Welcome to my website. I am an anthropologist focused on the cultural dimensions of technological change. I have a particular interest in books amid their digitization.
You can get a taste for my work from this recent publication in the journal Current Anthropology: “The Orphans of Mass Digitization.” (Feel free to send me feedback or comments at murrell3 at wisc dot edu.)
I am currently writing a commissioned essay for the Annual Review of Anthropology on the “Anthropology and Books Today.”
My longer-term project is a book entitled The Open Book: An Anthropologist in the Digital Library. Approaching the book as an “infrastructure,” my book takes the reader on a cultural tour of books in the midst of digitization. Despite their elite status, today’s media environment infuses books with ambivalence. On the one hand, printed books, unnetworked, have become an archaic means of circulating and storing information. On the other, their accumulation in libraries embodies human history and civilization. To overcome these now-troublesome collections is a civilizational high-wire act. How can they be taken into a digital future? What happens to them when they are digitized? Who speaks for them and for whom do they speak? What’s at stake if they are left undigitized? To whom do they ultimately belong? I explore these questions around books through the case of mass digitization, the industrial scale retrospective conversion of library collections.
The book began during ethnographic fieldwork I conducted while a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley. For that research, I received support from the National Science Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the University of California. In 2014 I completed a two-year Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I remain a Honorary Fellow in the Department of Anthropology.
My teaching — at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison — has focused on the anthropology of media/new media and science and technology studies.
Before becoming an anthropologist, I worked as an acquisitions editor, in the humanities and social sciences, at Princeton University Press. I continue to be involved in publishing in a variety of capacities. I serve on the University of Wisconsin Press‘s Editorial Committee. I also serve on the Advisory Board of the open access publishing cooperative Libraria, and, upon request, as a publishing consultant to the newly open access American Anthropological Association journal Cultural Anthropology. I served on the Advisory Board of the digital publishing platform Project Muse from 2014 to 2017.
You can find out more about my past, present, and near future on my c.v. page.
[Last updated October 2017]