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What Is A Media Lab?

situated practices in media studies

Month / August 2016

An Interview with Andrew Quitmeyer of Digitial Naturalism

An interview with Andrew Quitmeyer, a PhD student at Georgia Tech whose research investigates the role that Digital Media can play for Biological Field Work. What is your lab called and where is it? Digital Naturalism – Mobile Studios Location: Anywhere (theoretically), often in tropical rainforests that we have hiked into with some field biologists and artists. […]

An Interview with Dr. Matthew Kirschenbaum of Maryland Institute for Technology

Interview by Jaime Kirtz

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Maryland and Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH, an applied thinktank for the digital humanities). He is the author of Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2008) and Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard University Press, 2016).

JK: Can you explain a bit about you, your role in the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities and how you came to be involved?

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An Interview with Professor David Radcliffe of the CATH Lab at Virginia Tech

Interview by Rebecca Jones

Note: My recording application for this interview failed, so the information below is a compilation of the notes that I took and is not verbatim. To read more about how Professor David Radcliffe became involved with humanities computing, read this article

RJ: How did your interest in digital humanities develop?

DR: Quite pragmatically. It was before DH had become a term. I was trying to find tools to perform the research that I needed. I had bibliographies on note cards that I wanted to migrate using a word processor. From there, I started to learn SQL and other programming tools. For me it was a problem solving enterprise. It was really funny, I would have a list of 500 citations and using a word processor, 30 seconds later I would have a process that could pull up the requested items.

RJ: How did you learn your skills or programming languages?

DR: I was self‐taught, we’re talking the late 70s, early 80s. You could do a Cobalt class at community college. You had to learn it by yourself. I’m an antiquarian, so I had lots and lots of information that I needed to work with and needed to figure out how to do it.

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An Interview with Matthew Jockers

Interview by Mitch Ingraham

Dr. Matthew L. Jockers is the Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln where he currently acts as a faculty fellow in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and Director of the Nebraska Literary Lab. In addition to teaching courses, conducting seminars and workshops, and authoring numerous articles, his publications include: Text Analysis With R for Students of Literature (2014) and Macroanalysis: Digital Methods & Literary History (University of Illinois Press, 2013).

Together with Franco Moretti, he co-founded and directed the Stanford Literary Lab, where he worked from 2010 to 2012. Dr. Jockers received his B.A. from Montana State University (1989), a M.A. from the University of Northern Colorado (1993), and his PhD. from Southern Illinois University (1997). His areas of interest/specialties include: Digital Humanities: text mining/text analysis, Irish and Irish American Literature, 20th Century British Literature, and Literature of the American West.

MI: When did you first become involved and interested in digital humanities: specifically as related to English literature?

MJ: Well … long before DH was ever a term, that’s how. I probably discovered that there was a field of people doing computational quantitative work in the humanities in around 1990. Between ‘90 and ‘93 really, just before the birth of the Internet. And, of course, there was no term ‘digital humanities,’ that doesn’t come along until about 2005. The people at that point called themselves computing humanists, and I certainly wasn’t part of that crowd until quite awhile later. In fact, I didn’t even really discover that there was such a crowd or organization at that point. I was in my MA program at that point. I was a literature grad student who was sort of fascinated by computers and had that as a side hobby. I got pretty savvy with the computer during my master’s program and when I went to do my PhD, my dissertation advisor learned that I had some computer savvy and he didn’t. So, he asked me to be his RA and basically bought me out of my teaching for the last two years of the four years of my PhD program. So I started working for him in 1995. Just prior to that, of course, the internet is born in about 1993. I started dabbling in HTML and those kinds of things. One of the first projects I did for him was to create a digital archive.

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An Interview with Stefan Höltgen of the Signal Lab

Nostalgia is a very important “first trigger” for re-using old/dead/vintage hardware and software. But […] nostalgia isn’t really the energy for [users’] engagement because you can’t use an “old medium”: the moment you turn it on it is totally present/in presence.

