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  • The Digital Anthropocene, Deep Mapping, and Environmental Humanities' Big Data
  • Charles Travis (bio)

Over the past two hundred years, the development of the steam engine, the mass burning of coal during the Industrial Revolution, the detonation of the atomic bomb in 1945, and global carbon dioxide emissions over the last half century are all manifestations of human-technological agencies that have culminated into a cultural crisis ushering us out of the Holocene and into the Anthropocene. As we advance into the twenty-first century, our use of social media, smartphones and smart-watches, X-Boxes, tablets, and laptops have transformed us into living, breathing remote sensors and unwitting environmental actors. We are now spawning digital wildfires; churning out oceans of big data; and in our quotidian existences, inaugurating what can be called the digital Anthropocene. This confluence of the digital revolution, the dilemma of climate change, and sociopolitical agency and violence has us reconsidering human-environmental relations by raising questions about the interplay between digital, social, psychological, built, and natural landscapes. As Finn Arne Jørgensen notes, the "idea of nature is becoming very hard to separate from the digital tools and media we use to observe, interpret, and manage it" (2014, 109). The intermeshing of analogue, digital, and natural environments captures this new human dispensation and was presciently anticipated by political theorist Hannah Arendt in Between Past and Future: "The world we have come to live in, however, is much more determined by man acting into nature, creating [End Page 172] natural processes and directing them into the human artifice and the realm of human affairs" (1961, 59). Arendt's phenomenological thought resonates with the "wicked problems," "humanities innovations," and "interdependencies" articulated by the "Common Threads" page of the Andrew W. Mellon–funded Humanities for the Environment project.

This essay will discuss a technophenomenological deep mapping of James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) to explore how the novel and its traces of the Odyssey and the Inferno, when scripted digitally, enabled big-data social media performances at Bloomsday in contemporary Dublin. Spanning the classical, medieval, and modern eras, the arc of works composed by Homer, Dante, and Joyce, approximate the "three humanisms" of occidental history posited by Claude Lévi-Strauss in the 1950s (the rediscovery of the Greco-Roman, the repurposing of the humanistic perspective, and the discovery of everyday experience). Currently, digital humanism, coined by Milad Doueihi (2013), acts as a fourth convergence of the world's complex cultural heritage and technology and is changing relations between territory, knowledge, and habitat. This underscores the salience of Bethany Nowviskie's observation that the "rhetorical, technological, aesthetic, and deeply personal, sometimes even sentimental, struggles brought into focus by the Anthropocene […] prompt us to position the work of the digital humanities in time" (2014). The digital humanities' first wave (1980s–2010) witnessed the digitization of historical, cultural, literary, and artistic collections, facilitating online research methods and pedagogy, which dovetailed with a second wave (2002–2012) of humanities-computing quantification exercises, digital parsing, analysis, and visualization projects. Currently, a third wave (2012–2020) is cresting with the ontological tide turning, as humanities discourses and tropes are now beginning to shape emerging coding and software applications. The digital and environmental humanities are coming into league with smartphone applications, gaming platforms, tablets, and the visual and performing arts to force trans-disciplinary encounters between fields as diverse as human cognition, environmental studies, genetics, bioinformatics, linguistics, gaming, architecture, philosophy, social media, literature, painting, and history (MacTavish and Rockwell 2006; Liu and Thomas 2012; Travis 2015). Influenced by narrative, storytelling, cinematic, gaming, and network analysis techniques, these digital and environmental humanities practices represent the fluidity of human-environmental symbiosis captured [End Page 173] by the concept of the Anthropocene, in contrast to the static snapshots of human-environmental binaries portrayed within the frame of the Holocene. Nowviskie states that there is a strong possibility for connecting such "technologies and patterns of work in the humanities to deep time: both to times long past and very far in prospect" (2014). Similar lessons in how to plumb the depths of the Anthropocene can be learned from the Native American writer William Least Heat-Moon, who first employed deep...


Additional Information

pp. 172-188
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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