Download the syllabus: The Digital Anthropocene

In February 2019, we hosted a Syllabus Workshop in the ETHOS Lab. Hannah Knox’s visit coincided with an initiative James Maguire and Astrid O. Andersen had begun with a Slow Seminar at Aarhus University, and together we decided to convene around a syllabus workshop for a field we wanted to call The Digital Anthropocene.

What is it about?

The syllabus is about how materials are part of our computational present, and how computational artifacts make the world newly know to us. We wanted to identify, together, how teaching the digital Anthropocene was distinct from teaching “the Anthropocene” in general. What was there about computation – its affordances, histories, and impacts – that could sharpen our focus?

The rationale of the syllabus is this:

We make the digital from the natural world, crafting metals and plastics into sleek handheld forms. We observe and make our understandings of environments through digital devices, spreadsheet accounting and carbon calculations. We have brought epochal shifts into being through rhetoric, disciplines, and geological measures. The Anthropocene is a digitally mediated and produced time. Yet the ‘we’ of these statements is an unevenly distributed set of actors, and the politics of producing (knowledge of) the Digital Anthropocene are pressing. From planetary observation and oceanic measurement to marine tailings, the appropriation of precious metals and labors of pollution, anthropogenic knowledge is deeply woven in with computation, tools, media and devices. It is also constituted through histories of colonialism, political economy, and ways of being in and knowing the world. Teaching the Digital Anthropocene is necessarily an interdisciplinary endeavor. This syllabus is offered as a resource for bringing together materials for teaching

Why make a syllabus?

Syllabi are often very individual to professors, institutions and disciplines. The syllabus workshop was intended both as a conversation around teaching and an element of interdisciplinary field making.

Creating themes together meant drawing outlines, finding landmark texts, highlighting areas for attention and collaboration. Making a syllabus puts different sets of literature in conversation, especially if the participants in a syllabus workshop are from different disciplinary traditions. A syllabus made by researchers in the field makes space for research led teaching. It can travel.

It poses the questions: what would a course like this need to cover? How would we teach it? What matters? What do students need to understand?

What did you make?

The syllabus that came out of the workshop has two parts. We felt that cases were a really central part of ensuring that students could bring their own encounters with the world to class. We gave some examples of cases that students might work with, and included example literature (and sources). We also wanted to sketch out a series of themes that are dealt with by different disciplines. These we called clusters.

How can I use it?

You are welcome to teach it, draw from it, be inspired by it in any way you wish. You can use it to think about the structure of your own classes, or to start discussions about teaching at your own institution and in your own program. How would this syllabus work here is a great question to ask.

The life of the syllabus

The syllabus is released under a creative commons license, intended for re-use and remix. If you use it, we’d love to hear from you, or perhaps receive a copy of your syllabus to collect how this topic is taught elsewhere. A syllabus has to stay alive. Brilliant new work is emerging all the time, so this syllabus from 2019-20 will become an artifact of its time pretty quickly. We have dreams of re-visiting the themes for 2021-22 and seeing what new work we’d teach.

Download the syllabus: The Digital Anthropocene