An idea foundry, knowledge­-design lab, and production studio dedicated to innovation and experimentation in the networked arts and humanities.

Some highlights from openLAB 2014, a series of events engaged in curatorial experimentation and innovation to provide a forum to share everything from recent hacks and projects in progress to ad-hoc spectacles and polished productions. openLAB participants include core metaLAB members and other artists, scholars and technologists engaged in exploring new modes of practice, exhibition and knowledge design. The events migrate from from site to site, ranging from local galleries to public spaces to Harvard arts venues.


How can data be explored and expressed in critically informed, historically grounded ways? What is a technological identity, a networked secret, a digital mess? How does the Internet affect experience, memory, beauty, and creativity? How might the digital and the analog be woven together meaningfully in the design of contemporary libraries, museums, and archives? How can we leverage the power of databases to tell stories on scales from the minuscule to the magnificent? Is silence possible in a networked world?

These are some of the questions posed at metaLAB, a community of scholars, technologists, artists, and designers based at the Berkman Klein Center, with ties to Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Design. With partners at Berkman, across the university, and in the world at large, metaLAB explores the digital arts and humanities through research, experimentation, tool building, teaching, through publications in print and online, and via exhibition, performance, and social practice. Our projects infuse traditional modes of academic inquiry with an enterprising spirit of hacking, making, and creative research.

As an idea foundry

We draw inspiration from an ever-expanding variety of disciplines, including coding, filmmaking, internet studies, interaction and experience design, comparative literature, the history of the book, science, technology, & society, architecture & design, art, and the study of visual culture.

As a knowledge­-design lab

We build tools and pose questions that acknowledge more than one way to tell a story, make an argument, or express a truth claim about the world. For any topic, site, or problem, we cultivate multiple streams of meaning across a varied spectrum of media,reaching beyond any single audience or approach.

As a production studio

We model and make by means of a transdisciplinary practice that merges scholarly and scientific rigor with a concern for wonder, play, ingenuity, and beauty. Participatory, relational, and process-driven, an art-inflected approach to knowledge production offers abundant means for exploring perception, meaning, and experience in the analog, the digital, and the dappled in-between.

Areas of Inquiry


the animation of archives innovative approaches to the study, preservation, processing, and dissemination of archival corpora; linking intramural and extramural repositories across media; participatory/expanded models of curation and archival processing; zoomable map-based GUI designs; placing curated archival materials in dialogue with physical space by means of mobile devices

exhibitions as mode of scholarly practice installation designs that conjoin media and physical objects; interaction design for exhibitions; digital extensions of physical exhibitions; the animation of built environments

documentary arts +
media innovation
the creation of multilinear/multimedia documentaries built on databases that are performed by reader/viewers and navigated through a series of guided paths; the invention of new documentary production/distribution platforms and parametric authoring tools; the incubation of new interactive and collaborative documentary projects for broadcast and online contexts, with a particular emphasis on sonic exploration and ethnographic approaches; experimentation with new forms of citizen and community engagement through participatory channels

curatorial innovation a theoretical investigative track into the changing nature of curation in the context of the open web through speculative design and outreach projects; programming that provides students with the opportunity to become engaged in collections-based research, curation and digital design

data artifacts the development of visual methods that reveal the often-unacknowledged patterns in digital data that speak to the social and material history of its accumulation; an inquiry into the deep history of digital collections; the development of tools to contemplate large-scale collection processes and enable richer discussions about their technical and cultural significance

artifactual knowledge the development of 3d user interfaces and data visualizations as tools for collaborative humanities research, teaching and scholarship; visualizing interconnections between different categories of media objects by means of zoomable, user-controlled viewing angles; 3d object-centered interface and database development

cultural genomics the use and development of data mining and data visualization tools for purposes of cultural-historical research; the visualization of literary, musical and other cultural corpora; the use of optical character recognition techniques in the field of musicology

thick mapping geospatial iterations of arts and humanities scholarship; multilayered cartographies; geospatial visualization of collections; imaginary or non-representational mapping of data repositories and cultural corpora; the distributed curation of physical landscapes

experimental publishing the designation and documentation of existing high-impact research projects and projecting them outward and beyond through a series of published volumes

networks and natures development of new digital forms of teaching, publication, curation, and community engagement focused on digital cultures emerging in landscapes variously defined as living, wild, open, or feral; the sampling of human-machine-environment relations in three different modes: talking, blogging, and hacking; development of technology through participatory hacks that engage diverse audiences and encourage them to see their environments in new ways; the cultivation of collaborations and projects that demonstrate opportunities for digital scholarship and learning about communities pressed by new quandaries concerning technology in the wild


metaLAB works with members of Harvard’s digital art, design, and humanities communities while partnering with a network of centers, schools, foundations and initiatives across the University and beyond.

