Algorithmic heritage in Galway

In June, I’ll be at the Association for Critical Heritage Studies conference in Galway, talking about algorithmic heritage

Algorithmic heritage

Within heritage studies, there have been calls for researchers and practitioners to consider the future (e.g. Högberg et al., 2017), in part to enable the anticipation of new and emerging forms of heritage. Other work (e.g. May, 2020, Sandford, 2019) suggests that heritage, with its emphasis on custodianship, stewardship, and maintenance, is well-placed to offer an alternative orientation towards the future, one centred on care rather than innovation and novelty. This paper describes an ongoing project that responds to both these positions, mobilising notions of care and responsibility to re-imagine an emerging technology as future industrial heritage.

Algorithmic systems now play a central role in organising social life. These systems have become established in the public imagination, as ‘AI’ or ‘algorithms’, and such ideas are now part of how we make sense of the contemporary world: whether expert or not, users of these systems construct folk understandings of how they operate (Seaver, 2022), and have affective relationships towards them (Ruckenstein, 2023). Underpinning these imagined algorithms are vast digital infrastructures, upon which systems of economic production and consumption increasingly depend, and which are in the process of shaping societies around the globe. Their monumental scale, their place in economic activity, their impact on our lives, and the human ingenuity required to produce them all suggest there is a case for thinking of them as industrial heritage (TICCIH, 2003, Alfey and Putnam, 1992). Thinking of these systems as heritage emphasises our stewardship of them, highlighting the responsibility of their creators for their actions and effects, raising questions about their maintenance, about the ways they might be retired from service, and about their legacies. This paper explores some of the ways in which heritage practices of care might offer answers to these and other questions raised by algorithmic heritage.


Alfrey, J. & Putnam, T. (1992). The industrial heritage: managing resources and uses. London; New York: Routledge.
Högberg, A., Holtorf, C., May, S. & Wollentz, G. (2017) No future in archaeological heritage management?, World Archaeology, 49(5), 639-647, DOI:
May, S. (2020) Heritage, endangerment and participation: alternative futures in the Lake District, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 26(1), 71-86, DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2019.1620827
Ruckenstein, M. (2023). The Feel of Algorithms. University of California Press.
Sandford, R. (2019). Thinking with heritage: Past and present in lived futures. Futures, 111, 71-80.
Seaver, N. (2022). Computing Taste: Algorithms and the Makers of Music Recommendation. University of Chicago Press.
TICCIH (2003). The Nizhny Tagil Charter For The Industrial Heritage. Retrieved from