Digital Matters Fall 2022 Faculty Grant Awardee and Graduate Residency Fellowship Announcement

We’re excited to announce a couple more additions to our Fall 2022 Digital Matters department, Prof. Eric Herschthal has been awarded our faculty grant and John Sutter, a graduate student in the department of Film and Media Arts, has been awarded our 2022 Graduate Residency Fellowship!


Eric Herschthal

DM Faculty Grant Awardee, Fall 2022

Eric Herschthal
Prof. of History
History Department
Carbon Conscripts: Slavery and the Origins of Climate Change.

Eric Herschthal is an historian of slavery and abolition in the United States and the wider Atlantic World. His first book, The Science of Abolition: How Slaveholders Became the Enemies of Progress (Yale University Press, 2021), explored how Black and white scientists and abolitionists used scientific ideas to discredit slavery. His current research project will explore the role slavery played in the origins of climate change. His research has appeared in peer-reviewed historical journals such as Slavery & Abolition, The Journal of the Early Republic, The Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, and Early American Studies. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, his B.A. in history from Princeton University, and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. As a former journalist, he continues to write for mainstream publications such as The New York Times, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and The New York Review of Books.

Project Description: The Digital Matters Fellowship will support my current research project, tentatively titled Carbon Conscripts: Slavery and the Origins of Climate Origins. Interdisciplinary scholars working across fields such as environmental studies, Black Studies, and science and technology studies have argued that the histories of capitalism, slavery, and settler colonialism are integral to the origins of anthropogenic climate change. Rather than a universal “Anthropocene,” they argue for a more specific “Plantationocene” or “Capitalocene” in order to name more explicitly the role European capitalism, imperialism and racism have played in shaping today’s world-economy and its attendant climate crisis. Yet scholars in general, and historians of slavery in particular, have not yet found a way to test the validity of the Plantationocene framework, or to explain more precisely how slavery mattered in the broader history of anthropogenic climate change. My project focuses racial slavery’s development in the British Atlantic World and early United States in order to measure the difference slave plantations and slave-reliant coal factories made in regard to carbon emissions. Initial research shows that slave plantations were indeed the most carbon-intensive form or agriculture in the early modern world, whether if we compare it to indenture servant plantations, commercial family farms, or various forms of Indigenous American agriculture practices. By the nineteenth century, slave-picked American cotton greatly accelerated that rate of coal use in English factories. In both these processes then – deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels – slavery had an outsized and now measurable impact. Carbon Conscripts thus demonstrates the slavery’s role in the birth of Anthropocene, and argues that while slave-based societies may have been too small to greatly impact global emissions at the time, they nonetheless helped set in motion the underlying processes still fueling anthropogenic climate change today.


John Sutter

DM Grad Fellow, Fall 2022

John Sutter
Graduate Student
Department of Film and Media Studies
What your Weather App is hiding from you

John comes to us as a graduate student from the Film and Media Arts department. John worked at CNN for almost a decade telling the stories of those affected by the current climate crisis but was worried that less was being done in order to tackle the slow moving shift associated with global warming in contrast to the point-in-time natural disasters that it was creating.

Project Description:My goal is to expand on my independent documentary film called BASELINE: Part 1 by creating an online art piece tentatively titled, “What your weather app is hiding from you.” One way that we humans do try to make sense of long-term trends, of course, is through data. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has more than 100 years of weather data for most locations in the United States. Yet popular weather apps like those from Apple, The Weather Channel and even MIT (Dark Sky) fail to present data that would put today’s weather in the historical context we need in order to make sense of it. During the fellowship, I would create a proof-of-concept website that allows users to see the 100-year average temperature for that day in their particular location — compared with that day’s forecast. The point is to get people to see that date’s weather in the context of 100-year averages. To stretch our weather memory.