Stefan Höltgen runs the Signal Lab in Berlin as well as the Media Archaeological Fundus, founded by Wolfgang Ernst who is chair of Media Theory at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

Can you start by telling us a bit about the Signal Laboratory – how did it start and what is the main function of the Lab? How does it relate to the Media Archaeological Fundus

SH: The Signal Laboratory (SL) was founded 2003 as a lab for studying media hardware and their signals by opening them and measuring frequencies, sound outputs, and voltages. When I joined the Center for Musicology and Media Studies in 2011 I began to collect vintage computer hardware, peripherals, and software for my research project (“on the archaeology of the early microcomputer and its programming”) and as examples for my teaching lessons about hardware, programming and computer history. The SL soon became a place where my colleagues and I repaired and restored those old machines to learn about their functioning. That is the main difference from the Fundus, where media archaeological artifacts are collected and restored to function in principle which means: to show how their technology work(ed).The intersection between the SL and the Fundus is the question we both ask: How do those technologies relate to their history and their presence when you don’t look at them as economical, techno-historical, or social (e.g. the effects on the user, the society …) gadgets but as “signal processing” media – where the media in the SL are mostly produce programmable digitally coded signals and those of the Fundus are of both sorts: analogue and digital – but not programmable.

Following the boom concerning “Media Labs” (at MIT and then other places too) in the 1980s, we are now building more and more Humanities Labs – some connected to Digital Humanities, some to Design, some to other sorts of Humanities spaces and activities. How does the Signal Lab relate to the broader theme of labs in contemporary humanities that are being faced with the technological (as Kittler has noted)? 

SH: There are no actual research connections to those kinds of labs. But when we come to the point of the SL as a teaching space I think we are doing basic work for people who want to work in those technologically “infected” humanities labs: We are teaching electronics, programming, and topics of the informatics/computer sciences from the viewpoint of media theory. So our students won’t become proper programmers but merely hackers that are able to estimate the technological connections between the medium (especially electronic computer) and its user.

A more specific connection lies with technological practices – critical design, DIY, the maker movement and more. Furthermore, the existence of “Fablabs” has gathered momentum over the past years in different contexts. What are the specific connections and disconnections to such labs that also engage with a “making”, hands-on approach to technology, but seem to be built on different premises (not least, around much talked about kits like 3D printers, laser cutters, and various other sorts of technologies)? 

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Interview with Brian Kane, artist and creator, VuJak

Interview by Erin Cousins

Note: This interview was conducted after Brian Kane’s visit to CU Boulder’s Media Archaeology Lab, where he demoed VuJak, the world’s first video sampler, for faculty and students. Attendees included members of Lori Emerson’s graduate English class, “Theory & Practice of Doing // From Digital Humanities to Posthumanities”. References to both the demo and the Digital Humanities class are included in the interview.

Information about Brian Kane’s current and past projects can be found at http://briankane.net.

EC: Our course this semester began with discussions of digital humanities, and while we’ve focused a lot on the role of the digital in academia, we haven’t talked about the role that it plays in art. I think that’s one place where the interaction between the digital and the human is most visible. Looking through your work it seems that there is a through-line of the interaction between the human and the digital, and how they create subjectivity…

BK: Well it’s all people to me, but you know, that’s just because as an artist, what you’re doing is talking to people. I mean, do you feel like you have a definition of what digital humanities is?

EC: Oh, the whole first quarter of the semester was trying to figure that out! We never got to a single answer…

BK: Maybe you’re best without an answer.

EC: One of the questions we got to was, “Is it really worth asking this question still or should we just be making stuff?” Should we just be doing the work, and we can worry about labeling it later?

BK: So it’s kind of project oriented?

EC: It’s turned out for a lot of us to be about making something or doing something for the final project. Jillian Gilmer and I are creating a virtual reality tour of the Media Archaeology Lab, some people are writing essays, some people are creating digital visualizations of lab spaces, and others are making creative projects like digital poetry websites, so we’re sort of covering a whole range of “What is the Digital Humanities”? But so far I don’t think anybody has gone into visual art, and I think only one project is tactile.

BK: With a lot of the students I work with it is kind of the opposite, they get lost in the digital, and you pull them out and get them working with their hands again to straighten them out.

EC: So it acts as a balance?

