusions change?
  • What would the implications be for your research if your work was published in this way?
  • What kinds of information from your discipline could you disseminate in zines in order to make your discipline’s info more accessible?
  • How would your discipline/academia be different if it spread information in zines rather than monographs or articles?
  • What are the implications of taking a stance or making a strong argument in your work rather than attempting to be “objective”?

One of my major research preoccupations is how the imagination can be and has been a tool to shape history. I hope that participants in this workshop would take away an expanded imaginative sense for the possibilities that exist to produce and distribute knowledge, and that they feel empowered to share the knowledge they create using open access, do-it-yourself methods.

  1. Kimberly Creasap, “Zine-Making as Feminist Pedagogy,” Feminist Teacher 24, no. 3 (December 26, 2014),; Moshoula Capous Desyllas and Allison Sinclair, “Zine-Making as a Pedagogical Tool for Transformative Learning in Social Work Education.,” Social Work Education 33, no. 3 (April 1, 2014),; Gareth Dylan Smith, Michael Dines, and Tom Parkinson, eds. Punk Pedagogies: Music, Culture and Learning (Routledge, 2017) are a few of my favorite works on using zines as critical pedagogy, but there are lots more resources. 

Cite this post: Jacqui Sahagian. “Zine-making as Critical DH Pedagogy”. Published January 14, 2022. Accessed on .