The Politics of Mass Digitization

The Politics of Mass Digitization

By Nanna Bonde Thylstrup

A new examination of mass digitization as an emerging sociopolitical and sociotechnical phenomenon that alters the politics of cultural memory.





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,, 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.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262039017 216 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 2 b&w illus.


  • "Thylstrup's new book does a wonderful job of delineating the situatedness of mass digitization projects in complex technical and sociopolitical conditions, which deserves more attention by the community of information science.”

    Kai Li

    Education for Information 35 (2019) 361–363

  • "The Politics of Mass Digitization is a watershed work of scholarship that establishes a new theoretical discourse on the wholesale digital transformation of cultural heritage resources… The Politics of Mass Digitization is likely to make an outsized contribution to ongoing debates about benefit and loss in the ongoing transformation of cultural resources from analog artifacts to digital assemblages.”

    Paul Conway

    Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology

  • "Mass digitization ultimately represents new kinds of engagements with and understandings of the politics of cultural memory. While most research on mass digitization emphasizes policy issues and technical implementations, it tends to neglect nuanced understandings of mass digitization's political economic and cultural mechanisms, structures, and values. This book addresses this research gap by interrogating the many assumptions underlying mass digitization projects and assemblages."

    Marc Kosciejew

    Information & Culture: A Journal Volume 54, Number 3, 2019, pp. 389-391

  • "Taken as a corrective to a potentially overcredulous discourse surrounding projects as widely lauded as the Internet Archive or the attendant critical discourses too narrowly focused on Google Books, The Politics of Mass Digitization will prove invaluable to students and scholars, information and library science, and digital media theory alike.”

    Logan Brown

    New Media & Society

  • "The volume interrogates the nature and magnitude of the change, maintaining, at the same time, a good anchoring in the many and complex aspects of a multifaceted phenomenon."

    Cristina Alaimo

    Organisation Studies


  • “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.'"

    Wolfgang Ernst

    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, projects and platforms are becoming much harder to maintain. The Politics of Mass Digitization deserves to be read, cited —and digitized massively!”

    Gary Hall

    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."

    Richard Rinehart

    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.”

    Jon Ippolito

    Director of Digital Curation, the University of Maine; coauthor of Re-collection