BK: Different people are different, and you start to get a read on people after a while and learn where they are coming from. This one amazing student, she is just this incredible fashion designer, but she was really struggling with everything electronic and digital and in the end I sort of pulled her out and I said, look, you focus on your strength and this is what you’re good at…and she made this fairly simple piece, just stunning. It defaulted back to her eye and her sense of design.

EC: With your students or with your own work, do you ever find that the only way to do the work is to collaborate? For example, if you have this person with skills in fashion and this other person with skills in tech, can putting them together be a solution?

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An Interview with Edward Kim of HICapacity, a Hackerspace in Hawaii

Interview by Laurel Carlson

LC: Can you say a bit about who you are, your position within HICapacity, and how you came to be involved with the hackerspace?

EK: My name is Edward Kim and I’m a Senior Software Engineer at Slickage Studios, a local consulting firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. I am a graduate of the local university (University of Hawaii at Manoa) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Information and Computer Science. I have been working in the tech field for about 10 years now. I’m also the main point of contact at HICapacity. HICapacity consists mainly of professionals, and most of our members hold employment outside of the organization. Being that we serve a community and don’t really see ourselves as a business, our members typically hold no real titles. I call myself the main point of contact mainly to share a common ground with people that are not familiar with our structure. As for the things that I do at HICapacity, I handle most of the logistics within the organization. This includes but is not limited to planning and coordinating events with both members and outside talent, handling membership fees, rules, and disputes, and general outreach with regards to our organization as a whole and as an advocate for the tech industry whether it relates to STEM education or tech awareness in regards to other industries here. I became involved with the hackerspace thanks to a old college buddy that was already aware of the organization. Through this connection, I quickly became involved with event-related duties and worked my way up through our old structure (typical business hierarchy – president, VP, treasurer) as leadership continually moved to the mainland for better opportunities.

LC: How do you define the goals of HICapacity?

EK: HICapacity’s goals are really hard to define. We constantly grow and evolve as the community evolves and we try to meet the needs of the community as that happens. We were originally a makerspace with the intention of focusing on both traditional hardware topics like arduinos and other microcontrollers but also shared a focus on a lot of software related topics like JavaScript and Ruby on Rails. Having grown in many directions at once (carpentry, t-shirt making, robotics, and more recently fashion tech and wearables), we tend to rebuild our organization and our goals as is needed. As of right now, we more broadly define ourselves as an advocate for technology within the state of Hawaii. This is a very broad goal and was intentionally picked to be so. We want to focus on both the sharing and increasing the knowledge between professionals within our community and general advocacy of technology as a viable industry in Hawaii, whether it be through STEM education outreach or setting up events that highlight the technology sector here.

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An Interview with Lara Stein Pardo of RAP Lab

Interview by Erin Armstrong

Lara Stein Pardo is a cultural anthropologist and visual artist currently working as a Research Associate in the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (RAP Lab) at University of Colorado, Boulder.

 

EA: Lara, I want to start by thanking you for taking the time to speak with me and to explain to our Digital Humanities class about your work. As you know, I’m incredibly interested in your Mapping Arts Project, which has led to some interesting developments in my own pedagogical aspirations. Could you tell us a little bit about what the Mapping Arts Project is, and where it is headed?

LSP: The Mapping Arts Project is a primarily web-based project that maps cities through places where artists have lived and worked historically. The project is online at mappingartsproject.org, and includes Miami and Providence so far. Denver and Chicago are in development. The project includes archival, spatial, artistic, and ethnographic research and materials. Future plans include continual technological improvement such as the use of mobile locational technologies and the redevelopment of the website to show a global map (vs city maps). In the Spring I’ll be working with students in the course, “Geographies of the Arts,” to launch Mapping Arts-Denver.

EA: Could you explain what started the project? What were some of the biggest challenges (knowledge of coding etc., economically, gaining interest, etc.) you faced, and ones you may still be facing, when you started this?

LSP: I started the project in 2009, while doing ethnographic fieldwork for my dissertation on contemporary arts. I wanted to find a book that would tell me about the history of the arts in Miami. I could not find such a book. Instead, I began to conduct archival, ethnographic, and historical research. At first, I thought the project would be a short-lived participatory art project. But, the more research I did, the more I realized it needed to be a bigger project. That’s when I designed and developed the website – to be able to create a broadly accessible and continually growing project. Some of the biggest challenges in the beginning were time and funds to do the initial web development. Oh, also, finding the right team to work with. I have kept the project manageable thus far. Eventually, I will need to raise funds again to expand the technological capabilities of the project.

