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Brian Michael Murphy


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“Provocative...Murphy is a witty writer – and a “media archaeologist”! – who travels deep underground to see for himself the weirdest and most fanatical efforts to preserve engaging tour of the crises that propelled each new wave of preservation anxiety and the attendant technological advancements – from time capsules to wax cylinders to DNA-based memory chips.” 

Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World

“Well written, thoughtful, and provocative. We the Dead is intellectually engaging and fascinating—I can honestly think of very few books like it.”

—Tung-Hui Hu, author of A Prehistory of the Cloud

“Gas and glass, capsules and crypts, microfilm and mines and monuments: these are among the tools we’ve deployed to protect our data from a host of threats—from dust and vermin to demographic diversification and nuclear war. In We the Dead, Brian Michael Murphy takes us on a simultaneously breathtaking and explosive tour of the various archives and databases that hold our records, and the human subjects they document, in suspension between life and death.”

—Shannon Mattern, author of Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media

"We the Dead is the rare book that opens new lines of investigation while also entertaining and provoking the reader. Some of the historical case studies that Brian Murphy unearthed (gas chambers for rare books! durable metal film strips! atomic bomb–tested filing cabinets!) were so outrageous and profound that I found myself laughing out loud while reading. It was a shock of recognition. . . . We are already the dead of the book’s title, whether we like it or not.”

—Brian Hochman, author of The Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United States

”There is something remarkable on every page of this important and intensely fascinating book which reveals just how ensnared we all are to Big Data. Hell, it shifts my understanding of “me”--there’s my body and as Murphy shows there’s also my “data body,” stored piecemeal in some of the hundreds of fascinating environs that We the Dead explores. Murphy dramatizes the big narrative of how the data complex developed, exploded, commodified our lives, and colonized us via technology but with a poet’s eye for detail. White supremacist time capsule aficionados. Books gassed with Zyklon B. Miles of rotting documents. Nuclear armageddon cosplay, the golden record, historical amnesia, self-destructing emails, eugenic whiteness. Human DNA as digital storage. Terrifying and funny. From the Civil War to space tourist venture capitalists and beyond, this is one of those rare books–like Stamped from the Beginning–that is revelatory, epochal.”

— Dafydd Wood, Northshire Books



Available here at UNC Press or here at Amazon or here at Indiebound, and on Audible.

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Photo: Hilary Clark

Brian Michael Murphy is a media archaeologist, essayist, and poet, and the author of We the Dead: Preserving Data at the End of the World  (University of North Carolina Press, 2022). He is Dean of the College at Bennington College, and Managing and Nonfiction Editor of Northwest Review. His writings have appeared in Lapham's Quarterly, Wall Street Journal, Narrative, Kenyon Review, Fairy Tale Review, Kweli, Media-N, Mississippi Review, and in Italian translation in Ácoma. In Fall 2021, he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Naples “L’Orientale” in Italy, teaching in the graduate program in American Literature. He holds a PhD in Comparative Studies from The Ohio State University, where he was a Presidential Fellow, and his work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Vermont Arts Council, and the Ohio Arts Council. He has also served as Director of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, where he previously taught for several years. Beginning in fall 2023, he will be Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies at Williams College.

His recent publications include an essay on the digitization of lynching images, in the edited volume The Expanded Field of Conservation (Clark Art Institute/Yale University Press, 2022), and a short story published as liner notes for Spectacular Diagnostics’ album Ancient Methods, on the Amsterdam-based label Rucksack Records. He is co-editor of a special issue of Media-N titled “Afterlives of Data," and a founding board member of Outpost, a residency for creative writers of color from the United States and Latin America. He lives in Vermont with his family.


Photo: Emma Fricke Nelson



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