Steampunk and Nineteenth-Century Digital Humanities: Literary Retrofuturisms, Media Archaeologies, Alternate Histories (Routledge 2017).
Steampunk is more than a fandom, a literary genre, or an aesthetic. It is a research methodology turning history inside out to search for alternatives to the progressive technological boosterism sold to us by Silicon Valley. This book turns to steampunk’s quirky temporalities to embrace diverse genealogies of the digital humanities and to unite their methodologies with nineteenth-century literature and media archaeology. The result is nineteenth-century digital humanities, a retrofuturist approach in which readings of steampunk novels like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine andKen Liu’s The Grace of Kings collide with nineteenth-century technological histories like Charles Babbage’s use of the difference engine to enhance worker productivity and Isabella Bird’s spirit photography of alternate history China.
“This book’s most novel contribution to Victorian studies, however, lies in its ability to imagine a more inclusive future for the field and for nineteenth-century digital humanities.”
—Johanna Swafford, Victorian Studies 60.4 (Summer 2018).
“Steampunk, he argues, gives us a new reading practice, one that isn’t constrained by historical period or close reading but instead gives us access to “a startlingly diverse set of narratives about the nineteenth century, themselves a consequence of the objects, cultures, signals, and interfaces used to access that history” (5). I find this to be the most exciting part of Whitson’s project. It opens up an energizing range of possibilities for studying the past in the presentist mode that has recently garnered much attention in Victorian literary studies.”
—Megan Ward, Postmodern Culture 28.2 (January 2018).
“He argues that digital humanities are currently limited to a focus on archiving and preservation, when scholars could be engaging with these archives more actively through various material and narrational methods, exemplified in steampunk through the construction of gadgets, appropriation of older technological methodologies, and reconsideration of political protest through counter-historical imaginaries.”
—Jaymee Goh Sook Yi, Science Fiction Studies 45.2 (July 2018).
“Roger Whitson’s book is a timely, conceptually ambitious, innovative study that stresses the usefulness of steampunk in exposing the natural and historical processes built into digital humanities. […] [T]he steampunk mode is one of layering, negotiation and entanglement. Similarly, the book itself stratifies its contents in reordered configurations and dynamic juxtapositions, discussing an array of genres and media: fiction, essays, technical descriptions, painting, photography, graphic novels, exhibition items, emails, video recording, social media, and video games.”
— Kostas Boyiopoulos, The British Association of Romantic Studies Review 52 (2018).
“Whitson sets two goals: first, to look at the nineteenth century as both a historical period and a digital system whose various cultural practices are currently being played with by a variety of artists, scholars, and other makers; second, to see steampunk not simply as an aesthetic, but as a vehicle for contemporary expressions through nineteenth-century technologies, storytelling devices, fashions, etc. He is largely successful in realizing these goals.”
—Johnathan P. Lewis, Extrapolation 59.3 (2018).
“As each of Whitson’s five chapters demonstrates, time and existence have not only been anthropocentrized, but Westernized and whitewashed as well. To challenge such perspectives, Whitson argues, we might borrow methods from steampunk’s response to capitalism, globalization, industrialization, and Westernization.”
—Jessica Witte, Configurations 26.2 (Spring 2018).