The Politics of Mass Digitization
A new examination of mass digitization as an emerging sociopolitical and sociotechnical phenomenon that alters the politics of cultural memory.
Today, all of us with internet connections can access millions of digitized cultural artifacts from the comfort of our desks. Institutions and individuals add thousands of new cultural works to the digital sphere every day, creating new central nexuses of knowledge. How does this affect us politically and culturally? In this book, Nanna Bonde Thylstrup approaches mass digitization as an emerging sociopolitical and sociotechnical phenomenon, offering a new understanding of a defining concept of our time.
Arguing that digitization has become a global cultural political project, Thylstrup draws on case studies of different forms of mass digitization—including Google Books, Europeana, and the shadow libraries Monoskop, lib.ru, and Ubuweb—to suggest a different approach to the study of digital cultural memory archives. She constructs a new theoretical framework for understanding mass digitization that focuses on notions of assemblage, infrastructure, and infrapolitics. Mass digitization does not consist merely of neutral technical processes, Thylstrup argues, but of distinct subpolitical processes that give rise to new kinds of archives and new ways of interacting with the artifacts they contain. With this book, she offers important and timely guidance on how mass digitization alters the politics of cultural memory to impact our relationship with the past and with one another.
Hardcover$35.00 S | £27.00 ISBN: 9780262039017 216 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 2 b&w illus.
“Like the great libraries of the past, all mass digitization projects have a political context. Nanna Bonde Thylstrup combines insightful analysis of how cultural and political themes are interwoven with in-depth case studies of projects like Google Books and Europeana, and contrasts these projects with 'shadow libraries.' Thylstrup draws on a wide range of earlier work, from Voltaire to Borges and many modern scholars, but we always hear her voice. It is good to have a book on this topic written by a scholar who is deeply knowledgeable, but slightly removed from the projects they describe.”
William Y. Arms
Professor Emeritus, Computing and Information Science at Cornell University
“Thylstrup's elegantly written and precise analysis unfolds the implicit cultural, media-economical and legal 'infrapolitics' of the mass digitization assemblage of human and non-human agencies. Re-actualizing Walter Benjamin's figure of the 'flâneur,' this study discusses strategies of how not to get lost in the labyrinth of Google Books or Europeana mass digitization. This qualitative analysis offers critical answers to the 'big data' avalanche of digital text quantification and to the phantasma of the 'total archive.'"
Professor of Media Theories at Humboldt University of Berlin and author of Digital Memory and the Archive
“ In this timely polemic, Nanna Bonde Thylstrup shows how the increased access to information enabled by mass digitization is transforming our engagement with cultural works. In the process, clear distinctions between 'legal' (Google Books, Europeana) and 'pirate' (Monoskop, lib.ru) projects and platforms are becoming much harder to maintain. The Politics of Mass Digitization deserves to be read, cited —and digitized massively!”
Director of the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, UK and author of Pirate Philosophy
"Aliens approaching Earth might scan our mass digitized universal libraries to learn about human history. But they'd never see the national and corporate image-making, the institutional infighting, the deleted cultures, and the utopian stakes that surround those libraries. They'd never understand the texture of that history. To understand that, they'd need this book."
Director, Samek Art Museum, Bucknell University and coauthor of Re-collection
“Despite the fervor to update the world's archives from atoms to bits, cultural heritage organizations are discovering that mass digitization is rarely pure and never simple. This fresh perspective on an underexamined topic explains how governments collaborate and compete with private companies, like Google, to provide digital access and preservation. When they fail, as Thylstrup convincingly argues, shadow libraries undeterred by profit, bureaucracy, or the law step up to fill the gap.”
Director of Digital Curation, the University of Maine; coauthor of Re-collection