Man in blue shirt and black jacket stands in front of a building.
Nicholaus Gutierrez is a new assistant professor of cinema and media studies at Wellesley.
Image credit: Nicholaus Gutierrez

Reimagining Digital Technologies: Meet New Professor Nicholaus Gutierrez

Habiba Choudhury ’22
March 17, 2022

When Nicholaus Gutierrez transferred from a community college to the College of William & Mary, he took his first film classes, inspiring an interest in the political and social impact of media and visual culture. This interest eventually took him to New York, where he earned a Master’s degree at NYU, and finally to UC Berkeley and the Bay Area, where his interest in media led him to explore alternative solutions to challenge existing social and political configurations by studying the history of virtual reality (VR). 

Gutierrez, assistant professor of cinema and media studies at Wellesley, is one of several new faculty staff the College has recently welcomed. To help Wellesley learn about these brilliant educators, we asked them to share a bit about themselves. 

This is the third in a series of five articles with new faculty members we’ll be featuring in the coming weeks (check out our previous conversations with Carolyn Anderson, assistant professor of computer science, and Kathya Landeros, Knafel Assistant Professor of Humanities and an assistant professor of art).

Habiba Choudhury: Welcome to Wellesley! What path led you here? 

Nicholaus Gutierrez: I am the first in my family to receive a B.A. I grew up in the Bay Area with a single mother, 35 minutes away from UC Berkeley, without the slightest clue that there was a world-class university nearby––or any university for that matter! I was not a dedicated student in high school, and so it wasn’t until I found myself at community college, trying to figure out what to do with my life, that I got serious about pursuing my intellectual interests. I eventually transferred to the College of William & Mary, received an M.A. at NYU, and ended up back in California, at UC Berkeley, which felt a bit like coming full circle. Berkeley prepared me in a lot of ways for life as an academic, because it emphasized the importance of the social mission of higher education. I think Wellesley shares that ethos, so I’ve been thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of this community.

Habiba Choudhury: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Nicholaus Gutierrez: Most people are surprised to learn that I don’t keep up with the latest film and television releases! Partly that is because it is hard for me to find time to watch the newest things between work and home life, but it’s also because I like to let the hype cycle pass—I find it easier to enjoy whatever I’m watching when there is some distance between it and the zeitgeist.

My goal is to make contributions to the curriculum that will help students to develop skills for media literacy and to think critically about digital technology.

Nicholaus Gutierrez, assistant professor of cinema and media studies

Habiba Choudhury: What are your goals at Wellesley? 

Nicholaus Gutierrez: In the short term, my biggest goal is to complete my book manuscript, which is on the history and historiography of VR (virtual reality) technology in the U.S. in the late 20th century. Right now there is a lot of discussion in popular culture about the “metaverse,” a way of imagining digital platforms as remediated spaces for social engagement. The language used to describe the metaverse is eerily similar to discussions of VR and “cyberspace” from the ’80s and ’90s, which imagined the remediation of “reality” itself through the computer. To me this is a sign that we are still imagining, and marketing, digital technologies in ways that make them seem magical or fantastical (yet somehow also “real”), rather than a global infrastructure of economic and social exchange. My hope is that the book will offer a perspective on the recent history of digital technologies that will encourage people to think in new ways about how we imagine what they are and what they do.

In the long term, one of the most exciting things about being in CAMS and art at Wellesley is having the opportunity to teach courses where students can work with and critically analyze media technologies that are both very old and very new. My goal is to make contributions to the curriculum that will help students to develop skills for media literacy and to think critically about digital technology.

Habiba Choudhury: Thank you for your thoughtful answers! Let’s wrap up with a few rapid-fire questions. What is your favorite winter comfort food?

Nicholaus Gutierrez: Lentil soup.

Habiba Choudhury: What is your favorite spot on Wellesley’s campus?

Nicholaus Gutierrez: My office in Jewett.

Habiba Choudhury: What music are you listening to right now?

Nicholaus Gutierrez: The Mosaic of Transformation by contemporary American composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith.

Habiba Choudhury: If you could have dinner with any person (living or dead), who would it be?

Nicholaus Gutierrez: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith!