Category > Essays

Citation: Alan Liu, “Messages and Values ??in the Age of Machine Learning: From Postcards to Social Media,” Prace Kulturoznawcze 26, no. 4 (2023): 125–29,

  • Excerpt (first paragraphs):
    If Stanislaw Pietraszko were to update his essay “Messages and Values” today, would he write about social media instead of postcards?
    Superficially, the analogy between postcards and social media seems unavoidable. After all, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media transmit short messages of text, images, and/or videos characterized by the same feature that Pietraszko noticed distinguishes postcards from letters: “the public availability of the verbal text” (and other content). One can assume, then, that Pietraszko and other scholars of the “axiosemiotics” of the postcard such as Zdzislaw W?sik would today also wish to discuss social media forms whose “excessive” and “redundant” performativity (to use Pietraszko’s terms) make them objects not just of information but also, and often primarily, of culture. After all, the visual “filters” that users frequently apply to their Instagram or TikTok posts are perfect examples of such excess or redundancy. There is almost no informational and only cultural value, for instance, in making oneself look like a cat.
    Yet one doubts that Pietraszko would have been content with just a superficial comparison of postcards to social media. His theoretical analysis was systemic in its aims, focusing on postcards to formulate a general relation between “messages and values” based on the difference between the semiotic function of information and the axiological values of culture. One surmises that today Pietraszko would want to pursue the same kind of systemic analysis by looking deeper into the systems of information and culture behind social media—a level of analysis, however, that poses challenges to his axiosemiotic approach.
  • Excerpt (last paragraph):
    “Culture … is neither communication nor information,” Pietraszko wished to believe. But for those working in data science now, the challenge is that communication and information are saturated by cultural values that cannot be partitioned off. Reciprocally, for those working in cultural studies, the challenge is that cultural values increasingly are fused to the instrumental functions of communication and information (as when a “like” in social media is exploited by the system to promote an advertisement). Instrumental functions cannot be compartmentalized from values because in the final analysis the very concept of instrumentality or functionality (and its underlying logics of cause and effect) are changing. Functionalism now incorporates probabilistic operations of predictive modeling that—as technology companies like to say—“just work,” but work in semiotically non-understandable ways that perhaps most resemble how culture works.


Citation:”Data Moves: Libraries and Data Science Workflows.” Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age. Ed. Susan Mizruchi. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020: 211-219.

  • Abstract: Library-based collections and repositories are today advancing well beyond accumulating resources in digital form for the purposes of searching, reading, and other primary access. New advances toward treating collections as “always already data” facilitate next-generation computational uses of digitized materials—for example, treating collections as datasets for advanced datamining analysis.
            In considering how library collections can serve as data for a variety of data ingestion, transformation, analysis, reproduction, presentation, and circulation purposes, it may be useful to compare examples of data workflows across disciplines to identify common data-analysis “moves” as well as points in the data trajectory that are especially in need of library support because they are for a variety of reasons brittle. Drawing on the precedent of so-called in silico science—which has had a ten-year start on developing methods and standards for tracking the provenance of data, annotating and visualizing data analysis workflows for reproducibility, and comparing data workflows in different fields—Liu argues that other disciplines such as the humanities and social sciences can exploit today’s library data collections in similar ways. The goal is twofold: first, open, shareable, and reproducible data scholarship, and second, higher or meta-level analysis of such scholarship. For example, might methods for comparing data workflows in the sciences (seeing, e.g., how astrophysics compares with medical science in using data) be extended across the disciplines to the digital humanities, digital arts, and digital social sciences? Beyond borrowing science data paradigms for other disciplines, Liu also thinks in the reverse direction. He draws on the twentieth-century tradition of literary and ethnographical analysis—for example, the idea of the narrative “motif” or “move” (in the Russian: mov)—to suggest that humanities and social science approaches to data workflows are just as crucial as scientific ones. After all, however one analyzes data (and in which field), one ultimately has to tell the story of that workflow and its results. That puts the problem squarely in the domain of narrative motifs and moves, which Liu argues can be matched to data workflow moves.


Citation:“Toward a Diversity Stack: Digital Humanities and Diversity as Technical Problem.” PMLA 135.1 (2020): 130-151.

  • DOI: 10.1632/pmla.2020.135.1.130.
  • Open access (post-embargo published version in institutional repository, PDF) [TBD]
  • Paywalled (published version, PDF)
  • Abstract: How can the digital humanities help support humanities scholarship on diversity both ideologically and technically? This essay abandons the diversity paradigm prevalent in DH—the “big tent”—for a more technically functional one: the “stack.” It proposes that DH can create a “diversity stack” (conceptually like the “Internet protocol stack”) that combines technical and theoretical strategies for advancing scholarship on diversity. From low to high, crucial levels in such a stacked approach include technical methods for dealing with multilingualism, multimedia, unrepresentative corpora, geopolitical and temporal organizations of identity, and the theory of identity.


Citation:“Teaching ‘Literature+’: Digital Humanities Hybrid Courses in the Era of MOOCs.” Teaching Literature: Text and Dialogue in the English Classroom. Ed. Ben Knights. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017: 133-153.


Citation:”Hacking the Voice of the Shuttle: The Growth and Death of a Boundary Object.” Social Media Archeology and Poetics. Ed. Judy Malloy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016: 261-271.

  • Full text (open-access author’s pre-copy-edited final version in institutional repository, PDF)


Citation:“Is Digital Humanities a Field? — An Answer from the Point of View of Language.” Journal of Siberian Federal University: Humanities and Social Sciences 7 (2016): 1546-1552.


"N + 1: A Plea for Cross-Domain Data in the Digital Humanities"

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Citation:”N + 1: A Plea for Cross-Domain Data in the Digital Humanities.” Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. Ed. Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein. University of Minnesota Press, 2016: 559-568.


"The Humanities in the Digital Age"

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Citation: Liu, Alan, and William G. Thomas III. “Humanities in the Digital Age.” Between Humanities and the Digital. Ed. Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015: 45-40.

"The Big Bang of Online Reading"

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Citation:”The Big Bang of Online Reading.” Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theories. Ed. Paul Longley Arthur and Katherine Bode. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014: 274-90.

  • DOI of book: 10.1057/9781137337016
  • Full text (open-access author’s pre-copy-edited final version in institutional repository, PDF)

Citation: Scott Pound and Alan Liu, “The Amoderns: Reengaging the Humanities — A Feature Interview with Alan Liu.” aModern, 2 (2013).


"The Meaning of the Digital Humanities"

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Citation: “The Meaning of the Digital Humanities.” PMLA 128 (2013): 409-23.

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Citation: “From Reading to Social Computing.” Literary Studies in the Digital Age: An Evolving Anthology. Ed. Kenneth M. Price and Ray Siemens. MLA Commons. Modern Language Association of America. 2013. Web. <>

Citation: “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012: 490-509.


Citation: “Translitteraties: le big bang de la lecture en ligne.” Trans. Françoise Bouillot. E-Dossiers de l’audiovisuel, January 2012. INA Expert (Inathèque of France). Web.

  • Full text (open access published version in institutional repository, PDF)
  • Full text (open access publisher’s version, HTML)


Citation: “The State of the Digital Humanities: A Report and a Critique.” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 11.1-2 (2012): 8-41. DOI: 10.1177/1474022211427364.

  • Open access (author’s pre-publication final version in institutional repository, viewable online and downloadable as PDF)
  • Paywalled (published version, PDF)


Citation: “Friending the Past: The Sense of History and Social Computing.” New Literary History, 42.1 (2011): 1-30. DOI: 10.1353/nlh.2011.0004

  • Open access (published article in institutional repository, viewable online and downloadable as PDF)
  • Paywalled (published version, PDF)
"So What?: New Tools and New Humanities Paradigms"

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Citation: “‘So What?’: New Tools and New Humanities Paradigms.” Response to Monica Bulger, Jessica Murphy, Jeff Scheible, and Elizabeth Lagresa, “Interdisciplinary Knowledge Work: Digital Textual Analysis Tools and Their Collaboration Affordances.” Collaborative Approaches to the Digital in English Studies. Ed. Laura McGrath. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press / Utah State University Press, 2011. 272-75. (Available online.)

"We Will Really Know"

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Citation: “We Will Really Know.” Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and Arts. Ed. Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. 89-94.

Citation: “The End of the End of the Book: Dead Books, Lively Margins, and Social Computing.” Michigan Quarterly Review, 48 (2009): 499-520. Special issue on “Bookishness: The New Fate of Reading in the Digital Age”

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Citation: “Thinking Destruction: Creativity, Rational Choice, Emergence, and Destruction Theory.” Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities, 1.1 (October 15, 2009). <>

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Citation: “Digital Humanities and Academic Change.” English Language Notes 47 (2009): 17-35

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Citation: “A Poem Should Be Equal To: / Not True.” Preface to Romanticism, History, Historicism: Essays on an Orthodoxy. Ed. Damian Walford Davies. New York: Routledge, 2009. xiii-xx

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Citation: “When Was Linearity?: The Meaning of Graphics in the Digital Age.” Digital History. Web. August, 2008. <>

Currents in Electronic LiteracyCitation: “Literature+.” Currents in Electronic Literacy (Spring 2008). <>

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Companion to Digital Literary StudiesCitation: “Imagining the New Media Encounter.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Ed. Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007. 3-25

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Citation: “Higher Education and Online Lifelong Learning: Five Theses.” Academy Exchange, Issue 6 (Summer 2007): 34-35.Five Theses

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Citation: “The Humanities: A Technical Profession.” Andrew Delbanco, Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Alan Liu, and Catharine R. Stimpson, The Idea and Ideals of the University. ACLS Occasional Paper No. 63, 2007.

[Note: This paper was first presented as a talk at the Annual Meeting of the ACLS, 8 May 2004, then revised slightly for publication in 2007 in the ACLS Occasional Papers online series. Though this revision stays close to the talk, it adopts some of the changes made for the first published essay version of the paper: the 2005 article (also titled “The Humanities: A Technical Profession”) in Teaching, Technology, Textuality: Approaches to New Media, ed. Michael Hanrahan and Deborah Madsen (Basingstoke [England]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005): 11-26.]

(For an excerpt, see the entry for the above mentioned, closely similar, 2005 article.)

Citation: “Understanding Knowledge Work.” Criticism 47 (2005): 249-60. Essay written as invited response to Johanna Drucker’s and N. Katherine Hayles’s reviews in the same issue of Criticism of The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information

  • Full text — HTML | .pdf (Project Muse)
  • Full text of the reviews of The Laws of Cool to which this essay responds (Project Muse):
    • N. Katherine Hayles, “Attacking the Borg of Corporate Knowledge Work: The Achievement of Alan Liu’s The Laws of Cool” — HTML | .pdf
    • Johanna Drucker, “Humanities Games and the Market in Digital Futures” — HTML | .pdf

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Citation: “A Transformed Revolution: The Prelude, Books 9-13.” William Wordsworth’s “The Prelude”: A Casebook. Ed. Stephen Gill. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 341-75.

[Excerpt from chapter 8 of Wordsworth: The Sense of History.]


Citation: “The Humanities: A Technical Profession.” Teaching, Technology, Textuality: Approaches to New Media. Ed. Michael Hanrahan and Deborah Madsen. Basingstoke [England]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 11-26.

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Citation: “The New Historicism and the Work of Mourning.” The Wordsworthian Enlightenment: Romantic Poetry and the Ecology of Reading. Ed. Helen Regueiro Elam and Frances Ferguson. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. 149-57.

[Reprint of “The New Historicism and the Work of Mourning,” Studies in Romanticism 35 (1996): 553-62.]


Citation: “Transcendental Data: Toward A Cultural History and Aesthetics of the New Encoded Discourse.” Critical Inquiry 31 (2004): 49-84.

  • DOI: 10.1086/427302
  • Full text (post-embargo published version in institutional repository, PDF)
  • Full text (paywalled, Jstor)
  • Full text (paywalled, Univ. of Chicago Press Journals)

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Citation: “Sidney’s Technology: A Critique by Technology of Literary History.” Acts of Narrative. Ed. Carol Jacobs and Henry Sussman. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003. 174-94.

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Citation: “Remembering the Spruce Goose: Historicism, Postmodernism, Romanticism.” South Atlantic Quarterly 102 (2003): 263-78.

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Citation: “The Future Literary: Literature and the Culture of Information.” Time and the Literary. Ed. Karen Newman, Jay Clayton, and Marianne Hirsch. New York: Routledge, 2002. 61-100.

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Citation: “Knowledge in the Age of Knowledge Work.” Profession 1999: 113-24.

  • Also available online.
  • See also: Alan Liu, “Reply” to letter from William Pitsenberger regarding “Knowledge in the Age of Knowledge Work.” Profession 2000: 186-88.

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Citation: “The Downsizing of Knowledge: Knowledge Work and Literary History.” Abridged and edited by Randolf Starn. In Alan Liu, Miryam Sas, Albert Ascoli, and Sharon Marcus. Knowledge Work, Literary History, and the Future of Literary Studies. Ed. Randolf Starn. Doreen B. Townsend Center Occasional Papers, No. 15. Berkeley, Calif.: Townsend Center, 1998. 1-22.

[Includes response essays by Miryam Sas, Albert Ascoli, and Sharon Marcus to the original paper delivered at the Townsend Center on March 12, 1998.]

  • Full text of pamphlet (.pdf)

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Citation: “Globalizing the Humanities: ‘The Voice of the Shuttle: Web Page for Humanities Research.'” Humanities Collections 1.1 (1998): 41-56.

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Citation: “The New Historicism and the Work of Mourning.” Studies in Romanticism 35 (1996): 553-62.

[Special issue of Studies in Romanticism entitled “Essays in Honor of Geoffrey H. Hartman.” Guest editor Helen Regueiro Elam.]

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Citation: “The History in ‘Imagination.” Romanticism: A Critical Reader. Ed. Duncan Wu. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. 84-119.

[Reprint of chapter 1 of Wordsworth: The Sense of History.]