Robo_Po /// Robo_Op

The Lab is once more open, and the first order of business is (obviously) to host our all-singing, all-versifying, maybe-some-dancing embodied AI performer, Cleo Mesmer.

This promises to be practice-led research at its very best: collaborative, interdisciplinary, exploratory, emergent, placing cutting-edge tech into a critical and reflexive context, exploring both the power relations from which technological innovation emerges, and the alternative possibilities it harbours.

For more about the project and the events, visit Evelyn Ficarra’s site.

We are also calling for two kinds of collaboration:

  • Poems: Submit poems (50 words or less) for performance as part of Robo_Po. More details here.
  • Voice: Submit fragments of sound to help us build a new voice for Cleo, perhaps one which seeks to acknowledge rather than conceal otherness, constructedness, and more-than-human entanglements. More details here.


Some Upcoming Events

Just a glimpse of some upcoming events from SHL:

Text Analysis with Antconc, with Andrew Salway. Wednesday, 24 February at 15:00 GMT. “This workshop is for researchers who would like to use automated techniques to analyse the content of one or more text data sets (corpora), and to identify their distinctive linguistic characteristics and reveal new potential lines of inquiry. The text data could comprise thousands to millions of words of e.g. news stories, novels, survey responses, social media posts, etc.” More info here. Part of the SHL Open Workshops Series.

Dataset Publishing and Compliance, with Sharon Webb and Adam Harwood. Wednesday, 3 March at 15:00 GMT. “Funding bodies are placing increasing emphasis on data archiving in humanities research. The workshop will have a practical emphasis, aimed at helping you prepare data for deposit into a data archive or repository, to comply with grant applications requirements.” More info here. Part of the SHL Open Workshops Series.

Reality is Radical: Queer, Avant-Garde, Utopian Gaming, with Bo Ruberg, Amanda Phillips, and Jo Lindsay Walton. Monday 8 March at 17:00 GMT. “The Sussex Humanities Lab and the Sussex Centre for Sexual Dissidence are pleased to welcome leading critical game studies scholars Amanda Phillips and Bo Ruberg to explore the politics of contemporary games.Games themselves are a major cultural form, and the ‘ludic turn’ in recent years has also seen game design thinking and critical play practices spill out into many areas of social and economic life.” More info here. Part of the SHL Seminar Series.

Coming to Terms with Data Visualization and the Digital Humanities, with Marian Dörk. “How can visualization research and design be inspired by concepts from cultural studies, sociology, and critical theory? In contrast to the epistemological hegemony that engineering and science has held over data visualization, humanistic engagements with data and interfaces suggest different kinds of concerns and commitments for the study and design of data visualizations. From collaborative research in the arts and humanities arises a need to support critical and creative engagements with data and visualization.” More info here. Part of the SHL Seminar Series.

For more events, see the SHL website.

SHL’s New Leadership

After over 5 years leading the Sussex Humanities Lab (SHL), first as Co-Director, latterly as sole Director, Prof Tim Hitchcock is stepping down at the end of February. Three new Directors will take on the leadership of SHL from March 2021: Dr Sharon WebbDr James Baker and Dr Alice Eldridge

SHL was established in 2015 by Profs Caroline Bassett, David Berry, Rachel Thompson, Sally Jane Norman, and Tim Hitchcock and in its short life has substantially developed research capacity at the University of Sussex. It has captured £2.6 million in grant income, published over 130 research outputs, and hosted an extensive programme of interdisciplinary events, workshops, conferences, and colloquia. But more importantly, it has built a community of expertise around technology’s role in shaping culture, society and environment and the use of technological tools to undertake research within the arts, humanities and social sciences. 

SHL has also extended beyond its founding purposes and intellectual arrangements. Work now ranges from AI to climate justice, ecoacoustics to automated writing, intersectional feminism to open infrastructures. As SHL transitions to a new leadership team this spring, it will undertake a phase of re-examining its priorities, its ambitions, and the challenges it seeks to respond to.  

Prof. Hitchcock says:  “It has been a profound privilege to have helped establish and later lead the SHL over the last five years — the highlight of a long career.  The team taking over leadership of the Lab is remarkable and hugely impressive, and I very much look forward to seeing the Lab grow and change under their auspices.” 

The Sussex Humanities Lab is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Schools of Media, Arts and Humanities, Education and Social Work, Engineering and Informatics, and the Library with a network of associates extending across the university. To find out more about our work or to join us visit

— Kate Malone

Open Academic Publishing

Open Academic Publishing: what it is, what it could become and why that matters.

We will be exploring open publishing in this online research seminar, covering both the fundamentals and the innovation. Free and open to all: please register here.

Lucy Barnes from Open Book Publishers will discuss how, as publishers, they have approached open access publication and also, her work with COPIM, the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs project.

Dr Arianna Ciula from King’s Digital Laboratory will share her experience of integrating digital publishing with the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) process.

Dr Tanya Kant, University of Sussex, will share her experiences of supporting researchers with open publication through REFRAME, an open access academic digital platform for online practice, publication and curation.

