Digital Death: Archives, Memories, Bodies and Decay – IIT 2015

17840 – COM 380/580 – 01
IIT Humanities / M. HOGAN

Digital Death: Archives, Memories, Bodies and Decay. This class will cover a range of topics at the intersection of media and memory. In particular, we focus on the concept of death and decay to raise questions about human values, the role technology plays in preserving life, and what the archive means for humanity and history.


1/ Constructing Human Memory

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (2011) “Chapter 2-The Role of Remembering and the Importance of Forgetting” In Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting.

→ The Internet Is Forgetting. How amnesia is built into the network.
→ The Web Means the End of Forgetting


2/ Queer Temporalities & Evocative Objects

Carolyn Dinshaw, Edelman, Lee; Ferguson, Roderick A.; Freccero, Carla. (2007) “Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Volume 13, Number 2-3, 2007, pp. 177-195 Duke University Press

Sherry Turkle (2011) “Introduction: The Things That Matter” p3-10 Evocative Objects: Things We Think With The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England.

** this is the reading for your final essay
→ Object Lessons is an essay and book series about the hidden lives of ordinary things


3/ All Code is Burial


4/ The Future is a Memory

Vannevar Bush (1945) “As We May Think”

Wendy H. K. Chun (2008) “The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory” Critical Inquiry 35 (Autumn 2008) The University of Chicago. *grad level

→ The Cobweb: Can the Internet be archived?
→ Watch: (section of) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


5/ Traumas of Code

Van Dijck, J. (Fall 2004). “Memory Matters in the Digital Age.” Configurations 12(3), pp. 349-373.

Katherine Hayles (2006) “Traumas of Code” Critical Inquiry v. 33, no. 1, pp. 136-157 *grad level

→ Jon Rafman “9 Eyes of Google view”
→ Paul Ford “What is Code?”


6/ The Cemetery

Peter Thorsheim (2011) “The Corpse in the Garden: Burial, Health, and the Environment in Nineteenth-Century London.”

→ Graveyard Tech: QR codes to bring cemeteries alive
→ Reply All: #18 Silence And Respect

→ Alison Killing: There’s a better way to die, and architecture can help

→ Lindsey Stone, Plymouth Woman, Takes Photo At Arlington National Cemetery, Causes Facebook Fury


7/ Human Decay & Body Farms

Joseph Stromberg (2015) “The science of human decay: Inside the world’s largest body farm”

→ A Will For The Woods:
→ A Family Undertaking: 
→ The Nutshell Studies
→ A Field Trip to North Carolina’s Death Chamber
→ CSI Season 2, Episode 15 Burden of Proof
→ Hannibal TV Series
→ Livestreaming Funerals

8/ — Proposals due —

Based on Turkle’s Evocative Objects concept, present your proposal for your final autobiographical essay. What is your object? What role does it play? How has it been a companion to your life experience? How will it live on beyond you?


9/ Digital Afterlife

Grant D. Bollmer (2013) “Millions Now Living Will Never Die: Cultural Anxieties About the Afterlife of Information” The Information Society, 29: 142–151, 2013

→ Black Mirror, Season 2 ep1 “Be Right Back”
→ Reset: A Digital Afterlife Radio Drama (from
→ “Cyberspace when you are Dead” New York Times

→ Death in Video Games:


10/ Algorithmic Cruelty

DeVries, B. & Rutherford, J. (2004). “Memorializing Loved Ones on the World Wide Web.” Omega, 49(1), pp. 5-26.

Jed Brubaker, Gillian Hayes, & Paul Dourish “Beyond the Grave: Facebook as a Site for the Expansion of Death and Mourning” The Information Society, 29: 152–163, 2013

→ Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty


11/ Right to be Forgotten

Sherbit Blog (2015) The Internet Never Forgets: What Happens To Your Data When You Die?

→ ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Online Could Spread
→ Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Right To Be Forgotten (HBO)
→ Lindsey Stone, Plymouth Woman, Takes Photo At Arlington National Cemetery, Causes Facebook Fury
→ Krulwich Wonders: Is The ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ The ‘Biggest Threat to Free Speech On The Internet’?


12/ Death: Terms of Use

Tama Leaver (2013). “The Social Media Contradiction: Data Mining and Digital Death.” M/C Journal, 16(2). Retrieved from

→ Terms of Use: Didn’t Read
→ Google Public Policy
→ Facebook:
→ Facebook After Death


13/ Digital Estate Planning

Nicola Wright (2014) “Death and the Internet: The implications of the digital afterlife” First Monday, Volume 19, Number 6 – 2 June 2014

→ Death and Bitcoin: How Digital Currencies Affect Estate Planning
→ Forgetting Digital Assets Like Facebook Can Create Lawsuits After Your Death


14/ Erasures

Edward W. Said “Invention, Memory, and Place” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Winter, 2000), pp. 175-192.The University of Chicago Press *grad level

Anjali Arondekar (2015) “In the Absence of Reliable Ghosts: Sexuality, Historiography, South Asia” A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies Volume 25, Number 3: 98-122. *grad level

→ Seth Ellis “Version Control”
→ The Different Ways Artists Are Remembering Hurricane Katrina, 10 Years Later
The Different Ways Artists Are Remembering Hurricane Katrina, 10 Years Later


15/ Closure