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Machine Reading the Archive - Reading group titles and reading list

A reading group for the Machine Reading the Archive programme

Machine Reading the Archive

Reading group

The aim of the reading group sessions is to explore texts from a range of disciplines which grapple with the fundamental questions underlying the programme:

  • What is an archive?
  • Who makes archives?
  • How are archives used?
  • Are archives in the digital age different to their predecessors?

Each session is structured around a theme, for which we have proposed a set of key readings, however we will be asking participants to submit their own suggestions for additional readings for each theme in order to build up a programme reading-list. Add your suggestions on the Etherpad here

Reading group sessions take place in Room 5, History Faculty
A sandwich lunch will be provided, so please book online for each session to help us cater accurately

Session 1: Tuesday 21 February 12-1.30pm
Archives as infrastructure
Convened by: Lukas Engelmann and Anne Alexander

Book online

Archives are infrastructures in more ways than one: they require both organisation and physical facilities to operate, and are often integrated into larger infrastructures of the state, of cultural heritage and educational institutions or of corporations. Our readings for this session invite reflection on the infrastructural qualities of the archive in the digital age. What changes when the archive is no longer a building or a room preserving and providing access to paper documents or other media on site, but a node in a network which can be accessed remotely?

Key readings:
Hilary Jenkinson, 1922, A manual of archive administration including the problems of war archives and archive making, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, pp1-22

Moss, M. S. 2008, ‘Opening Pandora’s Box - What Is an Archive in the Digital Environment?’ In What Are Archives? Cultural and Theoretical Perspectives: A Reader, edited by L. Craven, 71-89. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Session 2: Tuesday 28 February 12-1.30pm
Archives in practice
Convened by: Lukas Engelmann

Book online

A visit to the archives is an essential rite of passage en route to becoming a professional historian, Carolyn Steedman observes in her essay ‘After the Archive’. Our readings this session focus on the practices associated with the different professions associated with the archive, and ask how these have changed with the creation of digital collections.

Key readings:

Steedman, Carolyn, 2011, ‘After the Archive’, Comparative Critical Studies, 8, pp321-340,

Huc-Hepher, Saskia. "Big Web Data, Small Focus: An Ethnosemiotic Approach to Culturally Themed Selective Web Archiving." Big Data & Society 2, no. 2 (December 27, 2015): 2053951715595823. doi:10.1177/2053951715595823.

Session 3: Tuesday 14 March 12-1.30pm
Archives as collections
Convened by: Anne Alexander

Book online

Our final session will investigate the changing nature of the archive from the perspective of its contents. We will examine the concept of the document and the record, analyse the status of files and folders, and explore the relationship between the collection and the archive. We will ask whether digital archives remain merely simulators of their paper equivalents, or whether something fundamental has changed when they are partially constituted by decisions enshrined in computer code?

Key readings:

Manoff, Marlene, 2010, ‘Archive and Database as Metaphor: Theorizing the Historical Record’ Libraries and the Academy 10 (4): 385–98,

Gitelman, Lisa, 2014, ‘Near print and beyond paper. Knowing by *.pdf’, Paper Knowledge: towards a media history of documents, pp111- 135, Duke University Press, (online access available via the UL, log-in with Raven to view).


Further readings and links

Bowker, Geoffrey C., Susan Leigh Star, Sorting Things Out. Classification and Its Consequences. Inside Technology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999.  

Daston, Lorraine. "The Sciences of the Archive." Osiris 27, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 156–87. doi:10.1086/667826.

Ogilvie, Brian. "Scientific Archives in the Age of Digitization." Isis 107, no. 1 (March 1, 2016): 77–85. doi:10.1086/686075.

Issue Number Six: The Total Archive

Craven, Louise. What Are Archives?: Cultural and Theoretical Perspectives: A Reader. Routledge, 2016.

Alan Liu, 'The State of the Digital Humanities: A Report and a Critique', Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, 11 (2012), pp. 8–41


We are a network of researchers at the University of Cambridge who are interested in how the use of digital tools is transforming scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. This transformation spans both the content and practice of humanities research, as the diffusion of digital technologies opens up new fields of study and generates research questions which breach traditional disciplinary boundaries.

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