The use of ‘big data’ in the humanities is becoming increasingly prevalent, as researchers try to exploit the capacities of modern computing to provide new perspectives on and access to more traditional forms of documentation. In this vein, two major projects currently seek to digitise and analyse the financial records of the major Parisian theatres in the eighteenth century, creating searchable databases that promise to bring the information to worldwide audiences and allow entirely new types of analysis. This article uses a small-scale study of a subset of the Comédie-Italienne’s administrative records in the period 1760-70 to explore the potential benefits and challenges of such enterprises. It makes new data on audience, takings and authorial payments for this decade freely available to readers, and examines the process of capturing and rationalising data drawn from early modern records. To demonstrate the potential of the larger projects, this subset of data is then used both to reconsider the commercial status of the Comédie-Italienne with respect to its French counterpart, and to provide the first account of the finances of the authors who wrote for the Italian troupe. Finally, this article argues that despite the many and varied benefits of digitisation and computational manipulation of archive data, in order for such projects to make a serious contribution to scholarship, it is vital that the material, contingent, human element of original records is not lost.