CIE Lecture Series

Next week, Thursday 8 October, 1pm BST: Mario Novelli gives the first in a 10-week online lecture series on the Political Economy of Education in times of Conflict, Crises, and Pandemic. Register here. led and Hosted by the Centre for International Education (CIE) from October to December, this series will be:

… openly accessible, free and online and aimed at scholars and students of international development and education, and all those who seek to better understand the complex situations facing education systems around the world in a period of increasing instability, where education systems are challenged by war, environmental crisis, financial austerity and pandemics that threaten the futures of a generation of young people.

SHL Environmental Strategy

How do we reconcile the work (and play) of the digital humanities with the transition to a net zero carbon economy, while also addressing many other urgent and interconnected environmental issues that confront the world today? We don’t have all the answers, but we’re determined to work at the forefront of responsible and imaginative environmental practice in the digital humanities. We know that this means broad sharing of insights, practices, and perspectives. Whoever you are, if you’d like a free copy of the SHL Environmental Strategy 2020, get in touch.

Beatrice Fazi at CDH Open Series

SHL’s Beatrice Fazi will be speaking on ‘The Computational Production of the New: On Aesthetics, Creativity and Digital Technologies’ for the Cambridge Digital Humanities Open Series on 24 June at 16:00-17:30 UK time.

Can computation generate the new? M. Beatrice Fazi argues that engaging with such question involves addressing computation aesthetically. Drawing from her monograph Contingent Computation (2018), Fazi will discuss aesthetics as concerning creation and reality’s potential for self-actualisation. This talk will demonstrate that aesthetics is a viable mode of addressing computational systems precisely because such generative potential is inherent to the axiomatic, discrete and formal structures of digital technologies. Novelty in computation is then expressed not by computers doing something strange or unexpected, but by a computational process that does what it is supposed to do.

The Discussant will be Joshua Scannell (The New School, USA) and the Chair will be Caroline Bassett (CDH Director, Cambridge).

Email Karen Herbane to register. More info at Cambridge Digital Humanities.

SHL Lockdown Seminar Series


Covid-19 reminds us how interconnected we are: globally as the human species, and biologically as members of the animal kingdom; it also reminds us that the social, economic, ecological, political and technological dimensions and dynamics of our world are similarly intrinsically coupled.

How can we better think across and beyond disciplines to celebrate and harness these entanglements in the (re)design of our technological, economic and social infrastructures for the benefit of all living organisms?

In the SHL lockdown seminars we invite scholars and artists from a range of disciplines whose work critiques our techno-cultural infrastructures in ways that help us imagine how we can #BuildBackBetterForAll.

Mon 18 May 2020 – 2pm (BST)
Prof Shannon Mattern (Department of Anthropology at The New School in New York)
Urban Algorhythms

Attendance is free and open to all; please register here.

Human bodies often render their internal operations audible, and for centuries healers have used auscultation — the practice of listening to the body, typically aided by gadgets and machines — to assess the body’s health and diagnose ailments. Cities, likewise, have lent themselves to sonic analysis, and they’ve been likened to both bodies and machines. This talk examines how methods of urban listening, through human and machinic ears, have “sounded out” the city as an organic or machinic body — and how new artificially intelligent ears are “scoring” the city in accordance with their own computational logic.

Shannon Mattern is a Professor of Anthropology at the New School for Social Research. Her writing and teaching focus on archives, libraries, and other media spaces; media infrastructures; spatial epistemologies; and mediated sensation and exhibition. She is the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities; Deep Mapping the Media City; and Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, all published by University of Minnesota Press; and The City Is Not a Computer, forthcoming from Princeton University Press. She contributes a regular long-form column about urban data and mediated infrastructures to Places Journal, and she collaborates on public design and interactive projects and exhibitions. You can find her at

Shannon Mattern

Mon 1 June 4pm (BST)
Sensory Cartographies – Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn (independent artist-researchers, NL) – Artist talk

Attendance is free and open to all; please register here.

When humans experience an environment, our bodies are constantly working at filtering vast streams of sensory impressions to make sense of the world. This filtration is not only an evolutionary development, but is also a learned process of culturally conditioned attention. At its very core, our perception of being in a place is neither universal nor neutral. From hand-drawn maps and coordinate systems to LIDAR and GPS – spatial technologies codify aspects of the world and expand the scale of our senses and memory. However, as Jennifer Gabrys points out, sensors (and mapping technologies) do not merely record information about an environment – they also generate new environments and environmental relations. The artistic project Sensory Cartographies is a response to these themes. Together, Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn, work on multidisciplinary artworks that explore alternative ways of knowing the land to counter the ubiquitous “top down”, “observe and control” impulse. Rather than placing the human in the position of overseer, our methods scramble the hierarchies between human, non-human, technological and ecological.

Sensory Cartographies is a collaboration between composer Jonathan Reus and artist-researcher Sissel Marie Tonn. The Sensory Cartographer seeks to explore extreme and information-rich environments; developing an understanding of these spaces through mediated forms of attention and mindfulness towards physiological, psychological and cognitive movements. We create wearable technologies and neuro-sensory attunement instruments that attempt to renegotiate techniques of cartography, collection, categorization and navigation originating the in colonial “golden age” of botany, drawing a line between these impulses to categorise nature to modern measurement and monitoring technologies. A living document of this work can be found at

Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn
Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn

SHL Environmental Strategy launch

Today we are launching the Sussex Humanities Lab Environmental Strategy.

