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Brian Michael Murphy
Bennington College (Bennington, VT 05201-6004)
Preserving Data in America, from the Depression to the Digital Age

Completion of a cultural history of America’s obsession with permanent data preservation.

"Preserving Data in America, from the Depression to the Digital Age" is a book-length project that traces the emergence and growth of Americans' obsession with preserving data over the past century. From the first "permanent" time capsules in the 1930s, to the three million data centers located in the United States today, an ever-expanding "data complex" preserves data on paper documents, microfilm reels, hard drives, magnetic tape, and even digital code written in DNA. The data complex has intensified in response to three major national crises: the economic instability of the Depression, the threat of nuclear attack during the Cold War, and the rise of environmentally unsustainable digital media in the time of climate change. This project marshals extensive archival research, and draws upon recent work in both Media Studies and American Studies to explain why efforts to preserve data do not produce the relief from anxiety they promise, but instead provoke more preservation.

[Media coverage]

Project fields:
American Studies; Media Studies

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2020 – 8/31/2020