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An interview with Professor Claudia Mareis and Dr Jamie Allen from the Critical Media Lab, Basel

The lab is a space where things are unready, unfinished, at risk and without known utility. The common root of ‘lab’ and ‘labour’ is also helpful in that it evokes an active, physical space with bodies in it doing things (which can be a rare thing in the hallowed but empty halls of academia).

An interview with Professor Claudia Mareis and Dr Jamie Allen from the Critical Media Lab in Basel.

“We need places, laboratories, fundamental labs to discuss the terminology, the conceptual schemes, the pedagogies, and the value systems. We need to work on this. This is what the humanities should be doing. Fundamental research like they are doing in the labs.” — Rosi Braidotti

How do you characterise the Critical Media Lab’s work and mission statement; what are the defining characteristics of what you do?

The Critical Media Lab is a place, a physical location and discursive locale, where we attempt to strike a balance between research, writing and reflection that critically examines our contemporary and historical practices of media, design, art and technology, while allowing space and physical resources for these practices themselves. Simply put, production, in the sense of actually producing something that is not a research paper, book or essay format reflection on some other practice (as writing, after all, is also a practice) should not necessitate either tacit or explicit support of the means, techniques or technologies of that production. Making media doesn’t mean you are ‘for’ more media in the world, and having knowledge of the institutional, organisational, social and political effects of media, technology and design making should allow for more, not less, reflexive practice in these areas. McLuhan once quipped regarding his own status as a reluctant hero of media studies how talking about something does not mean you are in favour of it. Making, doing and practicing media, art and design, although productive, need not be productivist in the sense of exacerbating the logics of mass-media, corporate or ahistorical techno-capitalism.

The ‘mission’ of the lab then, which is by no means singular as the lab comprises a number of individual researchers with different interests, styles and directions, is largely to explore what it might mean to make media by ways other than by mainstream, corporatist, or unreflective means. For example, what would a historically informed, contemporary media art practice look like? (“Media archeology as an artistic practice”, Allen & Miyazaki) Likewise but in a somewhat opposing direction, we also speculate as to what ‘other forms’ cultural studies and media studies discipline-oriented research (into the history of cybernetics, say) might take (see collaboration with Kevin Rittberger, where Critical Media Lab interests and research were turned into a public theatre piece, staged in the environment of the lab in Basel). Also important to our work is how new forms of collaboration and research methodologies can bring about these kinds of modulation in formats of presentation, how these presentations remain critical and thoughtful, and a concern for communicating and educating in the context of the lab, within the lab, close to research driven issues, methodologies and materials.

Syntegrity Bild copy

Kevin Rittberger’s “Syntegrity” (2015)

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An Interview with Adrian Miles about RMIT’s Consilience Lab

Although students come in thinking they will write essays, the lab’s milieu is that an essay (for example) is a process of “making” with words. Once we recognize it as a making, we can experiment.

Adrian Miles is a senior lecturer in New Media at the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne, AU. He is program manager at the Consilience Lab and co-director of the non/fiction lab at RMIT.

What is your lab called and where is it?

It’s called the consilience lab. It is at RMIT University in the School of Media and Communication, Melbourne.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? 

Well, I’m sort of cheating perhaps. It is an honours lab. Honours in Australia is often an additional and optional fourth year of study. It builds upon the three year undergraduate degree a student has completed and is a research year where students undertake a substantial project. A 12000 word thesis is a good measure of the sort of thing that would be done. In this lab research is done via thesis or project + exegesis. It is the standard pathway to a PhD (you can apply for a PhD directly after a successful honours year.)

Since we are a school of media and communication, and 70% of the students do it by project, there is often a ‘technological’ focus.

The lab is a degree program so has a curriculum. We have a common research class (methods, etc), and three thematic labs lead by researchers. For the past three years one lab has revolved around media materialism (using Alien Phenomenology as the introductory reading). This is the most tech of the three thematic labs we have offered.

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