Uncertain Archives: Adapting Cultural Theories of the Archive to Understand the Risks and Potentials of Big Data – University of Copenhagen

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Uncertain Archives

We are surrounded by apparatuses that capture, process and archive social and material information without cease and to increasing degree. These range from global search engines to local smart cities technology; from public health monitoring to personal self-tracking. Although the use of big data emerged from the human desire to acquire more knowledge, tame information overload and eliminate human error in large-scale information management, it has in recent years become clear that big data apparatuses, and the archives they accrue, bring with them new and crucial uncertainties in the form of new bias dynamics, worrying systemic errors and, as a result, new ethical challenges which require urgent attention and analysis. Now that the hype of the technological capabilities are subsiding and giving way to a more critical second-generation of scholarship, the ambition of this research group is to examine the range of epistemological, political and ethical uncertainties that are being raised by data-intensive environments.

The Uncertain Archives research group originates at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen, funded by a grant by the Danish Research Council (YDUN), but has since extended its scope and can today be regarded as a collective of researchers that form a research hub which brings together a number of scholars and artists based at different institutions in Denmark and abroad dedicated to thinking critically about the unknowns, the errors and the vulnerabilities of archives in an age of datafication.
 

The Uncertain Archives research group is happy to be able to invite applications for one or two PhDs.

Read more about the PhD scholarships.
 

Projects

Uncertain Archives: Adapting Cultural Theories of the Archive to Understand the Risks and Potentials of Big Data

Big data archives offer themselves as reassuring, neutral and innovative systems for the oversight of today’s information deluge. Yet recurring information scandals suggest that big data entail not only big possibilities, but also a considerable range of uncertainties. It is these uncertainties to which Uncertain Archives is addressed. It offers practical analysis of contemporary big data archives through case studies, which are set in dialogue with the theories that reveal both the risks and the potentials of big data in their present use. In addition to the project’s published outputs setting out the different stakes of this uncertainty, the project draws on live liaison with computer technologists, sociologists, contemporary art practitioners and policy makers to forge a new and theoretically-informed approach both to the technical and to the ethico-political implications of archival uncertainty for the organisation of knowledge today.

Principal Investigator: Kristin Veel
Core group: Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, Daniela Agostinho
Co-investigators: Annie Ring, Anders Søgaard, Kristoffer Ørum, Catherine D’Ignazio, Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld
Funded by The Danish Research Council 2015-2019

Uncertain Archives: Unknowns, Errors, and Vulnerabilities in Big Data

The Carlsberg fellowship enables the inclusion of two PhDs and a series of network events, in this way expanding the group into a larger research hub by training PhDs, solidifying the interdisciplinary scope and increasing national and international visibility of the Uncertain Archives group.

Principal Investigator: Kristin Veel
Core group: Katarzyna Wac, Human-centered Computing Section, University of Copenhagen/ Quality of Life, University of Geneve.
Max Hirsh, Department of Geography, University of Hong Kong
Funded by The Carlsberg Foundation’s Distinguished Associate Professor Fellowships 2019-2021

Archival Encounters: Towards an Ethics of Care in Curatorial Practice

The 2017 centennial of Denmark’s sale of the former Danish West Indies to the USA, today the US Virgin Islands,offered an opportunity to come to terms with Denmark’s colonial past. The image archive played a central role in this process, in particular through the digitisation and public release of Denmark’s colonial records, which gave rise to a plethora of research, artistic and curatorial interventions that advanced important methodologies to deal with images from the colonial past. Yet, these interventions have also shown that much remains to be done with regards to the ethics of curating and displaying colonial images. While recent theoretical and technological developments have led to an increasing desire to make colonial images widely accessible, this access imperative also raises new aesthetic, political and ethical concerns within curatorial practice that require further inquiry. This practice-based project is concerned with the necessity and possibility of inventing a new relationship to the image archive. It posits that the display of such sensitive material demands a critical rethinking of curatorial practice that recasts questions of access, temporality and care. The project advances the notion of “archival encounter” in order to foreground the need to refocus curatorial practice on the ethical encounter between colonial images and contemporary viewing subjects. This “archival encounter” lies at the center of a practice of "curatorial care", a mode of engagement with the colonial image archive that privileges the intersubjective relations between images and communities of looking. The goal of the project is thus twofold: 1) to advance theoretical knowledge on the affective and ethical implications of encountering the colonial image archive in contemporary times, and 2) to formulate curatorial strategies to approach and account for the lives contained in the archives, at a time when the display of our shared heritage faces new challenges.

