Making Things and Drawing Boundaries (2017) is a creative + critical take on “making” in the humanities. The volume communicates alternatives to the popular “maker” brand and movement, and I edited it with the labor and boundaries of making in mind. Its 38 chapters exhibit how humanities projects are patchworks of memory and practice, starting not from scratch but in the middle, with partial and situated knowledge. From there, the book demonstrates how we can take responsibility for the motivations and effects of humanities scholarship as we seek to change or expand it.
Below’s a link to the open access version of Making Things and Drawing Boundaries, together with an official description of the volume, its table of contents, and author names and abstracts for each of the 38 chapters. The book is available in paperback, library cloth, and ebook formats, too.
Making Things and Drawing Boundaries
Published with the University of Minnesota Press in 2017 | Debates in the Digital Humanities series (Gold and Klein, eds.) | 38 chapters | 360 pages | open access
Foregrounding the interdisciplinary character of experimental methods and hands-on research, this collection asks what it means to “make” things in the humanities. Comprising almost forty chapters from ninety practitioners across twenty disciplines, Making Things and Drawing Boundaries speaks directly and extensively to how humanities research engages a growing interest in “maker” culture, however “making” may be defined.
Table of Contents
I arranged the volume’s 38 chapters into five sections: 1) “Making and the Humanities,” 2) “Made by Whom? For Whom?”, 3) “Making as Inquiry,” 4) “Making Spaces and Interfaces,” and 5) “Making, Justice, Ethics,” plus acknowledgments. The sections include original essays, several pieces republished with revisions, and a number of “project snapshots”: one-page chapters about particular projects to prompt further study and dialogue about making and experimental methods. The differences between the sections and chapters matter, and the contributions are most engaging when read collectively, as a series of negotiations with shared terms and problems.
Introduction, “I Don’t Know All The Circuitry”
“Well I don’t know all the circuitry, but I can do first aid,” said artist Laurie Anderson in October 1981. She was responding to Rob La Frenais, who asked her a few questions about relying on hardware. Arguing that making and scholarship “start in the middle,” this introduction unpacks the implications of Anderson’s statement for research with technologies. It underscores the centrality of maintenance to such research by privileging “conceptual matter,” or the persistent indeterminacies of art, history, language, and culture so vital to the humanities. Drawing on work by Simone Browne, Cornelia Parker, Hannah Perner-Wilson, Karen Barad, and Walter Benjamin, it contextualizes conceptual matter with an emphasis on labor and social relations and then outlines how the chapters collected here complicate demarcations drawn in and beyond the academy: demarcations between thinking and doing, hacking and yacking, writing and building, scholarship and service, creating and critiquing, breaking and repairing, innovation and maintenance, and making and not making, for instance. The introduction concludes with a few notes on the importance of modest negotiations with materials premised on a balance of skepticism with surprise.
I. Making and the Humanities
This section addresses foundational issues about how boundaries are drawn between thinking and doing (Klein) as well as how creative work manifests in humanities contexts, and vice versa (Staley). Entwined with these issues are key matters of literacy (Endres), or how much making, writing, building, coding, digitizing, and fabricating intersect despite common cuts between them. Equally important to this section are the embodied acts of translation and framing we perform in our research and how those acts are imbricated with maintenance across technical and non-technical work (Sneha). The projects features in this section also represent compelling collaborations between artists, humanists, and designers (Rajko et al.), where acts of making are collective (not individuated) and give us a tangible sense of how cultural criticism is enacted through experiments with circuits and interfaces (Burgess).
Chapter 1. “The Boundary Work of Making in Digital Humanities,” by Julie Thompson Klein
Debates on digital humanities are sites of boundary work in a history of arguments about the nature of the field. The advent of digital technologies in humanities was the catalyst for two kinds of boundary work: protecting traditional modes of scholarship and teaching from the encroachment of new approaches that bridge the traditional border separating humanities from technology and asserting the priority of some practices over others. Framed against the historical backdrop of dichotomies of thinking versus doing, this chapter tracks the evolving discourse of “making” in arguments and activities that have reconceptualized building tools as a reductive mechanical production to an intellectual endeavor with its own professional practices, standards, and theory. It aligns reconceptualization of their relationship with naming practices in the emergent field and its expanding scope framed by Patrik Svensson’s typology of five paradigmatic modes of engagement: as a tool, a study object, an expressive medium, an experimental laboratory, and an activist venue. It then identifies intellectual warrants for making in the concept of thinking-through-practice being elaborated in a new epistemology, aesthetics, and rhetoric of building, amplified by work associated with a new materiality of things, critical making, and the concept of critically-infused reflection about process.
Chapter 2. “On the ‘Maker Turn’ in the Humanities,” by David Staley
The move to read humanities Big Data has necessitated new forms of reading, new types of interpretation. Often, the most effective way to draw meaning from large data sets is through visualizations and the knowing that comes from the perception of visual pattern and form. Humanists might use digital fabrication tools as a way to build three-dimensional visual forms. That is, humanists may sculpt into material form the visual patterns of humanistic texts. The resulting objects are (non-textual) evidence of our reading. If the goal of the humanist’s reading/interpretation of texts is to unlock meaning, then one approach to making in the humanities might involve creating physical objects as an interpretive act.
Chapter 3. “Vibrant Lives Presents The Living Net,” by Jessica Rajko (research, textile work), Jacqueline Wernimont (research, textile work), Eileen Standley (research), Stjepan Rajko (software design), and Michael Krzyzaniak (software design)
The Living Net is one of several techno-textile projects created by the Vibrant Lives team. Using our Vibrant Lives app, we transform the network activity—or “data shed”—of event participants into a sound file that then plays through sub-sonic subwoofers, thereby causing the Living Net to vibrate at a variable rate depending on the amount of data being shed.
Chapter 4. “A Literacy of Building: Making in the Digital Humanities,” by Bill Endres
In the humanities, the most contentious issue generated by DH is not about digital methods or the value of digitally generated knowledge; instead, it is about recognizing making as scholarly activity. In these debates, proponents of print-based scholarship view making as inferior to writing, their gold standard for scholarly activity. The conditioning of academe by a longstanding reliance on print encourages these scholars to view activities related to computer science as skills. Ironically, in the recent past such a reductive view limited scholarship in another area: literacy. For a prolonged time, literacy was viewed as a set of skills rather than as ideologically constructed social activity. Once this perception changed, scholars were able to ask new questions that revolutionized the understanding of literacy. This chapter examines how scholarly making in DH is not a set of isolated “skills” but instead ideologically constructed social activity. It argues against the counterproductive pitting of writing against making and for comprehending the shared ideological constructs of the two, constructs that make both writing and making dynamic cultural forces for generating and expressing what can be known.
Chapter 5. “MashBOT,” by Helen J. Burgess
MashBOT consists of a small thermal receipt printer connected to Twitter via an Arduino microcontroller. Love notes are generated using Markov chains from a corpus consisting of ninety lines from Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments and ten from Bruno Latour’s Aramis: or the Love of Technology, published to the @mashomatic Twitter account and printed as “receipts” for display. MashBOT asks us to think about the ways in which the written declaration of love (the “mash note”) is a document at once transactional and unfathomable.
Chapter 6. “Making Humanities in the Digital: Embodiment and Framing in Bichitra and Indiancine.ma,” by P.P. Sneha
This chapter explores the processes of “making” digital objects in the context of recent humanities research in India that mobilizes digital techniques as key methods. This research includes an online video archive (Indiancine.ma) and a digital variorum of Rabindranath Tagore’s literary works (Bichitra) developed at the University of Jadavpur, Kolkata. Film, text, and archival objects acquire several nuances as they are made into digital objects, and these are reflected in methods of working with and studying them. Through a discussion of these projects, and drawing on literature on embodiment, affect, and representation in the digital, the chapter extends the above thoughts on making by suggesting that: (a) the processes of making digital objects are creative and analytical, affective, and embodied, and (b) the “digital” itself is in a perpetual state of change and collapses different processes of making into one, namely that of “framing” information. The chapter draws largely from interviews with researchers and practitioners working with these and similar initiatives, conducted as part of a study on mapping the field of digital humanities in India.
II. Made By Whom? For Whom?
This section stresses what is routinely taken for granted in popular maker cultures: who is working, for whom, and under what assumptions about labor and power. Here we have questions about how collaboration and agency are articulated across ranks in the academy (Jenstad and Takeda), together with inquiries into how the academy is made and reproduced, often through affective labor that parses scholarship from service (Shirazi). Service and scholarship are interwoven even further when we consider how digital materials are maintained post-production (Gardner et al.), not to mention how research environments are built, with what resources, and through which dependencies (Smithies). Of course, we must also ask how “makers” get defined in the first place (Hunter et al.; O’Gorman), and in what relation to normalcy and ability (Hendren). Projects in this section parody popular maker cultures (Hertz) as they expose the longstanding alliance of technologies with force and surveillance (Burtch and Rosenthal). Ultimately, this section resists celebratory or romantic models of making to instead examine how technologies—as negotiations—correspond with agency and vulnerability.
Chapter 7. “Making the RA Matter: Pedagogy, Interface, and Practices,” by Janelle Jenstad and Joseph Takeda
The Map of Early Modern London (MoEML) is a SSHRC-funded digital-humanities project that has had over 30 student research assistants (RAs) since 1999. In his or her tenure with MoEML, each student gains new skillsets and abilities that allow the site to be remade in ways the project director could never expect. Project Director Jenstad and RA/Junior Programmer Takeda, articulate the benefits of a pedagogical model that positions the paid RA as interface between the project leaders and the project goals and desired outcomes. In considering the RA as an active member of the project team and not simply as the “invisible hands” who encode the project, MoEML also becomes a pedagogical space, which allows RAs to learn in ways that exceed the purview of the prescribed learning outcomes in grant applications and to contribute to the site in important ways. Drawing on bell hooks’s theories of liberatory pedagogy and Wendy Chun and Johanna Drucker’s recent work on interfaces, this chapter emphasizes the pedagogical potential of thinking of the RA as interface and allowing the team to make and remake itself in ways that work for the project and personnel.
Chapter 8. “Reproducing the Academy: Librarians and the Question of Service in the Digital Humanities,” by Roxanne Shirazi
Who draws the line between service and scholarship? This chapter places the concepts of emotion work and reproductive labor in conversation with librarianship as a feminized profession to expose the challenges encountered by academic librarians undertaking collaborative work in the digital humanities. Librarians contributing to digital humanities projects face the dual hurdle of breaking through gendered professional assumptions and dealing with the deep credentialism found within academia. Along with women, people of color, and queer scholars who disproportionately shoulder the burden of committee work and community building among faculty in the disciplines, librarians perform vital intellectual labor that reproduces the academy but too often gets devalued as “service work.”
Chapter 9. “Looks Like We Made It, But Are We Sustaining Digital Scholarship?” by Chelsea A. M. Gardner, Gwynaeth McIntyre, Kaitlyn Solberg, and Lisa Tweten
The increasing number of digital projects relating to the field of antiquity is especially promising for the future of traditionally archaic academic fields, including Ancient History, Classics, and Archaeology. However, it is not enough to embark upon a digital humanities project simply for the sake of having a digital presence. To make digital humanities projects truly meaningful, students and professionals must ensure that their contributions are useful and relevant. As a case study, this article presents how a small scale digitization project entitled “From Stone to Screen” approaches the “Three R’s” for creating sustainable DH projects: Research, Relevance, and Replicability.
Chapter 10. “Full Stack DH: Building a Virtual Research Environment on a Raspberry Pi,” by James Smithies
Minimal computing offers interesting ways for humanists to engage with maker culture and better understand their relationship to technical devices. Experimenting with minimal computers helps us learn new skills and understand the nature of digital technology, but it also allows us to operationalize the “return to things” advocated by writers like Ian Hodder and explore notions of entanglement discussed by philosophers of science and technology like Donald Ihde. This project migrated a personal scholarly blog from wordpress.org to a minimal Raspberry Pi computer, using the process as an experiment in postphenomenology and the end product as a prototype for a Virtual Research Environment (VRE).
Chapter 11. “Mic Jammer,” by Allison Burtch and Eric Rosenthal
Mic Jammer is an ultrasonic security system that gives people the confidence to know that their smart phones are non-invasively muted. When it is pointed at a smart phone, it de-senses the phone’s microphone by applying a very high-level, ultrasonic signal inaudible to humans but not to technologies.
Chapter 12. “The Making of a Digital Humanities Neo-Luddite,” by Marcel O’Gorman
The original Luddites were not anti-technological; they were critical of technologies that threatened their livelihoods and automated their handiwork, much of which involved skillful technics. In the same way, humanities scholars who have no interest in xml encoding or visualization are not anti-technological; they may simply be satisfied with the technics at their disposal, much of which makes use of digital tools like word processing software and databases. What’s more, many humanities scholars view the screen-based work of “DH building” as complicit with the prevailing technoculture that threatens their livelihoods. This chapter takes a neo-Luddite approach to DH, suggesting that humanities scholars can engage critically with technoculture, not by building screen-based tools for other humanities scholars, but by making “objects-to-think-with” that question technological impacts on society and the human condition.
Chapter 13. “Made: Technology on Affluent Leisure Time,” by Garnet Hertz
This sticker was produced as a parody and critique of Make Magazine by O’Reilly Media. It was distributed for free and included as an insert in the first edition of Critical Making (Hollywood, Cal.: Telharmonium Press. 2012).
Chapter 14. “Reifying the Maker as Humanist,” by John Hunter, Katherine Faull, and Diane Jakacki
This chapter argues that the success of “making” depends not only on physical space, but rather on the intersections between disciplines that encourage critical humanistic discourse. Rather than reifying the digital humanities maker as a (usually male, usually white, usually economically and socially advantaged) creator, we argue that the DH makers are uniquely positioned to subvert paradigms of class, race, and gender and ableist privilege. We further assert that as (digital) humanists, we (with our students) have an opportunity and a responsibility to reclaim the importance of making as being historically central to the humanities. After first undoing the presumed discontinuity between traditional humanist practice and contemporary DH makers, we move on to some specific examples from our own experience and end by articulating the transformative potential of the DH maker as an enactment of humanistic thought.
Chapter 15. “All Technology Is Assistive: Six Design Rules on Disability,” by Sara Hendren
So-called assistive technologies have for at least the last 75 years been researched and developed in many cultures under the paradigm of “Rehabilitation Engineering”—tools and devices intended to restore normalcy to atypical bodies and minds. But what might critical disability studies have to say about the design, distribution, and use of these technologies? And might an expanded, supple sense of assistance radically alter the design of these tools? Finally, what else might prosthetics do in an expressive, performative sense to reframe normalcy in the body?
III. Making as Inquiry
This section stresses making as an action, which involves developing, prototyping, testing, and sharing conceptual matter. (For a definition of conceptual matter, see the introduction.) Central to such inquiry is the communicability of experimental research as both process and product to audiences other than academics (Resch et al.), how we might prototype across print and electronic materials (Hancock et al.), and how hacking and reverse engineering technologies (Boeva et al.; Teboul) immerse us in indeterminacies against kit-of-parts construction. In this section, we see numerous creative/critical approaches to technologies, both new and old. Curation becomes a creative act (Bernardi and Dimmock), circuit bending becomes a technique for interface and console design (Belojevic), poems become 3-D models (Tucker et al.), and poetry readings become disembodied audio and then re-embodied performances (Flamenco et al.). Each of these inquiries stewards materials across settings and contexts and prompts us to consider how matter and mediation influence our conversations with the past (Garfinkel). While we can get carried away by the wow factor of gadgets, this section reminds us to pause and, if only in vain, try to arrest the fragments of history against the predictability of positivism.
Chapter 16. “Thinking as Handwork: Critical Making with Humanistic Concerns,” by Gabby Resch, Dan Southwick, Isaac Record, and Matt Ratto
In this chapter, we describe some ways of thinking productively about materiality by illustrating how our own material interventions have troubled theoretical work (and vice versa). We discuss methods of inquiry inspired by critical making, particularly in work that engages with cultural institutions like galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. We elaborate on recent experiences our lab has had building and deploying objects and experiences, most of which use 3-D printing as a medium, in a handful of world-class museums. Through this, we hope to enrich conversations around how scientific and cultural knowledge are often co-produced; how infrastructures that cross disciplinary boundaries can share objects, methods, and features; and how new technologies that blur material-digital distinctions are changing cultural institutions.
Chapter 17. “Bibliocircuitry and the Design of the Alien Everyday, 2012-13,” by Charity Hancock, Clifford Hichar, Carlea Holl-Jensen, Kari Kraus, Cameron Mozafari, and Kathryn Skutlin
Bibliocircuitry and the Design of the Alien Everyday is a series of student projects that grew out of several book design labs conducted as part of a Fall 2012 course (ENGL 758B Book 2.0: The History of the Book and the Future of Reading) taught by Kari Kraus at the University of Maryland. Using physical books as springboards for computation and mixed media experiments, the student projects realize one of the larger aims of the course: to position bibliotextual scholarship and pedagogy as design-oriented practices that can be used to prototype and imagine the future of the book. The project resulted in a publication by the same name.
Chapter 18. “Doing History by Reverse Engineering Electronic Devices,” by Yana Boeva, Devon Elliott, Edward Jones-Imhotep, Shezan Muhammedi, and William J. Turkel
We describe three experiences with a rewarding, but still relatively underutilized, form of collaborative historical practice: reverse engineering electronic artifacts. Our first case study involves the recreation of wireless effects designed by early-20th-century magicians to simulate mind reading. These effects depended on electromagnetic induction, a technique which has recently come to prominence for its applications in RFID, NFC, wireless charging, and secure wireless communications, largely driven by interest in the Internet of Things. Our second case study is a software recreation–using a visual programming language–of an analog electronic musical instrument built by the Canadian pioneer Hugh Le Caine. Our third case study is an analog electronic computer. Long dismissed as a technology that was an also-ran to digital electronic computation (and we think unfairly so), analog electronic computing played a fundamental role in the history of engineering and of scientific instrumentation and continues to be a crucial electronic technology in today’s devices. Using these three cases, we show that things (re)made can serve as productive, interdisciplinary sites of research creation in the humanities.
Chapter 19. “Electronic Music Hardware and Open Design Methodologies for Post-Optimal Objects,” by Ezra Teboul
This chapter presents a short overview of hardware hacking practices in electronic music, suggesting how component level analysis of some artifacts can inform the musical products and their environments. How do evolutions within the field inform discussions of larger cultural trends? In order to address this and related questions, the concept of post-optimal electronics is adapted to audio technologies. Examples show how different degrees and understandings of freedom in this practice lead inventors to develop personal, fragmented and multi-faceted understandings of engineering, based in experimentation rather than prediction. The document ends by suggesting points for future analysis, contextualization, and invention.
Chapter 20. “Glitch Console,” by Nina Belojevic
Belojevic’s “glitch console”—a modified Nintendo Entertainment System—demonstrates how circuit bending engages with the materiality of videogames and game consoles, linking such consumer products to issues of labor, environment, and industry exploitation. Circuit bending, the practice of modifying the behavior of electronics by soldering new connection points on a circuit board, also encourages a creative, hands-on approach to media studies.
Chapter 21. “Creative Curating: The Digital Archive as Argument,” by Joanne Bernardi and Nora Dimmock
Re-envisioning Japan: Japan as Destination in 20th Century Visual and Material Culture (REJ) is an ongoing faculty-Digital Humanities Center project that models humanistic scholarship realized and communicated through creative curation and a collaboratively built digital environment. REJ encompasses both a digital archive and a material collection of tourism, travel, and educational ephemera in a wide range of media, documenting changing representations of Japan and its place in the world in the early-to-mid-20th century. This chapter traces REJ’s five-year development from the prospect of a scholarly monograph with a digital component to a collaborative project that functions as critical humanities scholarship. The process of re-imagining contexts of the past by connecting objects in relevant and meaningful ways has been key to REJ’s development as object-driven research: instead of using the objects and images in the REJ collection to illustrate pre-existing narratives, the REJ digital archive has evolved from questions and lines of investigation derived from the images and objects themselves, exposing the scholarship inherent in the curatorial process.
Chapter 22. “Reading Series Matter: Performing the SpokenWeb Project,” by Lee Hannigan, Aurelio Meza, and Alexander Flamenco
In the past twenty or so years, a large number of poetry sound recordings have been collected and stored in online databases hosted by university institutions. The SpokenWeb digital archive is one such collection. Housed at Concordia University, SpokenWeb features over 89 sound recordings from a poetry reading series that took place at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) between 1966 and 1974. In the early 2000s, the original reel-to-reel tapes were converted to mp3, and by 2010 the SpokenWeb project, using the SGWU Poetry Series as a case study, was well into its exploration for ways to engage with poetry’s sound recordings as an object of literary analysis. As a coherent (if partial) unit of study, SpokenWeb, or the recorded reading series in general, allows us to return (if artificially) to an ephemeral live event, see beyond the archived document, and interpret it as an aggregate, one that is historically, technologically, and culturally specific. But how exactly do we approach this aggregate? How is history made through the (re)construction of artifacts, and how is this kind of making playing a role in humanities research?
Chapter 23. “Loss Sets,” by Aaron Tucker, Jordan Scott, Tiffany Cheung, and Namir Ahmed
Working with Ryerson University’s Digital Media Experience Lab, the Ryerson Geospatial Maps and Data Centre, and the Ryerson Centre for Digital Humanities, the 3-D Poetry Project translates poems co-written by Jordan Scott and Aaron Tucker into sculptures. The poems are first turned into coordinates along the X, Y, and Z axes, after which (under Tucker, Namir Ahmed and Tiffany Cheung’s direction) those points are imported into the 3-D modeling software, Rhino, where the models are rendered with the Grasshopper plugin. The pieces are further manipulated using information such as latitude, longitude, and spot height from the Columbia Icefields. The poems are originally generated under the theme of “loss,” and the icefield data is incorporated with that theme to resist and/or examine the often utopian impulses around 3-D printing “replacing” any object, especially as technologization relates to the natural world. Using these multiple data sets, a sculpture is “carved away” from a six-inch cube, and those results are then printed using a 3-D printer.
Chapter 24. “Dialogic Objects in the Age of 3-D Printing: The Case of the Lincoln Life Mask,” by Susan Garfinkel
November 2013 saw the launch of “Smithsonian X 3D,” an initiative to scan significant museum artifacts and turn them into 3-D digital models to view online or download and 3-D-print via a portal website. Among the most intriguing of the models to appear on the site is the 1865 Abraham Lincoln life mask, which powerfully retains a sense of presence through its multiple transformations. Starting from the work of critic Mikhail Bakhtin in The Dialogic Imagination and the body of material culture scholarship, this paper explores the nature of the dialogic object as foregrounded by the uses and implications of 3-D-printed copies of cultural artifacts such as the Lincoln life mask. If objects are things in context–physical, cultural, historical, aesthetic–then the 3-D print’s trajectory from original artifact to 3-D model to printed copy at once complicates and clarifies the shifting terrains, both physical and meaningful, that all material entities inhabit.
