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 records...an 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.”
Photo: Hilary Clark
Brian Michael Murphy is a media archaeologist and writer whose work cuts across disciplines and genres. He is Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies at Williams College, and a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. His book We the Dead: Preserving Data at the End of the World (University of North Carolina Press, 2022), explores Americans’ obsession with preserving increasingly vast amounts of data in all formats, from paper to microfilm, to digital files and information written in synthetic DNA. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Kenyon Review, Lapham’s Quarterly, Narrative, and in Italian translation in Ácoma, among other places. He co-edited a special issue of Media-N on the “Afterlives of Data,” and previously served as Managing and Nonfiction Editor at Northwest Review. 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, and his work has also received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Vermont Arts Council, and the Ohio Arts Council.
His recent publications include an essay on the digitization of lynching imagery in the edited volume The Expanded Field of Conservation (Clark Art Institute/Yale University Press, 2023), and a short story as liner notes for Spectacular Diagnostics’ album Ancient Methods, commissioned by Amsterdam-based label Rucksack Records. He earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Studies from The Ohio State University, where he was a Presidential Fellow, and went on to teach at Miami University, and Bennington College, where he also served as Dean of the College. He is a former Director of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, where he taught for several summers, and is a founding board member at Outpost—a residency in southern Vermont for writers of color from the United States and Latin America.
He is currently writing a work of fiction that grapples with the complexities of racialization, ghosts, and the ways that digital technologies blur the boundaries between past and present, life and death, and our biological bodies and data bodies.
Photo: Emma Fricke Nelson