Uncertain Archives

Uncertain Archives

Critical Keywords for Big Data

Edited by Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, Daniela Agostinho, Annie Ring, Catherine D'Ignazio and Kristin Veel

Scholars from a range of disciplines interrogate terms relevant to critical studies of big data, from abuse and aggregate to visualization and vulnerability.





Scholars from a range of disciplines interrogate terms relevant to critical studies of big data, from abuse and aggregate to visualization and vulnerability.

This groundbreaking work offers an interdisciplinary perspective on big data and the archives they accrue, interrogating key terms. Scholars from a range of disciplines analyze concepts relevant to critical studies of big data, arranged glossary style—from abuse and aggregate to visualization and vulnerability. They not only challenge conventional usage of such familiar terms as prediction and objectivity but also introduce such unfamiliar ones as overfitting and copynorm. The contributors include a broad range of leading and agenda-setting scholars, including as N. Katherine Hayles, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Johanna Drucker, Lisa Gitelman, Safiya Noble, Sarah T. Roberts and Nicole Starosielski.

Uncertainty is inherent to archival practices; the archive as a site of knowledge is fraught with unknowns, errors, and vulnerabilities that are present, and perhaps even amplified, in big data regimes. Bringing lessons from the study of the archive to bear on big data, the contributors consider the broader implications of big data's large-scale determination of knowledge.


$55.00 X ISBN: 9780262539883 640 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 44 b&w illus.


Nanna Bonde Thylstrup

Nanna Bonde Thylstrup is Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School and author of The Politics of Mass Digitization (MIT Press).

Daniela Agostinho

Daniela Agostinho is Assistant Professor at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen. She is coeditor of Uncertain Archives: Critical Keywords for Big Data (MIT Press).

Annie Ring

Annie Ring is Associate Professor in the School of European Languages, Culture, and Society at University College London, and author of After the Stasi.

Catherine D'Ignazio

Catherine D'Ignazio is Assistant Professor of Urban Science and Planning at MIT and coauthor of Data Feminism (MIT Press).

Kristin Veel

Kristin Veel is Associate Professor at the Department for Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen and coauthor of Tower to Tower (MIT Press).


  • Uncertain Archives is an impressive book, both in the sense that it is an extensive and well executed piece of work, and in the sense that it makes an impression on the reader. [... It] provides rich, original, and valuable insights into fundamental issues in society, which at the same time run deep and are changing rapidly.

    Herbjørn Andresen

    Oslo Metropolitan University

    Nordic Journal of Library and Information Studies

  • “Thus, particularly for those engaged in the digital humanities, this keyword glossary offers a significant starting point for further investigation, interrogation, and adaptation of big-data methodologies.”

    David Reamer

    University of Tampa

    Journal of Business and Technical Communication

  • “Rehabilitating uncertainty as a framework for learning, Uncertain Archives is a vade mecum not only for academic researchers and media practitioners engaged in critical data or archival studies but also for anyone who is willing to explore the complexities of big data archives at the crossroad between humans and machines.”

    Guilia Taurino

    Northeastern University

    Information and Culture

  • “This book comes at a time when both archival practice and the academic discipline of archival studies are accelerating their interrogation of the social and political contexts of archives and records, where questions of inclusion, exclusion, management, use, survival, labour, preservation and impact come into play. The focus on big data in this volume, whilst not always made explicit in relation to archives, enables the reader to critically engage with the uncertainty that technological developments bring with them. Whilst it need not be on every archivist's shelf, it does need to be readily available in reference libraries and on reading lists as a glossary of vital concerns and central concepts.”

    Jessamy Harvey

    Archives and Records

  • “The volume as a whole will particularly appeal to scholars from across STS, applied data science, digital humanities and many others thinking about and with data across disciplines... For a project aiming not to define or chart a field but to help construct an 'engaged alliance' for critical thinking and action around big data, Uncertain Archives makes a valuable contribution.”

    Catriona Gray

    LSE Review of Books

  • “Thylstrup, Agostinho, Ring, D'Ignazio, and Veel's Uncertain Archives: Critical Keywords for Big Data is in many ways an extraordinary piece of scientific work. Consisting of 640 pages with 61 chapters authored by no less than 73 contributors, the book offers a substantial addition to existing scholarship on the societal consequences of the large scale datafication of modern life. Yet it is not only the sheer size of the book or its well-crafted composition that is remarkable, but also—and more importantly—the rich insights it presents.”

    Maja Bak Herrie

    The Nordic Journal of Aesthetics

  • “In its entirety this volume—a hefty 624 pages—is enormously dense and rich in scope, introducing readers to a wide range of issues related to the creation, ownership, storage, preservation, dissemination, ethical concerns, and impact of big data in our contemporary society. Its five editors and seventy-three authors span an impressive array of different academic disciplines, artistic practices, and professional or activist backgrounds.”

    Marissa Friedman

    University of California, Berkeley

    Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies