The MLab (short for The Maker Lab in the Humanities) opened its doors at UVic in September 2012 and was active through May 2018. I was both director and PI during this period, and our research priority areas were physical computing, fabrication, and exhibits. The MLab blended cultural criticism with prototyping, and its design integrated a humanities research lab with a makerspace. The lab’s researchers came from English, Visual Arts, and Cultural, Social, and Political Thought at UVic, with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF).
During the early years, we focused mostly on the space and culture of the lab. What practices and values should be at play in a humanities makerspace, and how could such a space best support students and experimental work? This video by Nina Belojevic, Arthur Hain, Shaun Macpherson, and Katie Tanigawa, with contributions from Cathy Davidson (then Duke, now CUNY), Derek Jacoby (UVic), Kari Kraus (Maryland), Tara McPherson (USC), and Bethany Nowviskie (then UVA, now JMU), offers a glimpse into those years.
As we developed the space and culture of the MLab and also expanded to establish a Fab Lab with Visual Arts at UVic, we began to ask how and why we might prototype early technologies that no longer exist or no longer function. How, in short, could prototyping be a form of inquiry for media history? Following Fluxus and a few suggestions from Bill Turkel at Western, we created “Kits for Cultural History.” We published four volumes in the Kits series: three from UVic and one by Helen J. Burgess and Margaret Simon at North Carolina State University. The Kits encourage embodied engagements and conjecture with history, against instrumentalist tendencies to use new tech (such as CNC machines) to solve or fix problems. They also foreground the social, cultural, and labor dimensions of media.
This video by Teddie Brock, Tiffany Chan, Katherine Goertz, Danielle Morgan, and Victoria Murawski shares three of the Kits as well as the MLab’s approach to research and research-creation.
In the MLab’s final year, we refined our inquiry into a series of communicable methods and began illustrating them for practitioners interested in media history.
While directing the MLab, I had the honor of collaborating with an amazing team of wonderful people at UVic. Thank you for everything, Adèle Barclay (GRA), Nina Belojevic (GRA and Assistant Director), Teddie Brock (URA), Tiffany Chan (GRA), Alex Christie (GRA), Patrick Close (URA and GRA), Nicole Clouston (GRA), Laura Dosky (GRA), Devon Elliott (GRA), Tyler Fontenot (GRA), Katherine Goertz (URA), Arthur Hain (GRA), Cliff Haman (Visual Arts), Adam Hammond (postdoc), Mikka Jacobsen (GRA), Jon Johnson (GRA), Fiona Keenan (visiting researcher), Stefan Krecsy (GRA), Maasa Lebus (URA), Evan Locke (GRA), Shaun Macpherson (GRA and Assistant Director), Kaitlynn McQueston (GRA), Danielle Morgan (URA and visiting artist), Jana Millar Usiskin (GRA), Victoria Murawski (GRA), Keddy Pavlik (URA), Hollis Roberts (Visual Arts), Stephen Ross (English), Katie Tanigawa (GRA), Nadia Timperio (GRA), Zaqir Virani (GRA), Paul Walde (Visual Arts), and Karly Wilson (GRA).
Below are an official description of the MLab and links to its website, its inventory, the Kits for Cultural History project, and the Humanities Lab as a Makerspace project. I’ve archived the site’s pages and 200+ posts, its images and video, and the lab’s logo. Two-year reviews of the lab’s activities are available for 2012-14 and 2014-16, plus slides for a talk I gave at the 2015 BC Library Conference on the lab’s infrastructure.
MLab materials are licensed CC BY-SA. If you have any questions about post-secondary makerspaces, especially humanities makerspaces, then please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to share my perspective and experiences.
Maker Lab in the Humanities (MLab)
September 2012 - May 2018 | Humanities Lab + Makerspace | UVic’s Technology Enterprise Facility
Links: lab website (HTML); two-year reviews in 2012-14 (HTML) and 2014-16 (HTML); Kits for Cultural History (HTML); The Humanities Lab as a Makerspace (HTML); makerspace and fab lab inventory (CSV); archived posts (XML); archived pages (XML); archived images (ZIP); archived video (ZIP); lab logo (PNG); talk (HTML) with slides (HTML) at the BC Library Conference
Supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund, Modernist Versions Project, and UVic’s Faculty of Humanities, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of English, and Department of Visual Arts
About the MLab
The Maker Lab in the Humanities (MLab) at the University of Victoria (UVic) opened our doors in September 2012 under the direction of Jentery Sayers (English and CSPT). With research priority areas in physical computing, digital fabrication, and exhibits, the MLab intersects cultural criticism with experimental prototyping and electronics. As the Lab’s name suggests, our design blends a humanities research lab with a collaborative makerspace—a design that affords our team of students and faculty opportunities to build projects through various modes of knowing by doing.
The MLab’s use of “maker” and “making” understands both words on a broad spectrum, to include writing and composition in addition to tinkering, coding, crafting, bending, sketching, prototyping, and fabricating (among many others). The lab resists impulses to reduce technical work and tacit knowledge to practices in “service” of scholarship. Invested in the entanglements of media with matter, all of our projects engage the material relations between the past and present, digital and analog, persistent and ephemeral.
Our projects include The Crocodile Café Exhibit, The Humanities Lab as a Makerspace, The “Hello World” Workshop Series, The Long Now of Ulysses, Building Public Humanities, Kits for Cultural History, The Early Wearables Kit, The Early Magnetic Recording Kit, The Reading Optophone Kit, and a one-week intensive course on physical computing and fabrication in the humanities. We also support HASTAC Scholars at UVic.
We’ve hosted numerous visiting researchers, including Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier, Tanja Carstensen, Ed Chang, Tanya Clement, Garnet Hertz, Jesse Colin Jackson, merritt k, Fiona Keenan, Julie Thompson Klein, Doran Larson, Lisa Nakamura, Bethany Nowviskie, Daniela Rosner, and Lynne Siemens, and we’ve funded research across the Arts and Humanities at UVic.
For details about our work, check out “The Maker Lab after Two Years (2012-14)” and “The MLab: A Two-Year Review (2014-16)”, which include month-by-month accounts of our research and service activities, together with plenty of links and images. Also see UVic’s Fab Lab, which we established in collaboration with Visual Arts.
Our goal is not to attribute prototypes, publications, and other forms of scholarly communication to the MLab as a brand or author. It’s also not to create tools. It’s to prompt students to conduct experimental research they can call their own, on their own terms.