Digital Humanities in the Anthropocene

Author:Nowviskie, Bethany, Dean's Office, Arts and SciencesUniversity of Virginia

This keynote address for the 2014 Digital Humanities conference is 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 (DH) 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 positions itself in deep time, but strives 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 dwell on concepts of graceful degradation, preservation, memorialization, apocalypse, ephemerality, and minimal computing. I discuss digital recovery and close reading of texts and artifacts 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.

anthropocene, digital humanities, extinction, death, climate change, futurism, mourning, technology
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Source Citation:

Nowviskie, Bethany. "Digital Humanities in the Anthropocene." Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 30.3 (2015). Available: ISSN:1477-4615, [""].

Oxford University Press (OUP)
Published Date:

This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in DSH (formerly LLC) following peer review. The version of record is available online at: This version has been embargoed from open access for Oxford Journals' standard period of 24 months. However, an open-access transcript of the keynote as delivered at DH 2014 -- along with links to slides and an audio reading by the author, and to a translation of the talk into Spanish by Alex Gil -- has long been available here:

This work has passed a peer-review process.