The Total Archive: Dreams of Universal Knowledge from the Encyclopaedia to Big Data

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Date / time: 19 March - 20 March, All day

CRASSH, University of Cambridge

The Total Archive: Dreams of Universal Knowledge from the Encyclopaedia to Big Data

The complete system of knowledge is a standard trope of science fiction, a techno-utopian dream and an aesthetic ideal. It is Solomon’s House, the Encyclopaedia and the Museum. It is also an ideology – of Enlightenment, High Modernism and absolute governance.

Far from ending the dream of a total archive, twentieth-century positivist rationality brought it ever closer. From Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum to Mass-Observation, from the Unity of Science movement to Isaac Asimov’s Encyclopedia Galactica, from the Whole Earth Catalog to Wikipedia, the dream of universal knowledge dies hard. These topics are even more pressing today in the age of ‘Big Data’ in both the sciences and surveillance communities, where schemes for universal knowledge flourish from mass bio-sample collection and global demography to representations of totalities in film, fiction and visual art.

The ‘Total Archive’ conference brings together scholars from history of science, medical humanities, literary theory, sociology and the arts, to address the history, politics and philosophy of schemes that aspire to universality or self-contained completeness—including scientific and biomedical practices, archives, and databases.

Keynote speakers: N. Katherine Hayles (Duke University), Alison Bashford (University of Cambridge) and Lorraine Daston (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science / University of Chicago)

Full programme and online registration:

Registration fee (includes lunch, teas/coffees):
£50 (full) / £25 (students)

Convened by Boris Jardine, Matthew Drage and Ruth A. Horry (University of Cambridge) with the support of CRASSH, Arts Council England, the Wellcome Trust and the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS).