2020

Friending the Past: The Sense of History in the Digital Age — A Virtual Talk (UCSB History Dept.)

“Friending the Past: The Sense of History in the Digital Age — A Virtual Talk.” History Department, U. California, Santa Barbara (4 May 2020, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time) (Zoom meeting information sent after request through this form.)

    • Abstract: Can today’s society, increasingly captivated by a constant flow of information, share a sense of history? How did our media-making forebears balance the tension between the present and the absent, the individual and the collective, the static and the dynamic—and how do our current digital networks disrupt these same balances? Can our social media, with its fleeting nature, even be considered social at all? In Friending the Past, Alan Liu proposes fresh answers to these innovative questions of connection. He explores how we can learn from the relationship between past societies whose media forms fostered a communal and self-aware sense of history. Interlaced among these inquiries, Liu shows how extensive ‘network archaeologies’ can be constructed as novel ways of thinking about our affiliations with time and with each other.
    • Video Video recording of this talk (47 min.)
2020
Upcoming

“Critical Infrastructure Studies — A Primer” (Furman U.)

“Critical Infrastructure Studies — A Primer.” Furman University [originally scheduled for 16 March 2020 but cancelled; to be resscheduled].

  • 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
2020
Keynote

“Humans in the Loop: Humanities Hermeneutics and Machine Learning” (DHd2020 Conference)

“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 emergent research fields of computational “interpretability” and “explainability,” machine learning creates fundamental hermeneutical problems. One of the least understood aspects of machine learning is how humans learn from machine learning. How does an individual, team, organization, or society “read” computational “distant reading” when it is performed by complex algorithms on immense datasets? Can methods of interpretation familiar to the humanities (e.g., traditional or poststructuralist ways of relating the general and the specific, the abstract and the concrete, the structure and the event, or the same and the different) be applied to machine learning? Further, can such traditions be applied with the explicitness, standardization, and reproducibility needed to engage meaningfully with the different Spielräum – scope for “play” (as in the “play of a rope,” “wiggle room,” or machine-part “tolerance”) – of computation? If so, how might that change the hermeneutics of the humanities themselves?
    In his keynote lecture, Alan Liu uses the example of the formalized “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 can contribute to machine learning. But he also suggests how machine learning changes humanistic interpretation through fresh ideas about wholes and parts, mimetic representation and probabilistic modeling, and similarity and difference (or identity and culture).
  • Video Video of lecture
2020
2019
2019

“Critical Infrastructure Studies — A Primer” (U. Texas at Austin)

“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
2019
2019
2019
2019
2019
2018
Keynote
2018
Seminar
2018
2018
2018
Keynote

“Open and Reproducible Workflows for the Digital Humanities–A 10,000 Meter Elevation View” (Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries convention, 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 Video of this keynote talk (35 min.) taken from the audience by Timo Honkela (@THonkela).
2018
2018

“Digital Humanities Diversity as Technical Problem” (MLA Convention, New York, 2018)

“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.”
2017

“What Infrastructure Assumes” (Duke U.)

“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.
2017
2017
2017

“Critical Infrastructure Studies” (U. Wroclaw)

“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.”)
2017

“Key Trends in the Digital Humanities — How the Digital Humanities Challenge the Idea of the Humanities” (U. Wroclaw)

“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.”
Talk at WRO Art Center, Wroclaw   Talk at WRO Art Center, Wroclaw   With (left to right) Dorota Wolska, Alexandra Kil, and Jacek Ma?czy?ski of the University of Wroclaw's Laboratory of Contemporary Humanities (in the Department of Cultural Studies
2017

“Open, Shareable, Reproducible Workflows for the Digital Humanities: The Case of the 4Humanities.org ‘WhatEvery1Says’ Project” (U. Sussex)

“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.
2017

“Toward Critical infrastructure Studies: Digital Humanities, New Media Studies, and the Culture of Infrastructure” (U. Connecticut)

“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 Video of lecture with introductions and Q & A (slides not shown) (1hr, 32 min.)