The digital humanities

by Guest Blogger

Bess Paupeck, Program Manager of Harvard’s recently launched Arts @ 29 Garden space, checked in with Jesse Shapins, co-founder of metaLAB (at) Harvard, a new research center on campus with a focus on the digital humanities. metaLAB is institutionally housed in the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, but physically in practice at Arts @ 29 Garden as residents this summer. Bess and Jesse discussed metaLAB’s ongoing research projects, events and future plans.

What are the digital humanities?

I see digital humanities as an experimental mode of scholarly and cultural practice that emphasizes collaborative, transdisciplinary, computationally-engaged research, teaching, and publication. As stated in the Digital Humanities 2.0 Manifesto: "Digital Humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which: a) print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and b) digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences.

The Digital Humanities seeks to play an inaugural role with respect to a world in which, no longer the sole producers, stewards, and disseminators of knowledge or culture, universities are called upon to shape natively digital models of scholarly discourse for the newly emergent public spheres of the present era (the World Wide Web, the blogosphere, digital libraries, etc.), to model excellence and innovation in these domains, and to facilitate the formation of networks of knowledge production, exchange, and dissemination that are, at once, global and local."

What is metaLAB?

Less a unified structure than a cluster of experiments, metaLAB (at) Harvard provides an institutional home for Harvard’s digital art, design, and humanities communities. The lab is founded on the belief that some of the key research challenges and opportunities of the new millennium, not to mention crucial questions about experience in a connected world, about the boundaries of culture and nature, about democracy and social justice, transcend divisions between the arts, humanities and sciences; between the academy, industry, and the public sphere; between theoretical and applied knowledge. Our work currently falls into six domains: the animation of archives, "artifactual" knowledge, augmented exhibitions, cultural genomics, documentary arts and media innovation, and thick mapping. Rather than experimenting in one medium or within traditional arts boundaries (theater, dance, visual), metaLAB incubates a myriad of projects across multiple genres, with a strong commitment to inventing new forms of artistic and scholarly practice.

How does metaLAB interact with the Harvard community?

metaLAB was founded by Harvard faculty, fellows and students, and its core team consists of students from multiple schools, ranging from undergraduates to master’s students to PhD candidates. In addition to students, our current work also connects with Harvard’s museums, libraries, collections and exhibitions. The many digital art tools we’re creating help facilitate Harvard students’ artistic research and curatorial work, as you can see in projects such as Media Archaeology of Place, The Mixed-Reality City and Sensate, a new journal for experiments in critical media practice. Looking towards the future, metaLAB will be offering workshop series, events, and programs for students and installing our projects around the campus to invite the Harvard community and public to experience.

Tell us a bit more about upcoming plans.

Augmented Harvard, which we’ll be launching this fall, should be especially fun. It’s a multi-year, University-wide installation that is composed of a network of physical artifacts that unlock site-specific experiences, allowing the users to link Harvard exhibitions to other spaces and objects across the University. Users will see otherwise invisible features of the campus landscape such as long-ago demolished structures, alternative architectural plans, and inaccessible archives as they rove the campus core. People can follow metaLAB’s news for different ways that students can get involved in digital art making, curating, and much more.

Can you talk about the openLAB series? Specifically, the openLAB event coming up this Friday at Arts @ 29 Garden?

openLAB is our ongoing series of events inviting attendees to view what is happening at the metaLAB, similar to an open house. This summer we have had the incredible opportunity to be in residence at Art s@ 29 Garden. This has been a perfect launching point for openLAB, as 29 Garden’s mission of being a creative collaborative laboratory correlates with openLAB’s mantra of bringing people together to interact with working projects. In addition to sharing metaLAB’s work-in-progress, openLAB also serves as a curatorial platform to present exciting work by artists from the Boston region and beyond, as Mary Hale and Rosie Weinberg will be doing this Friday at "openLAB_02."

The Harvard community and the public are welcome to experience "openLAB_02" on Friday, July 29, 7-11 pm at Arts @ 29 Garden, 29 Garden at Chauncy St. Admission free. Click here for more information.

[Caption: metaLAB in residence this summer at Arts @ 29 Garden.]