Worldmaking in the Time of Covid-19

The project Language Acts and Worldmaking, funded by the Art and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under its Open World Research Initiative (OWRI), has been awarded funding by King’s College London’s King’s Together Coronavirus Rapid Response fund, for its proposal, ‘Worldmaking in the Time of Covid-19‘. ‘Worldmaking in the Time of Covid-19’ seeks to analyse the ways in which COVID-19 has been narrated across the world. We are currently data mining news items from English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic speaking countries, and momentarily using digital tools to compare and analyse how the pandemic has been narrated. The project provides valuable insights into the global narrative of COVID-19.


On 31 Dec 2019 the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, China, reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Since then, the media have followed every step of this journey. From the time the virus was first identified (SARS-CoV-2) to the time the disease was named (COVID-19), specific codes played a central role in how the pandemic was narrated.

Science journalism is a Newsbeat that traditionally acts as an arena for creating meaning and offering scientific and technical knowledge that contributes to the debate and criticism of the information that is being disseminated and made available to the public.

At its heart, science journalism is largely about translation —the translation from one language to itself; of otherwise jargon-heavy language into digestible bite-size information to the lay public, allowing them to make informed decisions. Thus, in responding to the question of COVID-19, understanding the language in the news is essential for understanding the world around us and is particularly important in the communication of health threats and the perception of risks.

We seek to examine how Language, as the central medium for transcultural knowledge and the fundamental player in a globalised society, is being used to articulate narratives and shape discourses around the COVID-19 pandemic in the newsroom. As agents of worldmaking, news media have a specific role to play in the formation of theoretical collectives (Neumann and Zierold, 2010), as well as the dissemination of news and opinions. And the current pandemic has been an interesting case study: it is global, politicised, and almost omnipresent.

From Fake News to strain on the political and administrative authorities, it has affected a wide range of news items well beyond its scientific knowledge. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been treated the same around the world, and therefore it has not been narrated the same. The multiple languages of the pandemic have revealed novelties: they have expanded our lexicon with new expressions such as the Covidiota (Portuguese), Covidengue (Spanish), Dracula coughDracula sneeze (English), Hamsterkauf (German) or On-nomi (Japanese). The media has been an inexorable source of neologism and new expressions.

But they have also allowed for politicians to frequently speak of the pandemic in words and phrases that underestimated the situation in the world. The president of Brazil, for example, said that Covid-19 was nothing more than a “little cold“; while in the US, Donald Trump recurrently called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus“.

Language is not neutral. Language has a worldmaking power (Goodman, 1978) that shapes how we see the world, and consequently, hateful language can spread fear and anger. It is, therefore, necessary to consider the implications of particular associations with this disease. For example, the symbolic association of the “Chinese virus” is different from that of COVID-19. It has consequences on a social and political level, as is evident from various violent attacks on Chinese or Asian-looking individuals as we have seen in this country.

The news media provides insights into the current pandemic. They offer access to pertinent and comprehensive information, giving people different aspects of this virus crisis through their very specific lenses. As a mediator, they are also exposing possible discoveries that may change society and the way it exists.

“Language Acts and Worldmaking is uniquely placed to offer significant insights into its global narration”. We are working with a multi-disciplinary team to engage scholarship in Modern Languages, Digital Humanities, Linguistics and History, and to examine how COVID-19 has been told in the world.

[Updated with recording] 2020 LOATHING: Digital Tensions, Fragmentations and Polarisations – Friday 26th June

The following post is from Roy Cobby, 1st Year MPhil/PhD Student at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London.

