Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is Professor of English and Digital Studies at the University of Maryland and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies. He is also an affiliated faculty member with the College of Information Studies at Maryland, and a member of the teaching faculty at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School. He has been a Guggenheim and NEH Fellow. With Kari Kraus, he co-founded and co-directs BookLab, a makerspace, studio, library, and press devoted to what is surely our discipline's most iconic artifact, the codex book.
His most recent book, Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing, was published by Harvard University Press’s Belknap Press in 2016; with Pat Harrigan, he also co-edited the collection Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming from the MIT Press (2016). His public-facing writing has appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Slate, LA Review of Books, Paris Review Daily, and War on the Rocks. His research has been covered by the New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Guardian, National Public Radio, Boing Boing, and WIRED, among many other outlets. In 2016, he delivered the A.S.W. Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography, a written version of which are under contract to the University of Pennsylvania Press as Bitstreams: The Future of Digital Literary Heritage.
Kirschenbaum’s current interests include the history of writing and authorship, textual and bibliographical studies, serious games, and military media and technologies. His first book, Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2008) won multiple prizes, including the 16th annual Prize for a First Book from the Modern Language Association. He was also the lead author on the Council on Library and Information Resources report Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content for Cultural Heritage Collections (2010), recognized with a commendation from the Society of American Archivists. Previously, he served as an Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) for over a decade. See mkirschenbaum.net or follow him on Twitter as @mkirschenbaum for more.
2011 Guggenheim Fellowship.
Monograph tentatively entitled "Track Changes: Authorship, Archives, and Literary Culture after Word Processing."
Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities
January 2005-June 2005
Spec Acts: Reading form in Recurrent Neural Networks
Johns Hopkins University Press Volume 88, Number 2, Summer 2021
On 25 March 2017 at 9:17 in the morning Ross Goodwin sat down behind the wheel of his pen to begin driving his novel. This essay reads 1 the Road, a 20,000-word token of narrative fiction produced by digital sensors affixed to an automobile driven from New York to New Orleans (the route taken by Jack Kerouac), whose outputs are filtered through an artificial intelligence technology called a neural net to produce the text. "It was nine-seventeen in the morning, and the house was heavy," it begins. Later, it produces this utterance: "It was a strange thing." This strange thing, which is to say this strange text, is, I argue, a boutique literary exemplar of the most widely read (and written) category of texts in the world today, as algorithms perform not speech acts but speculative or "spec" acts--what Felix Guattari forecast three decades ago as "machines speaking to machines." What happens when we listen in, as Goodwin's novel permits us to do? I propose ways of reading these spec acts through new formalist alternatives to historicism, old and new.
"'Poor Black Squares': Afterimages of the Floppy Disk,"
The juxtaposition of floppy (floppy!) disks with nuclear-tipped ICBMs seemed to encompass everything that was absurd about both government bureaucracy and Cold War strategic thinking.
"Books After the Death of the Book,"
A digital studies scholar explains what a Ted Chiang story, post-Soviet pirates, and AOL teach us about the fate of books online.
Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing
Matthew Kirschenbaum examines how the interests and ideals of creative authorship came to coexist with the computer revolution.
English | Center for Literary and Comparative Studies
From the publisher's website:
The story of writing in the digital age is every bit as messy as the ink-stained rags that littered the floor of Gutenberg’s print shop or the hot molten lead of the Linotype machine. During the period of the pivotal growth and widespread adoption of word processing as a writing technology, some authors embraced it as a marvel while others decried it as the death of literature. The product of years of archival research and numerous interviews conducted by the author, Track Changes is the first literary history of word processing.
Matthew Kirschenbaum examines how the interests and ideals of creative authorship came to coexist with the computer revolution. Who were the first adopters? What kind of anxieties did they share? Was word processing perceived as just a better typewriter or something more? How did it change our understanding of writing?
Track Changes balances the stories of individual writers with a consideration of how the seemingly ineffable act of writing is always grounded in particular instruments and media, from quills to keyboards. Along the way, we discover the candidates for the first novel written on a word processor, explore the surprisingly varied reasons why writers of both popular and serious literature adopted the technology, trace the spread of new metaphors and ideas from word processing in fiction and poetry, and consider the fate of literary scholarship and memory in an era when the final remnants of authorship may consist of folders on a hard drive or documents in the cloud.
Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming
In Zones of Control, contributors consider wargames played for entertainment, education, and military planning, in terms of design, critical analysis, and historical contexts.
From the publisher's website:
Games with military themes date back to antiquity, and yet they are curiously neglected in much of the academic and trade literature on games and game history. This volume fills that gap, providing a diverse set of perspectives on wargaming’s past, present, and future. In Zones of Control, contributors consider wargames played for entertainment, education, and military planning, in terms of design, critical analysis, and historical contexts. They consider both digital and especially tabletop games, most of which cover specific historical conflicts or are grounded in recognizable real-world geopolitics. Game designers and players will find the historical and critical contexts often missing from design and hobby literature; military analysts will find connections to game design and the humanities; and academics will find documentation and critique of a sophisticated body of cultural work in which the complexity of military conflict is represented in ludic systems and procedures.
Each section begins with a long anchoring chapter by an established authority, which is followed by a variety of shorter pieces both analytic and anecdotal. Topics include the history of playing at war; operations research and systems design; wargaming and military history; wargaming’s ethics and politics; gaming irregular and non-kinetic warfare; and wargames as artistic practice.
“What Is an @uthor?”
Today’s social media landscape confronts contemporary authors with a qualitatively different opportunity to confront their public selves.
“Digital Scholarship and Digital Studies: The State of the Discipline.”
Today not only are word processors and e-books actual facts.
“What is ‘Digital Humanities,’ and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?”
Amid all the doom and gloom [. . .] one field seems to be alive and well: the digital humanities.
How can we preserve the software of today for historians of tomorrow?
"The Book-Writing Machine,"
What was the first novel ever written on a word processor?
“What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?”
What is (or are) the “digital humanities,” aka “humanities computing”?
"An Executable Past: The Case for a National Software Registry.”
One of our foremost living novelists can knowingly make reference to a twenty-five year-old computer program and be able to count on his audience’s powers of identification
“The .txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary.”
In 1995 in the midst of the first widespread wave of digitization, the Modern Language Association issued a Statement on the Significance of Primary Records.
“Choreographing the Dance of the Vampires: Red Storm Rising’s Game Plots.”
Red Storm Rising, which shot to the top of the best-seller lists when it was published in August 1986, may be the most widely-read work of procedural fiction ever written.
“Digital Humanities As/Is a Tactical Term.”
We will never know what digital humanities “is” because we don’t want to know nor is it useful for us to know.
Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections
The methods and tools developed by forensics experts represent a novel approach to these demands.
While the purview of digital forensics was once specialized to fields of law enforcement, computer security, and national defense, the increasing ubiquity of computers and electronic devices means that digital forensics is now used in a wide variety of cases and circumstances. Most records today are born digital, and libraries and other collecting institutions increasingly receive computer storage media as part of their acquisition of "papers" from writers, scholars, scientists, musicians, and public figures. This poses new challenges to librarians, archivists, and curators—challenges related to accessing and preserving legacy formats, recovering data, ensuring authenticity, and maintaining trust. The methods and tools developed by forensics experts represent a novel approach to these demands. For example, the same forensics software that indexes a criminal suspect's hard drive allows the archivist to prepare a comprehensive manifest of the electronic files a donor has turned over for accession.
This report introduces the field of digital forensics in the cultural heritage sector and explores some points of convergence between the interests of those charged with collecting and maintaining born-digital cultural heritage materials and those charged with collecting and maintaining legal evidence.
Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections.
Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections examines digital forensics and its relevance for contemporary research.
Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination
Mechanisms is the first book in its field to devote significant attention to storage—the hard drive in particular—of electronic writing and new media.
Mechanisms is the first book in its field to devote significant attention to storage—the hard drive in particular—of electronic writing and new media. Kirschenbaum argues that understanding the affordances of storage devices is essential to understanding new media. Drawing a distinction between "forensic materiality" and "formal materiality," Kirschenbaum uses applied computer forensics techniques in his study of new media works. Alan Liu writes that this book "is the most rigorous, cohesive, historically informed, materially grounded, and theoretically interesting treatment of textual artifacts in the age of digital mutation that I have yet encountered."
“Tracking the Changes: Textual Scholarship and the Challenge of the Born-Digital.”
Word processors of the Gods William Gibson, in his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition, allows Ngemi, collector and connoisseur of antiquarian computers, to joke.