Issue Number Six: The Total Archive

Edited by Boris Jardine and Christopher Kelty

March 2016: Vast accumulations saturate our world: phone calls and emails stored by security agencies; every preference of every individual collected by advertisers; ID numbers, and maybe an iris scan, for every Indian; hundreds of thousands of whole genome sequences; seed banks of all existing plants, and of course, books… all of them. Just what is the purpose of these optimistically total archives, and how are they changing us?

This issue of Limn asks authors and artists to consider how these accumulations govern us, where this obsession with totality came from and how we might think differently about big data and algorithms, by thinking carefully through the figure of the archive.

Contributors: Miriam Austin, Jenny Bangham, Reuben Binns, Balázs BodóGeoffry C. Bowker, Finn Brunton, Lawrence Cohen, Stephen Collier, Vadig De Croehling, Lukas Engelmann, Nicholas HA Evans, Fabienne Hess, Anna HughesBoris Jardine, Emily Jones, Judith Kaplan, Whitney Laemmli, Andrew Lakoff, Rebecca Lemov, Branwyn Poleykett, Mary Murrell, Ben Outhwaite, Julien Prévieux, and Jenny Reardon.

Preface: The Total Archive

Archives make the future. Editors Boris Jardine and Christopher Kelty explore how archives govern us

Keeping the Books

Finn Brunton goes inside the Bitcoin blockchain to explore the weirdly meticulous collective archive, and how it might someday govern us.

The Bombing Encyclopedia of the World

How do you plan for the sudden onset of total war? Stephen J. Collier and Andrew Lakoff describe the construction of a vast collection of data about the vital, vulnerable systems of every nation in the world in the aftermath of World War II.

Unpacking Google’s Library

Google wanted to digitize all the world’s books but eventually abandoned that goal. Mary Murrell explores the rise and fall of one utopian library project and the emergence of new ones in its wake.

Duplicate, Leak, Deity

Lawrence Cohen de-duplicates the complex story of India’s Biometric Archive(s).

Just What Are We Archiving?

What kind of people will we become if we keep trying to archive everything? Geof Bowker reports from inside the Skinner Box.

How to be open about being closed

How does the Internet forget what it should not remember? Reuben Binns dives inside the rules for Biographies of Living Persons at Wikipedia and the right to be forgotten.

The Origins of Happiness

Boris Jardine tells the story of a little ladder intended to tell us what everyone wants. Where on the ladder are you?

The Genomic Open

Leaders of the Human Genome Project promised a genomic total archive. Jenny Reardon argues that their quest inspired visions of freedom and imprisonment vital to understanding today’s ambivalences around open genomic data.

Unending Archives

Aleph or Library? Work from the Artist Collective UA explores whether art can be an archive, or an archive art.

What Escapes the Total Archive

Rebecca Lemov relates how the stories in the a “database of dreams” leak out of the edges, and sometimes overwhelm totality with particularity.

Fragments of Plague

Branwyn Poleykett, Nicholas HA Evans and Lukas Engelmann are rethinking the role of the visual in the creation of a total archive of the Third Plague Pandemic.

In the Name of Humanity

The total archive is already here, Balázs Bodó finds it hidden in the shadows and run by pirates.

A Hoard of Hebrew MSS

Ben Outhwaite tells the stories of the people who immerse themselves in one of the most valuable total archives in existence—the Cairo Genizah.

Selections from the Valaco Archive

Vadig de Croehling, Director of Ideation, Process, and Interface at the Group for Research on Experimental Accumulation and Speculative Archives (REASArch), offers a sampling of elements from one of his organization’s most inscrutable archival projects.

Zebras, Blanks and Blobs

How can we work with vast digital collections? Artist Fabienne Hess explores the content and scale of an online image database