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society The Berkman Klein Center’s mission is to explore and understand cyberspace; to study its development, dynamics, norms, and standards; and to assess the need or lack thereof for laws and sanctions.
Graduate School of Design The investigative, speculative aspect of the work of the Graduate School of Design is akin to Walter Benjamin’s wresting of tradition from its tendency to conform. Rethinking the conventions of design practice is, for us, an optimistic and essential project, undertaken with the knowledge that our efforts make a difference in the physical environment. The GSD offers an exciting setting for interaction and the exchange of ideas through the combination of disciplines—architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning and design—together with the research of our studio-based as well as MDes and Doctoral programs.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences Founded in 1890, the FAS is the largest division of the University and comprises Harvard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, including undergraduate and graduate admissions; the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and the Division of Continuing Education, including the Extension and Summer Schools. The FAS also encompasses academic resources such as libraries and museums, as well as campus resources and athletics.
The Observatory of literary life (Observatoire de la vie littéraire, or OBVIL) is a Sorbonne Universities LabEx (laboratory of excellence) whose purpose is to create synergies between digital technologies and literature. This approach, which falls within the scope of digital humanities, can be broken down into three steps: first, establishing large databases through digitizing literary and critical corpora and applying the methods of scholarly digital philology; then, exploiting these resources with text-mining, pattern-matching, alignment, and collocation tools, as well as developing ontologies in order to analyze them semantically; and finally, developing data visualization tools, particularly interactive, interdisciplinary data galleries revolving around a specific author, corpus, or issue. This work is inextricably linked to the OBVIL’s metacritical thinking with respect to its own practices, which implies reflecting upon the concept of archive, the use of software in scientific, cultural, and academic environments, as well as the epistemological barriers which the use of digital tools can bring about, and the consequences this use has on literary research.
Harvard Library Lab at the Office for Scholarly Communication Harvard Library has established the Harvard Library Lab in order to create better services for students and faculty and to join with others in fashioning the information society of the future. The Lab leverages the entrepreneurial aspirations of people throughout the library system and beyond and promotes projects in all areas of library activity.
The Getty Foundation The Getty Foundation fulfills the philanthropic mission of the Getty Trust by supporting individuals and institutions committed to advancing the greater understanding and preservation of the visual arts in Los Angeles and throughout the world. Through strategic grant initiatives, it strengthens art history as a global discipline, promotes the interdisciplinary practice of conservation, increases access to museum and archival collections, and develops current and future leaders in the visual arts. It carries out its work in collaboration with the other Getty Programs to ensure that they individually and collectively achieve maximum effect.
Small Design Firm, Inc. Small Design Firm specializes in the design and implementation of interactive, dynamic graphical applications. In making information accessible to people, it is necessary for designers to rethink current design paradigms. The computer screen is not a piece of paper and should not be treated as such. By taking advantage of the ability of the computer to display dynamic, flexible, and adaptive typography and imagery, we can invent new ways for people to read, interact with, and assimilate information. Likewise, the combination of innovative visualization with architectural space and well-designed physical interfaces puts potentially limitless spaces within a human context.
GridRepublic GridRepublic is a nonprofit organization focused collaboration and culture. GridRepublic’s central activity is a novel form of philanthropy called “Volunteer Computing”: from the organization’s website, participants download an app which enables them to lend their computers’ spare processing power to cancer study, climate modeling, and other vital causes. Other areas of research include “Distributed Thinking” (methods and tools for group problem solving), and the relationship of technology, thinking and culture.
Villa i Tatti – The Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies For nearly sixty years Villa i Tatti was the residence of Bernard Berenson (1865–1959), the connoisseur whose attributions of early Italian Renaissance painting guided scholarship and collecting in this field for the first half of the twentieth century. It currently serves as the Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies and houses the Berenson collection of Italian primitives, and of Chinese and Islamic art, as well as a research library of 140,000 volumes and a collection of 250,000 photographs.
Harvard University Press Founded in 1913, Harvard University Press is the publisher of such classic works as John Rawls’s Theory of Justice, E.O. Wilson’s On Human Nature, and Helen Vendler’s Dickinson. The Press continues to be a leading publisher of convergent works in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, while it’s taking bold steps in exciting new directions, from innovative partnerships, to a diverse translation program, to an expanded commitment to facilitating scholarly conversation around the globe. The Press is also embracing new digital products and platforms, driven by the belief that books from academic publishers—on paper or on screen, in your hand or in the cloud—are more essential than ever before for understanding critical issues facing the world today.
The Sensory Ethnography Lab Harnessing perspectives drawn from the human sciences, the arts, and the humanities, the aim of the Sensory Ethnography Lab is to support innovative combinations of aesthetics and ethnography, with original nonfiction media practices that explore the bodily praxis and affective fabric of human existence. As such, it encourages attention to the many dimensions of social experience and subjectivity that may only with difficulty be rendered with words alone.
