“Dialogue between Alan Liu (UC Santa Barbara), Tim Hitchcock (U. Sussex), and Jessica Otis (George Mason U.).” Fourth Annual Conference on Digital Humanities and Digital History at the German Historical Institute. Washington, D.C., 12 October 2019.
“Humans in the Loop: Humanities Hermeneutics and Machine Learning.” Keynote for DHd2020 (7th Annual Conference of the German Society for Digital Humanities), University of Paderborn, 6 March 2020.
- Abstract: As indicated by the exciting new field of “interpretability studies” in artificial intelligence research, contemporary machine learning and data science create fundamental problems of interpretation. These issues of “explainability” are related to changing, computationally-inflected, and often antithetical views of knowledge as both generalizable and domain-specific, abstract (a “model”) and experiential (a “ground truth”), supervised and unsupervised, and open and reproducible. Perhaps the least understood dimension of machine learning is the “human in the loop” problem: how humans can or should engage sociologically, ethnographically, politically, institutionally, ethically, and hermeneutically in the processes of machine learning. In philosophical terms, how does the “hermeneutical circle” affect the human in the loop?
In this talk, Alan Liu uses the example of the “interpretation protocol” for topic models he is developing for the Mellon Foundation funded WhatEvery1Says project (which is text-analyzing millions of newspaper articles mentioning the humanities) to reflect on how humanistic traditions of interpretation might contribute to machine learning. Reversing this direction of thought, he also reflects on how machine learning might change the understanding of humanistic interpretation itself through fresh ideas about the relation between wholes and parts, similarity and difference, and “representations” and “models.”
“Critical Infrastructure Studies — A Primer.” University of Texas at Austin, 4 September 2019.
- Abstract: What have been the main approaches to the study of infrastructure that now combine to make the topic of such compelling socio-political, technological, media-informatic, cultural, historical, and artistic interest across the disciplines? In this talk, Alan Liu provides an introduction to “critical infrastructure studies,” focusing on why multi-disciplinary perspectives–sometimes tensely divergent in their premises even when converging to make, for example, a “bridge” or a “barrier”–are needed to imagine good infrastructure as the foundation for “good systems.” In the case of the University of Texas “Bridging Barriers” Grand Challenges initiative, for example, how many different ways are there to understand what a bridge or a barrier is good for (and for whom)?
- Citations for the works in the “primer” included in the talk: bit.ly/cistudies-primer
“What Infrastructure Assumes: Digital Humanities and Critical Infrastructure Studies.” U. Guelph, 7 March 2019.
“Digital Humanities Learning Goals for Undergraduates.” U. Colorado, Boulder, 22 February 2019.
“What Infrastructure Assumes: Digital Humanities and Critical Infrastructure Studies.” The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY), 15 February 2019.
“Critical Infrastructure Studies — A Primer.” Initial talk of a pair of presentations by Alan Liu and James Smithies. Humanities Research Center, Rice University, 24 January 2019.
“The WhatEvery1Says Project — An Overview.” Panel on the WhatEvery1Says Project, U. Miami, 17 January, 2019.
“‘Humanities digital cultural tools . . . technology computing culture society’ — James Smithies’s The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern.” Book Launch for James Smithies’s The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern, King’s College, London, 29 March 2018.
“Scoping Critical Infrastructure Studies.” Critical Infrastructures Studies Seminar, King’s College, London, 29 March 2018.
“Open and Reproducible Workflows for the Digital Humanities–A 10,000 Meter Elevation View.” Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries Convention 2018. University of Helsinki, 7 March 2018.
- Abstract: Can digital humanities projects that collect, analyze, and interpret texts and other materials make their provenance and data workflows transparent to others for reproduction or adaptation? How can the digital humanities learn from the workflow management systems of the “in silico” sciences? And how should they be different from the sciences? Ultimately, what is the combined humanistic and scientific meaning of open research—epistemological, infrastructural, institutional, and sociocultural–to which DH contributes? Extrapolating from the example of the “WhatEvery1Says” (WE1S) project, which he directs, Alan Liu offers a general humanistic vision of open, reproducible workflows for the digital humanities.
- Video of this keynote talk (35 min.) taken from the audience by Timo Honkela (@THonkela).
“Introduction to Critical Infrastructure Studies.” Panel on Critical Infrastructure Studies, Modern Language Association convention, New York, 6 January 2018.
- Full-text of this introduction prepared in advance on Web site for the MLA session (minor additions at the event).
“Digital Humanities Diversity as Technical Problem.” Modern Language Association convention, New York, 5 January 2018.
- Excerpt: “Among other things, in other words, diversity is a technical problem. What’s next is for DH to help make advances in the technical platforms and methods for understanding–and also changing our understanding–of diversity née variety (two words with a common root but increasingly different meanings). That will require collaborating with the social sciences, information science, computer science, in silico STEM sciences, non-profits such as DataKind and ProPublica, and also Silicon Valley industry to foster a virtuous circle in which technical innovation drives the understanding of diversity, and the understanding of diversity drives technical innovation. Inasmuch as DH has a unique, as opposed to follow-on, contribution to make to cultural criticism (about which I asked some years ago), I think the techne of diversity may be it.”
“What Infrastructure Assumes.” The Futures of Literature, Science, and Media: A Symposium Honoring Professor N. Katherine Hayles. Duke University. 17 November 2017.
- Abstract: In this talk, Alan Liu sketches the context and current methods of “critical infrastructure studies,” then proposes a “verb first” way of discussing infrastructure that rethinks the nature of infrastructural agency and its mode of “being” in the world. Infrastructure is assumed, but it also assumes.
“WhatEvery1Says About the Humanities.” Panel on “What Crisis?: Mobilizing the Humanities Through Data.” National Humanities Conference, 3 November 2017, Boston.
“Overview: Open, Shareable, Reproducible Workflows for the Digital Humanities.” Panel on “Open, Shareable, Reproducible Workflows for the Digital Humanities: The Case of the 4Humanities.org ‘WhatEvery1Says’ Project.” Digital Humanities 2017 conference, 11 August 2017, Montreal.
“Critical Infrastructure Studies.” University of Wroclaw. 28 June 2017.
- Abstract: In an era when complexly “smart” and hybrid material-virtual infrastructures ranging from the micro to the macro scale seem to obviate older distinctions between material base and cultural superstructure, how can the digital humanities and new media studies join in an emergent “critical infrastructure studies”? What are the traditions of such studies? What is the topic’s scope? What are some especially high-value areas for intervention by digital humanists and new media scholars/artists? And how can digital scholars in the humanities and arts collaborate with digital social scientists taking up similar matters? In this seminar, Alan Liu will lead a seminar among participants that considers the question: is critical infrastructure studies today’s distinctive mode of “cultural criticism”? (Participants are asked to read a pre-circulated paper by Liu titled “Toward Critical infrastructure Studies: Digital Humanities, New Media Studies, and the Culture of Infrastructure.”)
“Key Trends in the Digital Humanities — How the Digital Humanities Challenge the Idea of the Humanities.” WRO Art Center, Wroclaw, Poland. 27 June 2017.
- Abstract: How do key methods in the digital humanities such as data mining, mapping, visualization, social network analysis, and topic modeling make an essential difference in the idea of the humanities, and vice versa? Using examples of digital humanities research, Alan Liu speculates on the large questions that confront the humanities in the face of computational media–most importantly, questions about the nature and function of interpretive “meaning.”
“Open, Shareable, Reproducible Workflows for the Digital Humanities: The Case of the 4Humanities.org ‘WhatEvery1Says’ Project.” University of Sussex. 29 March 2017.
- Abstract: Can digital humanities projects that collect, analyze, and interpret texts and other materials make their provenance and workflow transparent to others? Can such workflows be shared for reproduction or adaptation? How can the digital humanities learn from the workflow management systems of the “in silico” sciences? And how in this regard should they be different from the sciences? Using as example the in-progress “WhatEvery1Says” (WE1S) project he leads (which is topic modeling articles mentioning the humanities in newspapers), Alan Liu offers a general vision of open, shareable, and reproducible workflows for the digital humanities. He also speculates on what is at stake from the viewpoint of humanists more broadly.
“Toward Critical infrastructure Studies: Digital Humanities, New Media Studies, and the Culture of Infrastructure.” University of Connecticut, Storrs. 23 February 2017.
- Abstract: In an era when complexly “smart” and hybrid material-virtual infrastructures ranging from the micro to the macro scale seem to obviate older distinctions between material base and cultural superstructure, how can the digital humanities and new media studies join in an emergent “critical infrastructure studies”? What are the traditions of such studies? What is the topic’s scope? What are some especially high-value areas for intervention by digital humanists and new media scholars/artists? And how can digital scholars in the humanities and arts collaborate with digital social scientists taking up similar matters? In this keynote talk, Alan Liu considers the hypothesis that today’s “cultural studies” is a mode of critical infrastructure studies.
- Video of lecture with introductions and Q & A (slides not shown) (1hr, 32 min.)
“‘Wild Surmise’: How Humanists and Artists Discovered the Internet at UCSB, c. 1994 — An Origins Story.” University Library, UC Santa Barbara. 13 June 2017.
- Abstract: How did humanities and arts computing start at UCSB in the era of the beginning of the Web? How did our campus become one of the early leaders in scholarly use and study of the Internet by humanists? In this talk, Alan Liu provides a glimpse of the origin of his Voice of the Shuttle Web site for humanities research, the UCSB Many Wolves Authoring Collective, the Ultrabasic Guide to the Internet for Humanities Users at UCSB, the original Humanitas.ucsb.edu server, the first department-based server in the humanities, and other greatest hits of the very, very early online era at UCSB. What did the world look like in 1994 from the perspective of humanists browsing on a 2400-baud modem with Lynx and Mosaic?
“The Digital Humanities: A Window on Tomorrow’s Structures of Humanities Knowledge.” Mellon Foundation, New York City. 2 November 2016.