Jim Brown is Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University Camden. His research focuses on the ethical and rhetorical dimensions of new media technologies.

What is your lab called and where is it?

JB: We are the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University Camden. We attempted to put together a snazzier name than that, but our dean was keen to keep “Center” in the title. Like “lab”and “studio,” the term “center” has its own political weight (maybe suggesting size, research heft, etc.)Rutgers-Camden is one of three campuses in the Rutgers system, the state university system of New Jersey. Camden is in South Jersey, just across the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia Pennsylvania. I am the Director and Robert Emmons is our Associate Director.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

JB: We are two years old, so we’re still fairly “young,” but our main research project is the Rutgers-Camden Archive of Digital Ephemera (R-CADE). The R-CADE operates with much the same ethos as Lori Emerson’s Media Archaeology Lab. We don’t have an extensive collection of technology, but our primary focus is actually on providing scholars with software or hardware that they’d like to investigate, research, and/or repurpose. Our R-CADE Symposium features this kind of work.

In addition, we have a series of mini-grants that we award to people on campus, and this has funded a range of projects: a journal that publishes undergraduate biology research, an R user group for people in the humanities and the social sciences, various video projects (Professor Emmons is a documentary film maker, so we do a lot with digital video). We also have a program called “Digital Dispatches” that helps fund faculty and students who want to attend digital conferences but don’t have the travel funds to do so. Finally, we have a fellows program that allows scholars to do research and teach without any residency requirement. Fellows can teach online and attend fellows meetings via Skype. This year, we have an exciting group of fellows, including Judy Malloy, Claire Donato, Quinn DuPont, and others.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?
JB: We have two rooms. The ModLab is our research space, and the CoLab is our teaching space. Both are designed to be reconfigurable (moveable furniture, technology at the edges of the room, etc.) and have large flat screens that enable collaborative work. The ModLab is an open lab that hosts many events, the CoLab is primarily for courses but also has some open hours. Both rooms are open to anyone on campus.
What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is that knowledge circulated?

JB: Our R-CADE project produces creative work and research (though I wouldn’t even separate these two!); our digital dispatches program (mentioned above) produces conference presentations (and those who are funded for conferences return to Rutgers-Camden to show what they’ve learned); we also host a number of workshops. The lab has helped produce a number of digital video projects and also some websites (including a site for the Israeli Visions of Place art exhibition).

Our biggest project to date was an Electronic Literature exhibition called “A Matter of Bits.” This ran in the Stedman Gallery on campus, and we exhibited more than 50 works of e-lit. Some of that work was displayed on vintage equipment (for instance, a C64 for Nick Montfort’s translation of Amílcar Romero’s Poema 21, a Mac Classic to display John McDaid’s Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse). We also displayed work on a Kinect, on iPads, and other equipment. This was a large undertaking, and the exhibition ran for three months. We also hosted the launch of the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3 during that exhibition.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?

JB: I mentioned this above, but we have near complete control over our two labs. We can schedule classes in the CoLab at our discretion, and the ModLab is a dedicated space for events and projects we want to pursue.

What kind of financial support does the lab receive? 

JB: Currently, we are supported by the College of Arts and Sciences. We are at the tail end of a three-year start up from the Dean to get things up and running. We imagine that we’ll need to pursue grants in the future. We’ve already begun to do this, but we haven’t yet had success.

What are your major theoretical touchstones?

JB: To date, our focus has been on e-lit, videogame studies, and media archaeology. The last of these is primarily represented by the R-CADE. So, while we don’t have folks here working in media archaeology, we are very interested in enabling that kind of work (especially hands-on work).

What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?

JB: I think the E-lit exhibition is our most significant contribution to date, though a close second is the official launch of our brand new dual-major program. It only took us two years to get this program approved and launched, which is fairly amazing given the red tape at state university. We were tasked with creating a B.A. program, but we were worried we would take majors away from many programs in the Arts and Sciences. So, we created a joint-major program. Students majoring in Digital Studies must choose another major in Arts and Sciences with which to pair their DS major. We also have an interdisciplinary minor program.

Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3-5 years?

JB: Our plans are to continue to expand the R-CADE Symposium. Previous years have hosted a single roundtable of scholars who study/repurpose a shared object of study. The 2017 symposium will be the first time we put out a CFP and invite panel proposals. Accepted panels can receive up to $1,000 for the purchase of materials. We’re aiming for 3-4 panels for 2017, but I’d love for this event to be expanded–this will require grant funding.

Beyond this, we are hoping to identify digital projects on campus that we might seek funding for. Rutgers-Camden faculty are only now beginning to do digital work, so this will likely take some time. But we’ve already begun work on a couple of projects (some of this mentioned above).

Finally, our hope is that the DS major grows significantly in 3-5 years. This is key for us as we continue to try to build a community of students and faculty members pursuing digital work.

What makes your lab a lab?

JB: Our focus is on collaboration across disciplines. I know everybody says that, but we actually support such work! Our major, our minor, the R-CADE project, and our mini-grants…none of this is situated in a single discipline or approach. So, we’re a lab because we are trying to facilitate experimentation across disciplinary boundaries. We see our role not as a place where people can get/use digital technology but rather as a place where people can meet to work together on digital projects.