Principal Investigator: Daniela Agostinho
Funded by The Novo Nordisk Foundation 2018-2020

Mapping a Colony

Principal Investigator: Nanna Bonde Thylstrup
Core group: Lene Asp, Mace Ojala, Louise Jørgensen, Nina Sauerland, ETHOS Lab ITU
Funded by Europeana 2016-2017

Read more.

Disconnectivity in the Digital Age

Digital detox holidays, phone stacking dinners, virtual suicide, a year without Internet. In a culture obsessed with social networking, participation and connectivity, to disconnect has come to mean going off-line: to reclaim presence in the physical world; to revitalize face to face communication; to salvage the actual over the virtual; to (temporarily) obliterate one’s online identity. To disconnect signals a desire to reconnect with one’s off-line identity, with friends, with the spiritual values of life, with one’s natural environment, with the world at large. Disconnectivity thus bespeaks connectivity, and vice versa. For every form of disconnectivity - whether desired or feared - there is a correlative form of connectivity, dreaded or longed for. Each connection evokes the possibility of a disconnection that would instantly annul it, that precedes it, and that conditions it. The aim of this qualitative research project is to develop a framework for understanding the current tendency towards voluntary disconnectivity understood as psychic, socio-economic, and/or political withdrawal under the conditions of global capitalism and a media saturated culture.

Principal Investigator: Pepita Hesselberth
Funded by The Danish Research Council 2015-2018

Big Data - My digital footprint

Teaching material on big data and datafication targeted at secondary education.

Researchers: The Uncertain Archives group in collaboration with Cando Film
Funded by Undervisningsministeriets Udlodningsmidler.

Archives that Matter

Principal Investigator: Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld
Funded by DARIAH.

The Christmas Report & Other Fragments

Researchers 

Kristin Veel, Associate Professor, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen. KV’s research has since her PhD (Cambridge 2008) focussed on the imprints of information and communications technology on contemporary culture. She has published extensively on database culture, surveillance and transparency. Since 2013 she has worked on the project Calm Surveillance (FKK grant/Sapere Aude). Also she is co-organiser of the research network Negotiating (In)Visibilities. She has published the monograph Narrative Negotiations: Information Structures in Literary Fiction (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009) and is co-editor of ten collected volumes and special journal issues. KV is PI on the Uncertain Archives project and is in particular interested in the intersections of narrative theory and the epistemological and hermeneutical implications of big data archives.
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Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, Assistant Professor, School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University. NT’s PhD (Copenhagen, 2014) examines the form and function of mass digitization projects from a macro-political and cultural political perspective. Dominant themes in her dissertation are notions of network power, cultural memory, the public sphere and privacy. The Uncertain Archives project will build upon NT’s extensive expertise in the field of big data, while her component allows her to develop her thinking about the centrality of algorithms as a new form of information governance, in order to examine their logic and cultural/discursive framing: on the one hand as simple and neutral mathematical formulations, and on the other as powerful and often black-boxed forms of control.
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Daniela Agostinho is a visual and cultural theorist whose research is concerned with representations of historical violence, from colonialism to contemporary warfare, with a particular focus on feminist and decolonial perspectives on visual and digital culture. She is a postdoc affiliated with the Uncertain Archives research group. She studied Media and Culture Studies in Lisbon and Berlin. She holds a PhD (2014) in Culture Studies with a dissertation on the photographic records of Ravensbrück women's concentration camp, in which she discussed the relation between visibility, archival reason, gender and disciplinary power. Before joining Uncertain Archives as a postdoc, she was a Lecturer in the MA in PhD programs in Culture Studies at Catholic University of Portugal. Her main areas of interest are Cultural Theory, Visual Culture, Feminist Theory, Film and Moving Image Studies, and Digital Culture. She currently works on the politics of digitization of colonial archives, the visual culture of remote warfare, in particular drone warfare, and cultural theories of big data, in particular feminist and post and decolonial critiques of datafication. In addition to Uncertain Archives, she is affiliated with two networks: Algorithmic Software Cultures and Research Network on Drones and Aesthetics.