The full video for the conference is now available here:

You can also access a booklet summarising the panels here:

The PhD Conference at the Department of Digital Humanities in King’s College London is a yearly opportunity for research students at the department to gain experience in event organising. Our proposed title was 2020 LOATHING: Digital Tensions, Fragmentations and Polarisations, as we wished to reflect what we perceived as a certain tiredness and cynicism with the so-called “digital revolution”. Any optimism of the high globalisation era has been replaced today with the social tensions, economic fragmentations and political polarisations caused or at least accelerated by the digital transformation. While further thematic details were still being finalised, the realities of confinement made us postpone it, without really knowing when or where we would be able to hold the conference.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we decided that it would be a missed opportunity not to hold a conference this year. Aware of current limitations, we still believe that it is important to discuss ongoing digital transformations. If anything, the circumstances of working from home, online teaching and other adaptations have relied more than ever on the growing public and private digital infrastructure. Plus, proposed solutions are more or less connected to tech dreams and projects, from tracking apps to virtual health assessments. If recent financial information is to be believed, it is precisely those firms (GAFA) operating in the online space which are benefiting the most from the new reality.

We are very thankful for the involvement of KCL Digital Humanities Department, including Dr Mark Coté (who really helped us shape the conference, offline and online), and Drs Mercedes Bunz and Ashwin J Mathew, who will take part in the panels to provide comments on the lead panellists presentations. Following the truly international spirit of King’s and DDH, we were also happy to welcome Dr Rodrigo Firmino, from PUCPR Brazil.

2020 Loathing Conference programme



Routledge International Handbook of Research Methods in Digital Humanities: some pre-launch thoughts

The following post is from Stuart Dunn, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London.

The Routledge International Handbook of Research Methods in Digital Humanities, edited by Kristen Schuster and Stuart Dunn, will be published shortly. Like many such volumes, this has matured in to being over time, and our own picture of what the volume is about, and what it should be for, has evolved as we have read and reviewed the 27 chapters of cutting-edge thinking. These represent many of the varied corners of scholarship that feed in to Digital Humanities, and we hope it will similarly help a broader constituency of the field’s scholars re-evaluate their theory and practice, and how they go about it.

We have co-authored an introduction of some 5000 words, in which we set out our own view what DH methodology is and what it is for. We plan to post this online under Routledge’s Green Open Access rules (of which more below) in due course, so we will not go into any detail on this aspect here. We are, however, very excited by the way the volume has shaped up. The emphasis we have tried to establish on what DH *does*, as opposed to (yet another) discussion of what it *is*. In particular, we feel a thread runs through chapters which makes connections between long-established DH debates and newly emerging ones. We see this as a key aim of the volume.

There has been much discussion recently about the place of method in DH. Most recently for example, is a renewed discussion of the dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative methods, highlighted in a link posted recently to the Humanist discussion list by Marinella Testori. This is certainly a key debate, but it’s only one of several. It is important to note in this regard that although we are both academics of the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, and the volume does indeed contain contributions from current and former Departmental colleagues of ours, this book does not in any way reflect a “King’s” view of the field – if such a thing even exists (one of us has blogged on this recently). Rather, we have tried very hard to step outside our immediate institutional context and provide a bottom-up evaluation of the latest methodological developments in the field.

The volume comprises of three sections, Computation and Connection; Convergence and Collaboration, and Remediation and Transmission. All three sections acknowledge that DH – both its subjects and its methods – exist in a world that is connected in new ways. We have tried to imagine these new kinds of connectivity and consider why they are important. This is a challenge all our authors have risen to magnificently. Under these headings, various sub-themes are explored, some of which have perhaps not had the profile in DH methods discussions that they should have. We are excited, for example, to have been able to include a three-chapter section on critical pedagogies in DH, a subject which will be essential as the 2020/21 academic year starts with much teaching online, and/or socially distanced, due to Covid-19. The same, of course, can be said for collaborative research, and the virtualization of most academic meetings and conferences. By establishing what is methodologically necessary for doing DH in a connected world, we can surely equip it better to weather storms like Covid, as well as to improve and evolve incrementally, as network technologies evolve.

