Informatics Seminar Series
Fall Quarter 2019

Friday, October 11, 2019

“We Are All Well: A Partial History of Public Information Infrastructures after Disasters”

Megan Finn, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, School of Information
University of Washington

When an earthquake happens in California today, residents may look to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for online maps that show the quake's epicenter, turn to Twitter for government bulletins and the latest news, check Facebook for updates from friends and family, and hope to count on help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This information order articulates a particular epistemic experience of earthquake for some Americans. In my new book, Documenting Aftermath, I explore post-earthquake information and communication practices amidst infrastructure breakdown in three Northern California earthquakes: the 1868 Hayward Fault earthquake, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In this talk, I discuss how people produce and circulate information in earthquake publics using a comparative historical lens. I analyze the institutions, policies, and technologies that shape today's post-disaster information landscape, paying close attention to not only the circulation of knowledge, but also to the production of ignorance.

Megan Finn is the author of Documenting Aftermath (2018) with MIT Press. She teaches information policy and ethics at University of Washington's School of Information where she is an assistant professor. Megan is a faculty member of the DataLab at the Information School, and at the eScience Institute where, as a part of the data science studies group, she convenes a talk series called Data Then and Now. She is currently working on an NSF-sponsored project on ethical practices in computer security research.

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