Annie Ring is Lecturer in the School of European Languages, Culture and Society at University College London. Her research is concerned with topics of surveillance and subjectivity in modern German and comparative culture, and she teaches modern German and comparative literature, film and thought. She is co-investigator of the Uncertain Archives research group based at University of Copenhagen and co-investigator of the UK-based German Screen Studies Network, and she organises the biennial Picturing Austrian Cinema Symposium at University of Cambridge. She is the joint editor with Kristin Veel and Henriette Steiner of the Brill volume Architecture and Control (2018) and her monograph, After the Stasi (2015; 2nd ed. 2017), is published by Bloomsbury in paperback. Her other publications include essays on Harun Farocki’s deployment of film archives; surveillance and complicity in German workplace documentaries; very late GDR film; the critical spectatorship of porn and theories of the archive by Derrida, Foucault, and Deleuze and Guattari.
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Anders Søgaard, Department of Computer Science. AS has carried out groundbreaking research on the algorithms that underlie machine translations such as Google Translate and he continues to work on issues concerned with natural language processing, machine learning, and philosophy of science. For Uncertain Archives, AS and the CST will develop software on the basis of select sections of the Wikileaks archives, which can be regarded as a prime example of an uncertain archive. The results will provide empirical material both for academic publication and for release in the planned newspaper articles. Moreover, the aim of our collaboration with CST and AS is to provide the group with a forum that can deepen our understanding of the technology underlying the theoretical and cultural effects that Uncertain Archives addresses.
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Catherine D'Ignazio is an Assistant Professor of Civic Media and Data Visualization in the Journalism Department at Emerson College, a Faculty Director at the Emerson Engagement Lab and a Research Affiliate at the MIT Center for Civic Media. Her work focuses on data literacy, feminist technology and civic art.  D'Ignazio has co-developed a suite of tools for data literacy (DataBasic.io), developed custom software to geolocate news articles and co-organized the MIT "Make the Breast Pump Not Suck" Hackathon in 2014 and 2018. Her art and design projects have won awards from the Tanne Foundation, Turbulence.org, the LEF Foundation, and Dream It, Code It, Win It. Her work has been exhibited at the Eyebeam Center for Art & Technology, Museo d’Antiochia of Medellin, and the Venice Biennial.
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Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Postdoc, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen. In her artistic research PhD Time in the Making: Rehearsing Reparative Critical Practices (Copenhagen, 2015), KDH explored how to transform the reparative critical practice (Sedgwick 2003) from a performative and literary hermeneutic practice, towards artistic practices and a digital image in itself. Through the production of multichannel video installation KDH argues that the reparative critical practice styles new forms of subjectivity through a complex engagement with affect, materiality and time. For Uncertain Archives KHD will develop the video essay Pixels that Matter, Or, Data Gift, Data Theft (work title). Paraphrasing Judith Butler’s books Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ and Frames of War KDH KDH will continue to explore questions of reparation in relation to the material, temporal and affective aspects of digitization of archival material, to explore the following question: Who counts as a pixel? & When is a pixel grievable? KDH will explore these questions in relation to the current digitization of The Danish National Archive’s contested material, which Denmark gathered during its 250 years as a colonial power and trader of enslaved people in the US Virgin Islands (Previously the Danish West Indies from 1691 – 1917).

Kristoffer Ørum is an interdisciplinary artist, researcher and organiser based in Denmark. Through lectures, internet projects, exhibitions, interventions and teaching it is his goal to explore the many complex narratives of the everyday. He hopes to challenge existing systems of knowledge and technology through deliberate misunderstanding and misreading of these narratives. In this effort he draws equally from abundant sources of pseudo-scientific knowledge and established critical theory in an attempt to create new associations and narratives for familiar objects and phenomena. Ranging from the complexity of the internet, or economic terms, to the labels of store bought products.
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Pepita Hesselberth is Lecturer in Film and Literary Studies, and Digital Media, at Leiden University. She is the author of Cinematic Chronotopes (Bloomsbury 2014), and co-editor of Compact Cinematics (Bloomsbury 2016), and Legibility in the Age of Signs and Machines (Brill 2018). She is currently working on her project on Disconnectivity in the Digital Age, for which she received a fellowship from the Danish Council for Independent Research, and was appointed as a research fellow at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen (2015-2018). 

Ekaterina Kalinina is a postdoctoral researcher at Department of Art and Cultural Studies  at Copenhagen University, Denmark. She completed her Ph.D.in Media and Communication Studies with the project ‘Mediated post-Soviet nostalgia’ at  Södertörn University, Sweden. She worked as a research fellow at Swedish National Defence University researching on the questions of Russian  patriotism, biopolitics, nostalgia and national identity. Ekaterina Kalinina is also actively engaged in practice based research and works as a project manager at the Swedish organization Nordkonst, where she manages cultural projects and conducts research on cross-cultural artistic practices and intercultural communication. She is currently finishing her project on Hip Hop culture in Russia. She is also a founding member of the International Media and Nostalgia Network. Her current project ‘Uncertainty of Digital Archives: Exploring nostalgia and civic engagement’ investigates the role of affective mnemonic experiences, such as nostalgia, in triggering social mobilisation in digital and physical environments.

Katarzyna Wac,  Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Human Centered-Computing at the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and an Invited Professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, affiliated with Stanford University since 2013. Dr. Wac leads Quality of Life Technologies lab researching how mobile and emerging sensor-based technologies can be leveraged for an accurate, longitudinal personalized assessment of the individual’s behavior and Quality of Life, as they unfold naturally over time and in context, and the improvement of the latter. She draws on new emerging models from Computer Science incorporating examination, diagnosis and treatment of daily life as an “organ” – much like a cardiologist examines heart. Her research appears in more than 100 to date peer reviewed proceedings and journals in computer science, human-computer interaction and health informatics. She is a PI and co-PI in several European (AAL and H2020), Swiss National Science Foundation projects and Stanford Medicine projects. She contributes to the ITU European Regional Initiative for mHealth. In 2015 she has been a TEDMED Research Scholar. She is also a Senior Member of ACM and of IEEE. Current/ past research projects (all of which are related to uncertain archives somehow): in the area of digital health and quality of life technologies: http://www.qol.unige.ch/research.html

The Uncertain Archives group is indebted to the student assistants that have worked with us throughout

  • Charlotte Johanne Fabricius
  • Sayuri Nakata Alsman
  • Johan Lau Munkholm
  • Naja le Fevre Grundtmann

Publications

Edited volumes

  • Thylstrup, Nanna, Daniela Agostinho, Catherine D’Ignazio, Annie Ring, and Kristin Veel (eds.). Uncertain Archives (forthcoming).
  • Agostinho, Daniela, Solveig Gade, Nanna Bonde Thylstrup and Kristin Veel (eds). Warchives (forthcoming).
  • Ekman, Ulrik, Daniela Agostinho, Nanna Bonde Thylstrup and Kristin Veel (eds). The Uncertain Image (forthcoming, Routledge 2019)

Special issues

  • MacKinnon, Lee, Nanna Thylstrup, and Kristin Veel (eds.). Special issue on The Techniques and Aesthetics of Love in the Age of Big Data. Journal of Aesthetics and Culture(2018).
  • Ekman, Ulrik, Daniela Agostinho, Nanna Thylstrup, and Kristin Veel (eds.), Special issue on The Uncertain Image, Digital Creativity28, no. 4 (2017).

Articles and book chapters

Artworks and exhibitions

  • Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld: The Christmas Report & Other Fragments, Ringsted Galleri, 2017.

Videos and working papers

Error + Vulnerability is currently online - we need to add the warchives and kristoffers performance from the uncertain image

Videos from the Archival Uncertainty workshop June, 2016.

Opening remarks

David Murakami Wood: (In)Human Error

Antoinette Rouvroy: Contestability In The Big Data Era

Videos from the Archical Uncertainty workshop 2017

See the videos from the Uncertain Archives #3: Vulnerability workshop.

