On Constructing a Scientific Archives Network

Exploring Computational Approaches to the Cybernetics Thought Collective

  • Bethany G. Anderson


Computational approaches to archives present archivists and users with new ways of engaging with records and their provenance. Such approaches are particularly useful for scientific archives due to the collective and collaborative nature of modern scientific knowledge production. This article explores computational approaches to digitized fonds of scientists involved in the transdisciplinary scientific movement cybernetics through the Cybernetics Thought Collective: A History of Science and Technology Portal Project as a means to reveal the ways cyberneticians have developed concepts and debated ideas through the creation and exchange of correspondence and other records. The project has experimented with machine-learning and natural-language-processing tools to generate data from the materials in an effort to reveal connections between the cyberneticians and their correspondence. Cybernetics seeks to understand the human condition through experiments with machines, and, in a cybernetically inspired sense, so too do archivists seek to understand their archives through experiments with machines. Such explorations are important for documenting scientific thought collectives like cybernetics in a digital age.


Les approches informatiques aux archives présentent aux archivistes et aux utilisateurs de nouvelles façons d’entrer en relation avec les documents et leur provenance. De telles approches sont particulièrement utiles pour les archives scientifiques de par la nature collective et collaborative de la production moderne du savoir scientifique. Cet article explore les approches numériques aux fonds numérisés de scientifiques impliqués dans le mouvement scientifique interdisciplinaire de la cybernétique par le biais du Cybernetics Thought Collective: A History of Science and Technology Portal Project en tant que moyen de mettre en lumière la façon dont les cybernéticiens ont développé le concept et débattu d’idées en créant et en échangeant de la correspondance et d’autres documents. Ce projet a expérimenté avec l’apprentissage automatique et des outils de traitement automatique du langage naturel pour générer des données à partir de matériel dans le but de mettre en lumière des liens entre les cybernéticiens et leur correspondance. La cybernétique cherche à comprendre la condition humaine par le biais d’expérimentation avec les machines et, d’un point de vue inspiré par la cybernétique, c’est également ce que font les archivistes qui tentent de comprendre leurs archives à travers l’expérimentation avec les machines. De telles explorations sont importantes pour documenter les réflexions scientifiques collectives comme la cybernétique à l’ère du numérique.

Author Biography

Bethany G. Anderson

Bethany G. Anderson is the Natural and Applied Sciences Archivist and an assistant professor in the University Archives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In her research, she draws on anthropology, history of science, archival studies, and feminist theory to explore scientific archives, women and gender in STEM, computational archival science, and oral history. She also serves as Co-Editor for the Archival Futures Series, which is copublished by the Society of American Archivists and the American Library Association, and as the Reviews Editor for American Archivist. Anderson holds a BA in anthropology from the University of Michigan, an MA in Near Eastern art and archaeology from the University of Chicago, and an MS in information studies from the University of Texas at Austin.

How to Cite
Anderson, Bethany G. 2021. “On Constructing a Scientific Archives Network: Exploring Computational Approaches to the Cybernetics Thought Collective”. Archivaria 91 (June), 104-47. https://archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/13791.