Cultural Memory and the Peri-Pandemic Library

Bethany Nowviskie, Dean of Libraries, Senior Academic Technology Officer, and Professor of English, James Madison University — James E. McLeod Memorial Lecture on Higher Education

“The pandemic will end not with a declaration, but with a long, protracted exhalation… Grief will turn into trauma. And a nation that has begun to return to normal will have to decide whether to remember that normal led to this.”
— Ed Yong, science writer for The Atlantic

Decisions made now by scholars, archivists, librarians, and community organizers, acting as individuals and as representatives of their institutions and collectives, will shape our cultural memory of the pandemic—and our capacity for speculative thinking, beyond it. What roles must libraries and archives—community-based, federal, and academic—play in times of national trauma and transition? Can they partner more effectively with scholars and publics, even (or especially) in the middle of a mess? And how do we square the project of cultural memory—the job of liberal arts and memory institutions now—with the challenges that face it: inevitable losses, misinterpretations, and gaps; politically and personally motivated refusals to remember; and our own embeddedness in the contested commemorative landscapes of our campuses and towns? 



Bethany Nowviskie

Bethany Nowviskie is Dean of Libraries, Senior Academic Technology Officer and Professor of English at James Madison University. From 2015 to 2019, she directed the Digital Library Federation at CLIR (where she has also been a Distinguished Presidential Fellow) and served as a Research Associate Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia. Nowviskie has been a member of the teaching faculty at UVa’s Rare Book School since 2011, was the first director of the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library (2007–15), and has served as chair of UVa’s General Faculty Council and special advisor to the UVa provost for the advancement of digital humanities research. A past president of the Association for Computers and the Humanities and chair of the Modern Language Association’s committee on information technology, Nowviskie received her Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Virginia in 2004 and has worked on numerous ground-breaking projects in digital libraries and the digital humanities. In 2013, she was named one of “Ten Tech Innovators” by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which pretty much summed it up: “Bethany Nowviskie likes to build things.”

A 2016 interview with the LA Review of Books is available here. Bethany writes on liberatory and speculative digital library design at

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