Day 1


Opening remarks


David Lyon


Sarah Roberts 


Birkan Tas 

Orit Halpern

Day 2


Archive materials


Kara Keeling 


Katrine Holmfeldt 

Media coverage

Information, April 8, 2017: https://www.information.dk/kultur/2017/04/kan-stadig-laere-orwells-1984

DR P1 Orientering Tema: 100 året for salget af De Vestindiske Øer til USA,  March 21, 2017: https://www.dr.dk/radio/ondemand/p1/orientering-2017-03-21/#!/

DR P1 Orientering Tema: Rigsarkivets enestående,vestindiske arkiv snart tilgængeligt på nettet  February 9, 2017:  https://www.dr.dk/radio/ondemand/p1/orientering-2017-02-09/#!/01:42:27

Information September 19, 2016: https://www.information.dk/indland/2016/09/big-data-bedre-data

Deadline June 6, 2016: https://www.dr.dk/tv/se/deadline?queryhash=!%2F00%3A10%3A30

Politiken September 23, 2015: https://politiken.dk/kultur/medier/ECE2854899/nettets-kloakrensere-er-underbetalte-arbejdere-fra-nordamerika-og-asien/

Illusion of Volition September 21, 2015: http://illusionofvolition.com/2015/09/21/tak-kobenhavn-thanks-copenhagen/

Berlingske November 17, 2014: https://www.b.dk/viden/nu-afsloeres-farerne-ved-big-data

Science Nordic November 21, 2014: http://sciencenordic.com/researchers-reveal-dangers-‘big-data’

Videnskab.dk November 15, 2014: http://videnskab.dk/teknologi/forskere-skal-afslore-farerne-ved-big-data

Advisory board

International advisory board

  • Louise Amoore, Professor, Department of Geography, Durham University
  • Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Professor of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
  • Kate Crawford, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New York City; Visiting Professor at MIT’s Center for Civic Media; and Senior Fellow at NYU’s Information Law Institute
  • John Daugman, OBE, Professor of Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, Cambridge University
  • N. Katherine Hayles, Professor of Literature, Duke University 
  • Luciana Parisi, Reader in Cultural Theory, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Evelyn Ruppert, Professor of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • David Murakami Wood, Associate Professor, Surveillance Studies, Queen’s University

National advisory board

  • Anders Albrechtslund, Associate Professor, Information and Media Studies, Aarhus University
  • Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Professor, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, Principal Investigator of the research project ‘The Peoples’ Internet’
  • Geoff Cox, Associate Professor, Digital Design, Aarhus University, Principal Investigator of the research project ‘The Contemporary Condition’
  • Kirsten Drotner, Professor, Department for the Study of Culture – Media, University of Southern Denmark
  • Mikkel Flyverbom, Associate Professor, Department of Intercultural Communication and Management, Copenhagen Business School, part of the research project ‘Global foresight: Anticipatory governance and the making of geo-cultural scenarios’
  • Marianne Ping Huang, Associate Professor, School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University 
  • Sune Lehmann Jørgensen, Associate Professor, DTU COMPUTE, Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Associate Director of Copenhagen Centre for Social Data Science (SODAS) 
  • Jacob Lund, Associate Professor, Aesthetics and Culture, Aarhus University, Principal Investigator of the research project ‘The Contemporary Condition’
  • Anders Koed Madsen, Associate Professor, Department of Education, Learning and Philosophy, Aalborg University
  • Jens-Erik Mai, Professor, Royal School of Information and Library Science, University of Copenhagen
  • Annette Markham, Professor of Information Studies, Aarhus University
  • Søren Pold, Associate Professor in Digital Aesthetics, Aarhus University
  • Christopher Gad, Associate Professor, Technology in Practice, IT University of Copenhagen
  • Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen, Professor, Department of Scandinavian Studies and Experience Economy, Aarhus University, Principal Investigator of the research project ‘Affects, Interfaces, Events’

Core group

NameTitlePhoneE-mail
Veel, Kristin Eva Albrechtsen HaahrAssociate professor +45 20 40 49 14E-mail