Sussex Hums Lab Enviro Strategy

This document sets out our current thinking on how SHL stands in relation to the global environmental emergency, and to the demanding and necessary target, set by the current UK government, of achieving net zero carbon by 2050.

It affirms our commitment to explore and mitigate the carbon intensity and ecological impact of our core Digital Humanities work, despite the many uncertainties this entails. Our work can contribute to global heating and ecological destruction, and it can contribute to mitigation and resilience.

It also affirms our commitment to continue to advocate for the wider system change necessary across society, and where relevant, to use our specific expertise to support and to scrutinise, to help ensure that the perspectives of the Digital Humanities are included in these complex transitions.

We believe that these ambitions go hand-in-hand with the small everyday actions that prefigure ecological sustainability. Here’s a snippet from one of the appendices, ‘In Praise of Smaller Actions’:

Smaller actions can demonstrate and cultivate a practical willingness to make changes in our everyday lives. Because the bigger changes of net zero will demand many such changes, it is important that we explore what such changes feel like, and the ripple effects they may have. It is important that we cultivate narratives, skills, and ways of thinking around these changes, so we know what to embrace, what to resist, and what to re-imagine. When done creatively and reflectively, those smaller actions can even be a kind of practice-led research into climate sustainability and climate resilience. They can be ‘cognitive’: they are a way of finding things out, and a form of knowledge in themselves.

Get in touch

This document is a reference point for all Sussex Humanities Lab Members and Associates. But we also hope it will be a way of making connections with the wider world.

The Sussex Humanities Lab includes some STEM expertise, and we frequently collaborate with STEM researchers, including environmental scientists. Our members also include researchers in the environmental humanities. However, we are not the experts on environmental science, policy, or emergency. The SHL Environmental Strategy is a living document which gives current estimation of the situation we are facing. We welcome qualifications, criticisms, and suggested revisions.

We also welcome opportunities to build our own capacity, and to explore future research collaboration with academics and non-academic partners. The Sussex Humanities Lab has an extensive portfolio of externally funded projects, which we continually look to expand. We also host visiting researchers to run seminars and workshops, and welcome enquiries from prospective doctoral students and Visiting Fellows. As set out in more detail in the document, we would be especially interested to hear from those who are working on, or who have an interest in, the following:

  • Covid-19, digital technology, and the environment
  • The materiality of the digital, including the perceived ethereality of the digital
  • Climate futures in culture, policy, and science
  • Carbon coloniality
  • Critical resilience
  • The politics and cultures of offsetting
  • The embodiment of academic research and collaboration
  • Negative emissions and other climate technology
  • Agonistic climate action

Here’s one last snippet:

The world has started to burn. There have been some interesting debates about the usefulness about this apocalyptic idiom: does it really help to convert the urgency of our situation into practical action? But setting aside the complex emotional implications of mentioning it, the world has actually started to burn: the effects of global heating are already being felt around the world through heatwaves, wildfires, drought and famine, as well as wildlife extinction, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events such as storms and flooding. Enormous economic damage, human displacement, and deaths attributable to climate change are no longer mere forecasts: they are daily news. These are tragedies, not omens.


The Virtual Nightingale + future seminars

7 May: David Rothenberg’s The Virtual Nightingale: A Performance/Lecture (Emute)

To celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day and the dramatic reduction in anthropogenic acoustic smog, special guest speaker / performer David Rothenberg will be giving next week’s Emute seminar.

Thursday, May 7,  4pm (BST) on Zoom
Open to all: please register

Rothenberg, author of Why Birds Sing and Nightingales in Berlin, veteran performer with nature sounds near and far, will discuss his work with nightingales and underwater pond insects, explaining why human music can be enhanced by taking the sounds of the natural world seriously.

Future SHL seminar events

Covid-19 reminds us how interconnected we are: globally as a species and biologically as members of the animal kingdom; it also reminds us that the social, economic, ecological, political and technological dimensions/ dynamics of our world are just as intrinsically coupled.

As we prepare to create the “new normal,” how can we better think across and beyond disciplines to celebrate and harness these entanglements in the (re)design of our technological, economic and social infrastructures, such as can serve, support and nourish socio-environmental dynamics for the benefit of all living organisms?

In a recent article, Lenton and Latour revisit Lovelock and Margulis’s famous Gaia hypothesis, which posits the Earth as a synergistic, self-regulating system.

[…] it is important to have a second look at the connection between the original Gaia concept and a possible Gaia 2.0, because the original Gaia has many traits that were not detectable in earlier notions of nature associated with the development of Western civilization. Before the Anthropocene, Western societies saw themselves as the only conscious agents in a passive material environment.

Watch this space for details of forthcoming virtual events, exploring the role of the technosphere among myriad other adaptive systems, and how the Digital Humanities can contribute to reshaping the material reality we all live in and through, perhaps realising Lenton and Latour’s aspiration of ‘Gaia 2.0.’