Interview by Lori Emerson
For more than a decade, Patrik Svensson has been relentlessly documenting, imagining and, now, reimagining the physical and conceptual meeting places that bring together the digital and the humanities. Svensson’s work has been at the center not only of my own work to situate the lab I run, the Media Archaeology Lab (MAL), in and around the digital/humanities as well as my attempts to better attune the spatial design and infrastructure of the MAL so it becomes more welcoming to diverse approaches to research and creative practice; but it has also been at the center of the turn in digital humanities toward expanding its sense of itself as a field – an expansion that beginning to include an infrastructural sensibility along with an attention to issues previously aligned more with media studies (for example, new materialist studies) or cultural studies (for example, the politics of gender, race, and intersectionality). In the interview below, conducted over email throughout the summer and fall of 2017, you’ll find Svensson bring all the aforementioned issues together as he discusses his role as Director of HUMlab at Umeå University in Sweden from 2001 to 2014 (an astonishingly long tenure considering the relatively short life span of humanities labs in general). While he was director, HUMlab became known as one of the most elaborate, productive, and likely one of the most well funded humanities labs in North America and Europe; by the end of his tenure, it included ten faculty from across the university, fifteen staff, 1100 square meters (or roughly 11800 square feet) of lab space on two separate campuses, more than ten externally funded research projects, involvement in numerous educational efforts on and off campus, roughly twenty-five scholarly publications per year, and a network of international collaborators spanning the globe (mostly Europe and the Anglo-American world). Svensson also revisits the series of four essays he published in Digital Humanities Quarterly from 2009 to 2012 which consistently used HUMlab as a case study to, as he put it, “broadly [explore] the digital humanities in terms of its discursive shift from humanities computing to digital humanities, the evolving disciplinary landscape, associated epistemic commitments and primary modes of engagement, underlying cyberinfrastructure, visions and hopes invested, and possible future directions” (Svensson 2012). And, finally, he reflects on how his thinking on digital/humanities/infrastructure has changed and perhaps even become more expansive or sensitive to diverse participants and diverse modes of participation since he has lived in New York City and now Los Angeles.
This is one of three extended interviews my co-authors, Darren Wershler and Jussi Parikka, and I will feature in our project that is both website (whatisamedialab.com) and book (THE LAB BOOK: Situated Studies in Media Studies, University of Minnesota Press). Our book is both a long history of the arts/humanities media lab as well as an analysis of how anything – from a podcast, a reading group or an idea to even a line of men’s grooming products – is now a lab; it is also a meditation on what is or could be a uniquely humanities lab. As such, to be clear, this interview is more than just about the trajectory of Svensson as a thinker, writer and administrator; it is about documenting a particularly successful and influential moment in the recent history of humanities infrastructure en route to creating what we hope will be an important contribution to the design of humanities infrastructure in and for the future.