As the MLab developed our research on the roles computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) may play in media history and speculative design, we also wanted to push beyond popular “maker” rhetoric and the allure of 3D printing as a gadget or trend. I wrote an essay to engage this issue, and in it I outlined four reasons why humanities researchers might consider fabricating tactile prototypes as part of their work.

I titled the essay, “Why Fabricate?” Links to it, corresponding MLab / fab lab research, and related talks I gave during the 2010s are below. I’ve also included an abstract for the essay, which was published in Scholarly and Research Communication. Many thanks to Nina Belojevic, Nicole Clouston, Devon Elliott, Katherine Goertz, Kari Kraus, Shaun Macpherson, Danielle Morgan, Daniela Rosner, and Bill Turkel for collaborating with me on approaches to fabrication and prototyping. Those collaborations have been a highlight of my academic career.

Image of a telephone receiver, left, and a replica receiver, right, fabricated in wood using laser cutting techniques

Why Fabricate?
Published in Scholarly and Research Communication 6.3 in October 2015 | 5,140 words | open access

Links: essay (HTML; PDF); MLab research on digital fabrication (HTML) and makerspaces (HTML); talks at Union College (HTML), Stanford (HTML), Cornell (HTML), WSU (HTML), Syracuse (HTML), and HASTAC (HTML); resources related to “Critical Design” (HTML), “Types of Prototypes” (HTML), and “Before You Make a Thing” (HTML)

Starting with the assumption that humanities research frequently renders three-dimensional objects two-dimensional for the sake of reference and communication, this essay articulates four research areas where humanities practitioners may wish to fabricate tactile objects as part of their work: 1) data physicalization, 2) remaking old technologies, 3) cultural studies of negotiated endurance, and 4) infrastructure studies by way of shared social concerns (as opposed to shared technical specifications). These four research areas are anchored in ongoing examinations of both the technical and cultural dimensions of digital fabrication, including methods for additive and subtractive manufacturing.


Featured image of a Printrbot Jr. care of the MLab. Main image of telephone receivers care of Katherine Goertz and the MLab. Both used with permission. This page was created on 1 August 2019 and last updated on 15 July 2021.