Reconstitute the World: Machine-reading Archives of Mass Extinction

Date: 4 June 2018
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: UVA Special Collections
Lecturer: Bethany Nowviskie - Executive Director, Digital Library Federation (DLF) at CLIR; Research Associate Professor of Digital Humanities, University of Virginia

The basic constitution—the make-up—of our cultural heritage collections becomes vastly more important in the face of two understandings: first, that we assemble them at the end of things—that archives of modernity are archives of the sixth great mass extinction of life on our planet; and next, that we no longer steward them for human readers alone. In the same way that we people are shaped by what we read, hear, and see, the machine readers that will follow us into and perhaps beyond the Anthropocene have begun to learn from “unsupervised” encounters with our digital libraries. What will we preserve for the living generations and artificial intelligences that will come? What textual, embodied, and indigenous understandings do we neglect, or choose to extinguish? And from an elegiac archive, a library of endings, can we create forward-looking, speculative collections—collections from which to deep-dream new futures? The most extra/ordinary power we possess is the power to make poetry from records of the past. Will it be called on, one day, to reconstitute the world?