Public Humanities Infrastructure: A Post-Harvey Introduction to Critical Infrastructure Studies

“Public Humanities Infrastructure: A Post-Harvey Introduction to Critical Infrastructure Studies”

A panel organized by the Public Humanities Post-Harvey Think Tank through Rice University’s Humanities Research Center with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Thursday, January 24, 2019, 5:30 pm
Herring Hall, 100, Rice University
(Rice University announcement with additional details)

(Page created 3 Jan. 2018)
Panel description | Presenters | Resources ( 1 | 2 | 3 )
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Public art submerged at Buffalo Bayou, Houston (Photo by John Mulligan)
Public art by Anthony Thompson Shumate submerged at Buffalo Bayou, Houston, October 7, 2017  (Photo by John C. Mulligan)

Panel Description

As Houston rebuilds in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we find that our vision of infrastructure, whether gray or green, is defined almost exclusively in terms of civil engineering and the social sciences. The task of reimagininging cities like Houston in the age of climate catastrophe demands humanistic perspectives, both to critique core assumptions of and to provide alternative visions for our common existence. This joint public talk with Alan Liu and James Smithies introduces the emergent, interdisciplinary field of “Critical Infrastructure Studies” and considers the institutional dimensions of the public humanities and higher education, in order to help articulate how the humanities can critically and productively contribute to public debates on topics such as “preparedness,” “resiliency,” “disaster,” and “infrastructure.”


John Mulligan (Lecturer in the Public Humanities, Humanities Research Center, Rice University)
“The Public Humanities as Cultural Infrastructure, Post-Harvey” (resources for talk)

Alan Liu (Professor, Dept. of English, UC Santa Barbara)
“Critical Infrastructure Studies: A Primer” (resources for talk)

James Smithies (Director, King’s Digital Lab, King’s College, London)
“Curating our Technological Ruins: The Aesthetics of Disaster Archiving” (resources for talk)


Resources 1 (for John Mulligan’s talk)

The following is a partial bibliography of the Public Humanities Post-Harvey Think Tank group’s readings, followed by works cited in the introduction to the group’s white paper featured in John Mulligan’s talk. (Some of these resources are accessible only to the group.)

Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016).

Jesse Oak Taylor, “The Novel After Nature, Nature After the Novel: Richard Jeffries’s Anthropocene Romance,” Studies in the Novel, 50:1 (2018) 108-33.

Andreas Malm, “On Building Nature,” in The Progress of This Storm (Verso, 2017) 20-43.

Michel Serres, “War, Peace” and “The Natural Contract,” in The Natural Contract, trans. Elizabeth MacArtuhur and William Paulson (Stanford 1995 [1992]) 1-27, 28-50.

FEMA Policy (see DAP9523.19) for “Eligible Costs Related to Pet Evacuations and Sheltering.”

Colleen G. Boggs, Animalia Americana: Animal Representations and Biopolitical Subjectivity, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).

Kate Rigby, Dancing With Disaster: Environmental Histories, Narratives, and Ethics for Perilous Times(Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015).

Alan Liu, “Knowledge in the Age of Knowledge Work,” Profession (2012) 204-15.

James Smithies, The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).


Resources 2 (for Alan Liu’s talk)

The following are works cited in Alan’s talk as examples of various approaches to critical infrastructure studies. Alan’s talk finishes with mentions of two case studies of information infrastructure inflected by the specific institutional perspectives of the humanities, arts, or the university: the Mukurtu content management system and Jer Thorp’s “All the Names: Algorithmic Design and the 9/11 Memorial.”

Approaches to Infrastructure Studies (see also the full bibliography


Science technology studies (STS)

Urban Planning, Landscape Design, Architectural

Logistics & Waste Studies

Environmental (in connection with the approaches of energy, mining, oil, transportation, and related studies)

Media infrastructures & Materialities of information


Race & Ethnicity

Postcolonial & colonial

Disability & accessibility studies

Digital humanities

Literary & artistic


Security (risk society, mission-critical, and disaster infrastructure studies)


Organizational Technology


Resources 3 (for James Smithies’s Talk)

The following are works cited in James’s talk. Included is the diagram he discusses from his book, The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern  (p. 132).

Engineering  (

CEISMIC: Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive

Millar, Paul, Christopher Thomson, James Smithies, and Jennifer Middendorf. “The Challenge, the Project, and the Politics: Lessons from Six Years of the UC CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive.” In Crisis and Disaster in Japan and New Zealand – Actors, Victims and Ramifications. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Smithies, James, Paul Millar, and Christopher Thomson. “Open Principles, Open Data: The Design Principles and Architecture of the UC CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive.” Journal of the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities 1, no. 1 (2015): 10–36.


Hu, Tung-Hui. ‘Data Centers and Data Bunkers’, in A Prehistory of the Cloud. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2015, pp.79-110.

Smithies, James. ‘The Challenge of the Digital Humanities’, in The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp.1-15.

_____________. ‘Towards a Systems Analysis of the Humanities’, in The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp.113-151.

Fig. 5.3 in James Smithies, The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern, p. 132
Fig. 5.3 in James Smithies, The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern, p. 132

Koselleck, Reinhart. ‘Modernity and the Planes of Historicity’, in Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Columbia University Press, 2004, pp.9-25.

Robert Rosenberger and Peter-Paul Verbeek, ‘Introduction’, Postphenomenological Investigations: Essays on Human-Technology Relations. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015, pp.1-9.

Liu, Alan. ‘Introduction’, in Friending the Past. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2018, pp.1-8.

Hayles, Katherine. ‘Nonconscious Cognitions: Humans and others’, in Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017, pp.9-41.


Rothko, Mark. ‘The Integrity of the Plastic Process’, in The Artist’s Reality. Yale University Press, 2004, pp.14-18.