Archives + Algorithms


Course Description

All data is an archive. While the idea of an archive has been typically used to refer to collections of historic documents, we can now think of all corporate and consumer data (smartphone use, search history, surveillance footage, fitbit stats, medical records, and even everything on the web) as an impossibly detailed archive of human activity. Who controls different facets of this archive? What kind of algorithms govern access to this information? How does systemic racism and bias creep into supposedly objective retrieval functions? How can the long history of the archive, and its many problems with selection bias, preservation, and access help us understand the future of data and its (mis)uses?

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Think critically about how algorithms shape our access to and interpretations of information
  • Map how the history of the archive onto the future of data
  • Identify cultural and algorithmic biases that show up in everyday processes
  • Examine the impact of the digitization of cultural heritage and how digital archives reshape our access to the past

Work Requirements and Grading

Grade Distribution

Percent Grade
94+ A
90-94 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
67-69 D+
60-66 D
59- F

Please Ask for Help

I heartily encouraged you to speak with me at any time about how I think you’re doing in the class and how you can improve your performance (if at all). If life gets overwhelming during the course (as it easily can these days), it can be tempting to drift away from an elective course like this. Rather than disappear, let’s work something out to accommodate your circumstances and thus avoid digging a huge hole from which it becomes increasingly difficult to escape.


There are NO REQUIRED BOOKS for this course. But you will need to subscribe to the course Zotero library to access assigned articles. This will be discussed in class, but for reference, please see the instructions for connecting. The URL for the group library is

Writing Help

CAPS Tutoring Services is a free-of-charge educational assistance program available to UNM students enrolled in classes. Online services include the Online Writing Lab, Chatting with or asking a question of a Tutor.

Students with Disabilities

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodations of their disabilities. If you have a disability requiring accommodation, please contact me immediately to make arrangements as well as Accessibility Services Office in 2021 Mesa Vista Hall at 277-3506 or Information about your disability is confidential.

Academic Misconduct

You should be familiar with UNM’s Policy on Academic Dishonesty and the Student Code of Conduct which outline academic misconduct defined as plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, or facilitating any such act.

Citizenship and/or Immigration Status

All students are welcome in this class regardless of citizenship, residency, or immigration status. I will respect your privacy if you choose to disclose your status. UNM as an institution has made a core commitment to the success of all our students, including members of our undocumented community. The Administration’s welcome is found on our website: