Bethany Nowviskie

  • Published: May 4th, 2014
  • Category: design

anthropocene abstract

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I am deeply honored to have been invited to give a plenary lecture at this year’s Digital Humanities conference, planned for Lausanne, Switzerland in early July. My fellow keynoters are Bruno Latour, Sukanta Chaudhuri, and Ray Siemens, who will receive ADHO‘s Zampolli Prize. This is quite a line-up! I’m not nervous at all. Why do you ask?

Now that I’ve provided an abstract for the talk, I thought I’d share it here. My subject is Digital Humanities in the Anthropocene:

This will be a practitioner’s talk, and—though the abstract belies it—an optimistic one. I take as given the evidence that human beings are irrevocably altering the conditions for life on Earth and that, despite certain unpredictabilities, we live at the cusp of a mass extinction. What is the place of digital humanities practice in the new social and geological era of the Anthropocene? What are the DH community’s most significant responsibilities, and to whom? This talk will position itself in deep time, but strive for a foothold in the vital here-and-now of service to broad publics. From the presentist, emotional aesthetics of Dark Mountain to the arms-length futurism of the Long Now, I’ll dwell on concepts of graceful degradation, preservation, memorialization, apocalypse, ephemerality, and minimal computing. I’ll discuss digital recovery and close reading of texts and artifacts—like the Herculaneum papyri—once thought lost forever, and the ways that prosopography, graphesis, and distant reading open new vistas on the longue durée. Can DH develop a practical ethics of resilience and repair? Can it become more humane while working at inhuman scales? Can we resist narratives of progress, and still progress? I wish to open community discussion about the practice of DH, and what to give, in the face of a great hiatus or the end of it all.

The talk will likely be recorded at the event and later published in one of the ADHO journals, but I will also (as usual) post the text here after I deliver it. You’ll see hints at my reading on the subject in the abstract above—from Jo Guldi and David Armitage to Steven J. Jackson, Rebecca Solnit, Shiv Visvanathan, Bruno Latour, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Timothy Morton, Susie O’Brien, Brian Lennon, Eileen Crist, and more, including a number of institutional and collective projects—but I welcome messages pointing me at things you suspect I’ll miss.

until the government re-opens


The email pasted below announces cancellation — due to the current, ridiculous US government shutdown — of a meeting that would have provided excellent professional development, project development, and academic networking opportunities for scholars awarded highly-competitive grants for digital projects by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Staff of the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities could not even send this message themselves, as farcical political brinkmanship has locked them out of their offices and email accounts.

I have attended and benefited from NEH ODH Project Directors’ Meetings in the past, and one of my staff members was set to represent the Scholars’ Lab’s current “Speaking in Code” grant at the event this Friday. These meetings help to create a more thoughtful and better-connected community of American scholar-practitioners of the digital humanities. They’re smart, these meetings. They are good business. Through an investment in building up the people who do the scholarly work, these meetings help the NEH to maximize (already too-small) investments American taxpayers have made in the Endowment itself — which is to say, they maximize the NEH’s contribution to education and research in fields like history, literature, anthropology, and foreign languages, and in the public humanities, in opening up the richness of our increasingly digital/digitized cultural heritage to broad and diverse audiences. This email, canceling Friday’s meeting, represents a wasted opportunity for NEH-funded scholars and ultimately for the publics their grant-supported projects serve.

But it also represents just one tiny example of government waste created by one faction of one political party unable to accept that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Read the rest of this entry »

Creative Commons License This site uses a heavily modified version of Bryan Helmig's Magatheme. Work at by Bethany Nowviskie is always CC-BY. Want to know why? The falling letters are by Wayne Graham. He kindly made them to replace a set I designed in Flash in the late 1990s and had in place for more than 17 years. Not a bad run! Ave atque vale.