Film Study Center The Film Study Center is Harvard’s one center devoted to supporting artistic practice and creative work. It was founded in 1957 for the purpose of supporting work that records and interprets the world in images and sounds. As such it sustains endeavors, from the ethnographic to the experimental, that explore and expand the expressive potential of audiovisual media, especially through nonfiction. To this end, it provides annual fellowships to students and faculty drawn from departments across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the University as a whole, as well as to a small number of outstanding visiting filmmakers who are invited to Harvard to share their work with the University community.
The Center for Geographic Analysis The Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University was founded in 2006 as a university-wide technology platform in the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, building on the foundation already created by the Harvard Geospatial Library and the Harvard Map Collection. The Center has permanent professional staff that administer Harvard-wide GIS infrastructure, collect and disseminate spatial datasets, and provide training and consultation in the use of geospatial technologies. The Center supports research projects and courses needing spatial analysis.
Harvard Library Innovation Laboratory at Harvard Law School The Harvard Library Innovation Laboratory at Harvard Law School is a new lab exploring the future of libraries — because their future is open. The lab consists of a small handful of developers with strong backgrounds in library data and apps, a pair of co-directors, a consulting product manager, and a CTO we share with the Law School’s information services group.
Arts @ 29 Garden Harvard’s Arts @ 29 Garden is a new space intended to support and enable creativity, collaboration, experimentation and art-making amongst faculty, students and visiting artists. Arts @ 29 Garden will influence and be influenced by art-making across the campus and beyond; it will encourage, gather, connect and provide space for projects and classes involving imagining, innovating, and employing new ideas, forms and technologies in the arts. Envisioned as both a physical space and a process of collaboration, the program aims to serve as a laboratory for bringing creative ideas in the visual, verbal, and performative arts to fruition through a process of interdisciplinary interaction, discussion, performance, and implementation.
Critical Media Practice The Graduate School in Arts and Sciences offers a Secondary Field degree in Critical Media Practice (CMP) for PhD students at Harvard who wish to integrate media production into their academic work. The CMP Secondary Field reflects changing patterns of knowledge production, and in particular that knowledge is increasingly incorporated into novel multi-media configurations in which written language plays only a part.
The Laboratory at Harvard The Lab at Harvard is a new forum and platform for idea experimentation in the arts and sciences at Harvard University.A three-year experiment, The Lab works to break down boundaries between the arts and sciences to accelerate learning. We catalyze the development of Harvard student and faculty ideas through work-in-progress exhibits, monthly Idea Nights, and annual experiments between leading international artists and Harvard University scientists.The Lab is principally an exhibition and meeting space for student idea development within and between the arts and sciences, and serve as a forum for interfaculty and public creative expression and dialog.
PRX Public Radio Exchange is an online marketplace for distribution, review, and licensing of public radio programming. PRX is also a growing social network and community of listeners, producers, and stations collaborating to reshape public radio.
MIT’s HyperStudio MIT’s HyperStudio – Laboratory for Digital Humanities explores the potential of new media technologies for the enhancement of education and research in the humanities.
Film Work Founded in Trento in October 1988, Film Work is an independent video production company that has created dozens of documentaries, cultural events, communications projects and artistic exhibitions. Known for its imaginative work in both traditional and new media formats, FilmWork is the ideal place to develop innovative projects and to bring them to fruition in a skilled and stimulating environment.
xy communications xycomm is a graphic design studio based in Milan (Italy), with a long experience in corporate identity, publishing, exhibit/installation. Thanks to the different specialization and experiences of the team and the wide range of it’s partners, the studio is always ready to faces new challenges and experiment new ways for the graphic design.
The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University discovers and disseminates knowledge of the plant kingdom to foster greater understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of Earth’s botanical diversity and its essential value to humankind. Established in 1872 and planned and designed in collaboration with Frederick Law Olmsted, the Arnold Arboretum is a National Historic Landmark and one of the best preserved of Olmsted’s landscapes. Founded as a public-private partnership between the City of Boston and Harvard University, the Arnold Arboretum is a unique blend of respected research institution and beloved public park in Boston’s Emerald Necklace.
Ahref Foundation The Ahref Foundation was established in Trento on April 19th, 2010. Ahref is the first Italian foundation that contains in its charter, the study of the active Internet audience and its relationship to information and institutions. The foundation analyses Internet and the media. It broadcasts initiatives that improve the quality of information. It spurs innovation that creates good journalism and it encourages citizen participation. It develops non-profit, unbiased platforms in order to sustain online collaboration.
NovelTM seeks to produce the first large-scale cross-cultural study of the novel according to quantitative methods in order to bring the unique knowledge of literary studies to bear on larger debates about text mining and the place of information technology within society. It aims to impact how we think about the nature of reading and the way we increasingly access our cultural heritage today.

site graphics | X&Y communications

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