As noted, our own introduction will be posted in preprint form under Green Open Access in due course. Of course, whether individual authors follow suit or not will be up to them and will depend on a range of factors including requirements to deposit manuscripts with institutional repositories; tenure and promotion considerations and the norms of their “home” research domains. However, we hope that as many unprocessed drafts as possible will be available via this protocol.

This leads us to comment on the way we have attempted to address inclusivity and diversity in the volume. All chapters were contributed by invitation. Some authors were identified through our own networks and knowledge of the field, others through the process of “snowballing” where authors already on board made recommendations to fill the gaps that emerged as the Table of Contents grew. In all cases, we have prioritized the excellence of the work involved – there has been no conscious attempt to socially engineer the author pool. We are, however, very proud of the fact that many of the contributors are early career researchers, although these are blended with more established voices as well. We are also proud of the fact that well over half of the contributors use she/her pronouns. We acknowledge that there could be more representation from the Global South and non-Anglophone worlds. However the volume nonetheless contains a great deal of critical self-reflection of Anglophone/Western DH (some of it quite hard-hitting) which we hope will enable such inclusive conversations going forward – starting with a recognition that “inclusivity” isn’t simply the admission of a particular group to a particular territory; but rather an equal intercultural conversation. We have tried to start such a conversation between the many different cultures of DH, and hope that it will expand in that spirit.


Podcast Live on New Research Project – COVID-19’s Effect on Digital Interaction & Health Management

Dr Rachael Kent, Teaching Fellow in Digital Media and Culture of Department of Digital Humanities has launched a timely empirical research project exploring how people are using digital technology during COVID-19 lockdown and isolation. In particular, how it is shifting social interactions and health practices in everyday life.

Rachael was recently a guest on The Know Show sharing her initial findings from the project.  Rachael discusses the new social media pressures arising from lockdown such as the ‘fear of not being productive’, online and offline pressures of being a ‘moral healthy citizen’, the ‘social distancing dance’ of navigating city streets, to the geographic differences in perceptions of agency and freedom during the lockdown.

The Know Show is a podcast that brings you the most fascinating academic research in a simple conversation. We talk to leading academics from around the world about their research and what it means to our everyday lives. Whether they are experts on pandemics or the paranormal, health tracking or history, the know show makes this research accessible to everyone! Subscribe to us on apple podcasts, Spotify, Youtube, and all other platforms today and be part of the research revolution!”

What Versus How: Teaching Digital Humanities After COVID-19

The following post is from Stuart Dunn, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London. It is part of a series of blog posts about the department’s research, teaching and engagement activities in times of COVID19, exploring research in progress, documenting collaborations and surfacing different perspectives on online and blended learning and exploring activities that members of the department are undertaking to prepare for the coming academic year.

It will take a very long time for us to fully understand the long-term impact of the current COVID-19 crisis, and all the horrors it has bought to the world. By “us” I mean Higher Education, but of course this applies globally. Last month, in the space of a week many universities (including of course my own)  underwent the kinds of changes that would normally take five years or more to effect; and it is unclear when any kind of “normality”, as visible in the familiar processes of face to face Higher Education, will return. Given the great dependence of the global HE sector on academic and student mobility, and (some argue), the generally disorganized nature of many Western governments’ initial responses to suppressing the outbreak, some predictions estimate that it may be March 2021, or even later in Western Europe, before such normality can resume.

As the next academic year approaches – and its potential timing is discussed – we need to consider online teaching as a matter of resilience. After all proto-Internet itself emerged in the 1960s and 1970s partly as a response to the shadow of Cold War, providing a means of channelling executive command decisions through “distributed networks” which could survive nuclear attack. Given that COVID-19 and/or other pandemics may well recur, we have responsibility to our students, and each other, to consider how we might weather such storms in the future.

More importantly though, it is a matter of pedagogy. One thing to say at the start, which is extremely obvious within the DH community, but which still perhaps needs re-stating, is that moving teaching normally done face to face online at a time of emergency is not the same thing as online pedagogy, never mind good online pedagogy. No one – academics, students, management – should expect it to be. Once this fundamental truth is acknowledged, there opens up a range of important and self-reflective questions that DH as a field needs to ask about what good online pedagogy is. This post attempts to pose – if not answer – some of these questions. Continue reading “What Versus How: Teaching Digital Humanities After COVID-19”

Contact Tracing Apps: Should we embrace Surveillance?

‘Media show up wherever we humans face the unmanageable mortality of our material existence,’ wrote the philosopher John Peters Durham five years ago not knowing that the Coronavirus Covid-19 would prove him right. Already at the beginning of February there was an app for assisting us in managing our mortality better, and as it usually is with apps, soon there were too many of them to keep track.

There were apps that tracked your symptoms. Apps that calculated the likeliness of you having Covid-19 out of thin air. Apps that informed you about the coronavirus spread in your area crunching recent data. And apps that warned you rightly or wrongly about having come in contact with a carrier of Covid-19. All over the world governments were looking into how to best track the infections of their citizens. Thanks to COVID-19, surveillance seemed to have become acceptable. Even the EU, so far the leading in the fight for privacy and data protection, adapted to this tune. Its GDPR law had set a new standard influencing the handling of data worldwide. That was then. Now its European Data Protection Supervisor stated that Covid-19 is a moment in which ‘you realise the world has changed’. And the apps on our smartphones were the game changer.

Covid-19? There is an app for it

Smartphone applications seemed predestined for those many different sides of the invisible worldwide enemy No.1, Covid-19. Apps often solve rather particular, singular tasks. This aspect has been ridiculed in the meme ‘there is an app for it’ and has led academics studying digital technology to describe apps as ‘mundane software’ (Morris & Murray 2018). Mundane, as apps assist us in everyday life with banal tasks and ‘little nothings’ – nothings that seem insignificant only as long as they are not linked together. Now that even insignificant contacts can become a threat, the hope of curbing the pandemic lies on those little nothings. At least for some. Others fear a further normalisation of surveillance.

Continue reading “Contact Tracing Apps: Should we embrace Surveillance?”

CFP: Disrupting Digital Monolingualism

Call For Proposals

An international workshop on languages in critical digital theory and practice

Hosted by Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, 16th and 17th June 2020

This two-day workshop explores the theme of ‘Disrupting Digital Monolingualism’ and brings together leading researchers, educators, digital practitioners, language-focused professionals, policy makers and other interested parties to address the challenges of multilingualism in digital spaces and to collectively propose new models and solutions. The workshop will combine both conceptual (strategy, policy and theory) and practical perspectives (digital ecosystems, methods and tools with a focus on language).

By bringing together multiple perspectives on languages-driven digital practice, we hope the workshop will lead to new collaborations centred on multilingualism and geocultural diversity. Outcomes will be defined by attendees, but may include co-design of conceptual frameworks or practical outcomes such as prototypes or toolkits.

Key dates:

  • Call for proposals deadline: 12pm (GMT) on 16 March 2020
  • Response to proposals: 30 March 2020
  • Workshop: Tuesday 16 and Wednesday 17 June 2020

Please find more information here.

– Paul Spence

Welcome new Visiting Researcher Cécile Malaspina!

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Cécile Malaspina will be joining us as a Visiting Researcher in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London. I know many of you will already know of Cécile’s work, not least of which is her important translation of Gilbert Simondon’s On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects as well as her recent book An Epistemology of Noise: Philosophy, Digital Culture and Artistic Experimentation. She was recently elected to a six-year chair as a London-based Program Director Abroad for the prestigious College International de Philosophie, Paris, which was established by Jacques Derrida and others in the 1980s. Our department, along with French and Philosophy, will provide a London home for her chair, and this will entail hosting regular public seminars over the next three years exploring the the crossroads of philosophy, technology, the digital and the arts. This will resonate with the research of many in our department and you are all cordially invited to attend.

Cécile will kick off An Aesthetics of Noise on Thursday 27 February 2020 from 17:00-19:00 in the Embankment Room (

More about Cécile’s research interests can be found in her bio below and she has asked that I extend a heartfelt invitation to all colleagues who may be interested in collaborating, discussing shared research interests or simply meeting for a coffee to chat.

– Mark Coté

Cécile Malaspina is a leading scholar on the work of the French philosopher of technology Gilbert Simondon, among other things having translated his important monograph On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. She has recently been elected to the executive board of the Collège International de Philosophie (CIPh) and to the editorial board of its journal, Rue Descartes. This highly prestigious research institution was co-founded in 1983 by Jacques Derrida, François Châtelet, Jean-Pierre Faye and Dominique Lecourt with a mandate for the independent and intersectional exploration of philosophy, and to hold seminars that are free and open to the public. Cécile was nominated to a six-year chair as Program Director Abroad. She will start a seminar series for the CIPh at King’s College, open to the entire King’s community and the wider public, with the aim to establish a close partnership between the CIPh and King’s College.

Her seminar, An Aesthetics of Noise: Philosophy, Digital Culture and Artistic Experimentation, will invite emergent and prominent thinkers to reflect on the aesthetic dimension of ‘noise’ in science, technology and the arts. How do these domains redraw the conditions of possible experience? How do we judge the singularity of experience in an age not of enlightenment, but of complexity and noise? Cécile has previously published An Epistemology of Noise. With this seminar she turns her attention to the what is singular in experience, to the new dimensions of perception or aísthēsis (αἴσθησῐς) afforded by technological mediation, as well as scientific and artistic creativity. Cécile is qualified as maître de conferences in philosophy and epistemology, history of the sciences and technology by the French ministry for education. She holds a doctorate summa cum laude in Epistemology, Philosophy and History of Science and Technology from Paris 7 University Denis Diderot. Cécile is a member of the editorial boards of the journals Rue Descartes and Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, as well as of the independent publisher Copy Press, and she acts as a reviewer for journals and funding bodies.

Openings for Two New Professorships in “Digital Technology in Culture and Society” and “Critical Digital Practice”

The Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London is looking for two full Professors to join us. One opening is for “Professor of Digital Technology in Culture and Society” and the other is for “Professor of Critical Digital Practice”. They will contribute to developing research, teaching and collaborations to facilitate “critical inquiry with and about the digital”.

King’s College London has a long tradition of research in the digital humanities, going back to the early 1970s. Building on the department’s expertise in digital information management, digital research methods and humanities computing from the early 1990s, it has grown to become a world leader in research on digital humanities, culture and society. Following several hiring rounds in the past few years, the department has a diverse community of scholars, undergraduates and graduate students exploring the role of digital technology in society from a humanities perspective, informed by a variety of different fields. This includes our BA in Digital Culture, MA Programmes in Big Data in Culture & Society, Digital Culture & Society  and Digital Asset & Media Management, as well as MA/PhD research degrees in Digital Humanities. The two professors will join at an exciting time for the department and will help to shape its future direction and activities.

The department has a new bespoke Digital Humanities Teaching Lab, a state of the art education space with computer facilities for up to 35 students and a larger capacity collaborative teaching area with views of London’s Embankment. It benefits from an array of exciting research projects valued at some £8m as well as collaborations with a wide variety of London-based and international organisations and institutions. This September will see the launch of a new MSc in Digital Economy.

On the new posts, Stuart Dunn, Head of Department, says:

We seek to recruit two outstanding individuals who will enable us, and King’s, to continue taking forward the unique contribution that Digital Humanities has to make in the 21st century.

These posts represent a major expansion of the senior academic leadership of the Department of Digital Humanities, in fact it is the largest such expansion in the Department’s history. Situated in one of the leading Arts and Humanities Faculties in the world, they are an opportunity for us to consolidate the strengths we have nurtured in recent years, and connect them with the kind of ground-breaking teaching and research for which the Department  has always been known. 

Marion Thain, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, comments:

The Department of Digital Humanities at King’s is a nation-leading centre in the field. This search for two new professors sits alongside the College’s provision of a purpose-built digital teaching lab as part of our investment in our world-class standing in this field. This is an amazing opportunity for talented and dynamic scholars to join us at King’s.

We particularly welcome applications from women and black and minority ethnic candidates. The closing date is 3rd March 2020. Further details are available here (Professor of Digital Technology in Culture and Society) and here (Professor of Critical Digital Practice). If you have any questions regarding the posts please email

Professor of Digital Technology in Culture and Society

The post holder will deliver world-leading research, research-informed teaching, and research mentoring and supervision.  Applicants will be able to demonstrate an international profile with an excellent publication record and a track record of achieving grant funding. The post holder will build and expand upon the Department’s research, extending into new directions and significant emergent areas.

They will be expected to provide inspiring and innovative teaching and research that explores the social, cultural and intellectual role of computing within contemporary society, in ways that expand and enrich the digital humanities as more conventionally understood.  They will teach across the Department’s existing range of options and create new modules of broad interest at both BA and MA level.

Applications from all areas of the digital humanities and culture will be considered but we particularly welcome applications from candidates whose research provokes new thinking and crosses disciplinary and domain boundaries.  The post holder will join a vibrant and energetic research community in which the Faculty is investing heavily.

Job pack available here.

Professor of Critical Digital Practice

The post holder will have a strong background as a critical practitioner in a field of the digital humanities, broadly defined. They will deliver world-leading research, including, where appropriate, practice-ed research, research-informed teaching, and research mentoring and supervision.  Applicants will be able to demonstrate an international profile with an excellent publication record commensurate with their expertise, and a track record of achieving grant funding. The post holder will build and expand upon the Department’s research, extending into new directions and significant emergent areas.

They will be expected to provide inspiring and innovative teaching and research grounded in a field of critical digital practice, such as coding, visualization, design or creative methods. They will offer teaching across the Department’s existing range of options, and create new modules of broad interest at both BA and MA level. They will seek out new and emerging student markets and contribute to the development of new programmes to meet student demand, including distance learning.  They will also contribute significantly to the Department and College’s vision for practice-led PhD supervision.

Applications from all areas of the digital humanities and culture will be considered but we particularly welcome applications from candidates whose research provokes new thinking and crosses disciplinary and domain boundaries, and which engages with practice-based research.  The post holder will join a vibrant and energetic research community in which the Faculty is investing heavily.

Job pack available here.

Public Seminar Series: Walking with GPS and Digital Place; Transparency and Managed Visibilities; Platforms and Cultural Production; and Data/Infrastructures in Cities and Forests

We’re delighted to announce the schedule of public seminars for this semester organised by the Department of Digital Humanities:

  • Walking with GPS, Personal Cartographies and Digital Place with Jeremy Wood (artist), Cristina Goldschmidt Kiminami (KCL), Claire Reddleman (KCL) and Stuart Dunn (KCL), Wed 12 February 2020, 6-8pm.
  • The Digital Prism: Transparency and Managed Visibilities in a Datafied World with Mikkel Flyverbom (Copenhagen Business School), Jennifer Pybus (KCL) and Clare Birchall (KCL), Wednesday 18 March 2020, 4.30-6.30pm:
  • Platforms and Cultural Production with Thomas Poell (University of Amsterdam), David B. Nieborg (University of Toronto) and Brooke Erin Duffy (Cornell University), Wednesday 15 April 2020, 5-7pm:
  • Experimental Environments: Data/Infrastructures in Cities and Forests with Gunes Tavmen (KCL) and Jennifer Gabrys (University of Cambridge), Wednesday 20 May 2020, 4-6pm:

A poster for this semester’s public seminar series can be found here. We have a range of other events, including book launches, talks, workshops and symposia, which you can find on our events page.