metaLAB research brings an array of perspectives and methods to bear on substantial domains of inquiry into the role and effect of technology in the arts and humanities. By combining traditional modes of practice—archival research, critical writing, and curatorial exposition—with such emergent methods as physical computing, data visualization, and participatory mapping and media, metaLAB research infuses scholarship with the playful, enterprising spirit of hacking, making, and artistic inquiry.
The term “artifact” has at least two meanings. From a technical perspective, an artifact is an unintentional pattern in data, arising from processes of collection and management. From a cultural perspective, an artifact is a designed object, with a social and material history. At metaLAB, which is grounded in both technical and cultural methods, we are examining digital artifacts with both meanings in mind. In Data Artifacts, we are developing visual methods of revealing the often-unacknowledged patterns in digital data that speak to the social and material history of its accumulation. Never raw, all data carries traces of human labor, intentions and values. Data Artifacts is an inquiry into the deep history of digital collections. Digital cultures, which devote vast resources to the harvesting and handling of data sets, can be understood in part through the particular ways in which they pattern data. Artists and designers with knowledge of computing are poised to uncover such data artifacts through visualization. However, most formal approaches to visualization call for data to be filtered and standardized at the outset. In contrast, we focus on the heterogeneity inherent in human-made data. The messiness of data sets can tell us much about the history of their production. We don’t have to look beyond our own university to see the mechanisms of data collection in motion. For example, we can learn from the artifacts emergent in one of Harvard’s most commonly accessed digital resources, its open library data. Today, in 2012, there are over seventy libraries at Harvard, each with its own extensive collection. HOLLIS, the Harvard Online Library Information System, allows patrons to search for select volumes, but it does not afford panoramic views of the entire holdings or reveal macroscopic patterns in the acquisition, distribution, circulation, and citation of the university’s collections over time. The ambition of Data Artifacts is to develop new tools to contemplate such large-scale collection processes and enable richer discussions about their technical and cultural significance.
Networks & Natures
Networks & Natures is an exploratory research domain: a broadly defined area of scholarship, which we believe offers timely opportunities for the development of new digital forms of teaching, publication, curation, and community engagement. Such domains are interdisciplinary, building on the diverse interests of current researchers at metaLAB and bridging them, to create new spaces for collaborative inquiry and team development. Networks & Natures focuses on digital cultures emerging in landscapes variously defined as living, wild, open, or feral. It grows out of ongoing work in the Arnold Arboretum to develop a course, entitled Digital Ecologies, and an associated digital platform to support open-ended educational encounters with Harvard’s greenest collections. We are now exploring environs beyond the gates of the Arboretum and their technological entanglements with a range of communities. We are casting our net wide and sampling the field of human-machine-environment relations in three different modes: talking, blogging, and hacking. Talks will occur regularly this fall, as part of a new Networks & Natures seminar series. We invite academics, practitioners, and community leaders to contribute their perspectives on the evolving meanings of “nature” in networked cultures. Meanwhile, weekly blog updates will be informed by our reading of contemporary literature in Ecology, Science Studies, and Human-Computer Interaction. Finally, we will pursue technology development as a form of inquiry in a series of participatory hacks that engage diverse audiences and encourage them to see their environments in new ways. Through this parallel set of activities, we hope to cultivate new collaborations, foster projects that demonstrate opportunities for digital scholarship, and learn about communities pressed by new quandaries concerning technology in the wild.
Curatorial Innovation encompasses speculative design and outreach projects lead by metaLAB affiliates; a theoretical investigative track into the changing nature of curation in the context of the open web; and an annual program that provides students with the opportunity to become engaged in collections-based research, curation and digital design. More >
Experimental Publishing kicks off with the launching of a series entitled METALAB PROJECTS with Harvard University Press. The word “project” is being employed here in two complementary manners: to designate the documentation of existing high-impact research projects and in the sense of projecting outward and beyond. Whether a “remix” or an agenda-setting “projection” or a combination of both, each volume in the series would assume the form an extended essay that deepens and documents a given domain of practice and experimentation. Five books have been commissioned in for the series launch in 2013 as part of Harvard University Press’s 100 year anniversary. Other volumes are in preparation. More >
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
installation designs that conjoin media and physical objects; interaction design for exhibitions; digital extensions of physical exhibitions; the animation of built environments
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
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
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
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