Category > Audio/Video

“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.)

“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

“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).

“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.)

“Digital Humanities and Critical Infrastructure Studies.” DHU2 (2017 Digital Humanities Symposium Utah. University of Utah. 10 February 2017.

KCSB-FM Interview with Alan Liu on “The Importance of the Humanities.” Interview by KCSB-FM Associate News Director Kendra Lee. 11 August 2016. Santa Barbara/Mannheim.


“Against the Cultural Singularity: Digital Humanities and Critical Infrastructure Studies.” Workshop on “Frontiers of DH: Humanities Systems Infrastructure,” University of Canterbury. 12 November 2015. (Lecture delivered as part of a series in New Zealand during Fulbright Specialist residency at U. Canterbury, October-November, 2015.)

  • Abstract: Following up on the question asked in the title of his 2012 essay “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?”, Alan Liu will present drafts from a book that imagines modes of cultural criticism–in particular, critical infrastructure studies–appropriate and native to the digital humanities. His talk focuses on the role of technology infrastructure in (and between) neoliberalism’s major “knowledge work” institutions (including higher education). Can digital humanities research and development be redirected from being primarily instruments of institution work to becoming also ways to act on institutions and their wider social impact, in part through intelligent and ethical interventions in infrastructure? How do specifically digital humanities research and teaching infrastructures fit in that enterprise, which resembles but differs from “enterprise technology systems”?
  • Video Video of the lecture. (55 min.)


“Key Trends in Digital Humanities — How the Digital Humanities Challenge the Idea of the Humanities.” Digital Humanities at Claremont Colleges (DH@CC) Spring Symposium, Claremont Colleges. 18 February 2015.

  • Abstract: How do such key methods in the digital humanities 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.”
  • Storify of the talk and symposium.
  • Video Video of talk (videography by AJ Strout) (1 hr., 18 min.)


“Key Trends in Digital Humanities (and How the Digital Humanities Register Changes in the Humanities).” Center for the Humanities Digital Humanities lecture series, University of Miami. 25 September 2014.


“A story and statement about the importance of the humanities in today’s world by Alan Liu, an English professor who started out a chemistry major. Video created in connection with the DHMakerBus and 4Humanities “The Humanities Bus Tour” project, 2014.”

N. Katherine Hayles, “Interview with Alan Liu.” Online addendum to Hayles, How We Think for How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). Interview posted May 2013.


Publicity poster“The Meaning of the Digital Humanities.” Goldstone Lecture. New York University. 1 May 2013.

  • Video Video of talk (1 hr. 47 min.) [Talk presents a fuller version of the paper subsequently published in PMLA.]

“4Humanities: Values, Strategies, Technologies for Humanities Advocacy in the Digital Age.” University of Virginia. 17 April 2013.

Co-presented with Rama Hoetzlein. “History of Thought as a Networked Community: The RoSE Prototype.” University of Virginia. 16 April 2013.

  • Abstract: What if bibliographies of past authors and works could be modeled as a dynamic, evolving society linked to today’s scholars and students? What if scholars and students could add data about biographical, historical, and intellectual relationships to the bibliographical entries, thus using present-day crowdsourcing to make more socially meaningful the crowds of history? And what if visualizations could help us actively “storyboard” intellectual movements and not just spectate them? Alan Liu and Rama Hoetzlein present the conceptual framework and some of the discoveries and challenges of the RoSE Research-oriented Social Environment (in beta at the conclusion of a NEH Digital Humanities Start-up grant).
  • Sound file Podcast of talk. (1 hr, 7 min.)


“This is Not a Book: Transliteracies and Long Forms of Digital Attention.” Translittératies Conference, École normale supérieure de Cachan, Paris. 7 November 2012.

  • Abstract: This talk argues that in the digital age, the “book”–whether physical, digital, or in some other media—is only a metaphor for “long forms of shared attention.” The book dissolves into, but also persists in, slowly-changing networks of discourse that are “transliteracies” because they span across media, across networks, and across time. The talk concludes with examples of recent digital projects—including the RoSE (Research-oriented Social Environment) at University of California, Santa Barbara–that attempt to represent such long forms of shared digital attention.
  • Slides from talk
  • Video Video of Alan’s talk
  • Video Videos of other keynote talks


Liu Keynote Talk“Close, Distant, and Unexpected Reading: The Modern Paradigm of Literary Analysis.” Digital Humanities Australasia 2012 (inaugural conference of Australasian Association for Digital Humanities), Australian National University, Canberra. 28 March 2012.

VideoVideos of Keynote Presentations

    (3 hrs. 46 mins.)

    1. Julia Flanders, “Rethinking Collections” (0:0:0 to 0:47:00 | Q&A 0:47:01 to 1:14:39)
    2. Alan Liu, “Close, Distant, and Unexpected Reading” (1:14:40 to 2:12:00 | Q&A 2:12:01 to 2:29:35)
    3. Peter Robinson, Harold Short, John Unsworth – Panel on “Big Digital Humanities” (2:29:36 to 3:29:10 | Q&A 3:29:11 to 3:46:02)
  • Conference Program
  • Conference Photos


“UCSB English Professor Receives NEH Grant for Humanities Bibliographical Social Network” (press release on RoSE). 11 January 2012. UCSB Office of Public Affairs Press.


“Where Is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” (30-minute version). Digital Literacies panel. The Future University conference. Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge University. 2 July 2011.

“This is Not a Book: Long Forms of Shared Attention in the Digital Age.” Panel on “What is a Book?”, Unbound Book Conference, Central Library, Amsterdam, and Royal Library, The Hague. 20 May 2011.


“Cultural Criticism and the Digital Humanities: Alan Liu.” Interview by Janneke Adema for Culture Machine. 19 May 2011. Amsterdam.


Alan giving talk at HUMlab“Close, Distant, and Unexpected Reading: New Forms of Literary Reading in the Digital Age.” HUMlab, Umeå University, Sweden. 10 May 2011.


Poster for TILTS Symposium, U Texas Austin“The University in the Digital Age: The Big Questions.” Texas Institute of Literary and Textual Studies symposium on “Digital Humanities: Teaching and Learning.” University of Texas, Austin. 10 March 2011. (Talk presented via Skype.)


Interview by David Miller, Director, Center for Digital Humanities, University of South Carolina. 10 September 2010.


“From Reading to Social Computing.” Center for Digital Humanities, University of South Carolina. 9 September 2010.


“Strange Bookshelves.” Panel on “Humanities and Technology: The Past Ten Years, The Next Ten Years.” HumaniTech. University of California, Irvine. 19 May 2009.

“Peopling the Police: A Social Computing Approach to Information Authority in the Age of Web 2.0.” Center for Information Technology and Society (CITS). University of California, Santa Barbara. 21 February 2008.


“Knowledge 2.0? — The University and Web 2.0.” “Renewals” Conference. English Subject Centre. Royal Holloway, University of London. 6 July 2007.


Publicity Flyer for Lecture“Imagining the New Media Encounter.” Keynote lecture for “Interfaces and Visualizations: A State-of-the-Art Conference on the Humanities in Post-human Times” and Center for Advanced Study’s MillerComm Lecture Series. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 20 April 2007.

* Publicity flyer for lecture.
* Video Video of talk (1 hr 22 min.; RealVideo)
* Sound fileAudio only (1 hr 22 min.; RealAudio)


“Thinking Destruction: Creativity, Rational Choice, Emergence, and Destruction Theory.” Inaugural conference of the National Humanities Center initiative on “Autonomy, Singularity, Creativity: The Human and the Humanities.” National Humanities Center. Research Triangle, North Carolina. 10 November 2006.


Interview with Alan Liu conducted during the Pauley Symposium on “History in the Digital Age.” University of Nebraska—Lincoln. 22 September 2006.


Interview by Sue Thomas. Mapping the Transition from Page to Screen research project. trAce Online Writing Center. Nottingham Trent University, UK. October 2002.


Interview. Center for Information Technology (CITS). University of California, Santa Barbara. 20 August 2001.

  • VideoVideo (3 min. 30 sec., MP4)


“The Tribe of Cool: Information Culture and History.” Keynote address. Association for Computers and the Humanities & Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing (ACH-ALLC) conference. New York University. 16 June 2001.