IV. Making Spaces and Interfaces
This section shares several perspectives on how what appears ephemeral or immaterial is framed and designed. It also stresses the settings and values of making. Foregrounding the straight, white, cis-gender masculinity pervading maker cultures and makerspaces, we see arguments for feminist hackerspaces (Burek et al.) and interdisciplinary makerspaces informed by queer feminisms (Rogers), combined with feminist approaches to wearable technologies and public humanities research (Knight et al.). We also encounter mobile projects invested in the politics of technologies and social relations (Hsu et al.; Martin et al.) as well as in the values of intelligent devices and smart cities (DiSalvo et al.). These projects underscore how important design and intersection are to persuasive work with technologies. Experience design, participatory design, applied cultural criticism, public interactives, and networked acts of witnessing all play a fundamental role in this section (Ruecker and Roberts-Smith; Balsamo et al.; Cooley and Buell; Knochel and Papaelias). These shared investments show how interfaces are not merely tools for re-presentation or copying; they are interpretations, and indeterminacy may very well be their primary ingredient (Sullivan et al.). Even when interfaces are steeped in machine knowledge and computer processing, their significance exceeds the circuits through which they are transmitted, and the conceptual matter that emerges with them is far more interesting than their tech specs.
Chapter 25. “Feminist Hackerspaces: Hacking Culture, Not Devices (the zine!),” by Amy Burek, Emily Alden Foster, Sarah Fox, and Daniela K. Rosner
After Fox, Ulgado and Rosner published an academic paper on a study of feminist hackerspaces in 2015, a chance encounter between Burek, a hackerspace member, and Fox at a local short run publication festival led to collaboration on a zine–a self-published magazine typically made with a photocopier–that knit together content from the published paper with local histories of feminist print production. Reprinted here, the zine is an effort circulate scholarship and continue conversations from the field.
Chapter 26. “Fashioning Circuits (2011-Present),” by Kim A. Brillante Knight (founder and director); Brianni Nelson, Elisa Pequini, Amy Pickup, Tameka Reeves, and Mattie Tanner (co-founding students); Elizabeth Bell, Jessica Knott, Jodi Madera-Prado, Andrew Miller, Laura Pasquini, and Lari Tanner (research team); B Cavello, Sunnye Childers, Lance King, Harrison Massey, Patti Mcletchie, Sydnie Montgomery, Karla Muñoz, and Lauren Shafer (community team)
Fashioning Circuits uses wearable media as a lens to consider the social and cultural valences of bodies and identities in relation to fashion, technology, labor practices, and craft and maker cultures. A public humanities project, it combines scholarship, university coursework, and community partnerships.
Chapter 27. “Making Queer Feminisms Matter: A Transdisciplinary Makerspace for the Rest of Us,” by Melissa Rogers
This chapter offers a snapshot of the Women’s Studies Multimedia Studio at the University of Maryland, a transdisciplinary space for the exploration of the politics of making in the humanities and a laboratory for the prototyping of feminist pedagogies. Through Interactive Textiles, an experimental workshop series focusing on the practice of fiber crafts such as knitting and crochet, I demonstrate how queer feminist cultural production in spaces like the Multimedia Studio can transform our understandings of “the digital” and challenge our assumptions about what counts as creativity. Doing so might enable us to imagine multiple futures for digital humanities.
Chapter 28. “Movable Party,” by Wendy Hsu, Steven Kemper, Josef Cameron Taylor, Linda Wei, and Jacob Alden Sargent
Movable Party is a bicycle-powered system for participatory mobile musical performance designed and built by Los-Angeles-based maker collective, Movable Parts. Taking design inspirations from Taiwan’s street sound innovations, the collective made the system to instigate ad hoc, emplaced social interactions as a form of creative friction against the urban sprawl. The system consists of three stationary bicycles, each equipped with rear wheel hub motors that generate enough energy to power a medium-sized public address system. The bicycles are also equipped with sensors to track rear wheel speed as well as rider position. Mapped to musical parameters in software, sensor data from riders’ gestures and movements transform the bicycles into interactive musical instruments.
Chapter 29. “Disrupting Dichotomies: Mobilizing Digital Humanities with the MakerBus,” by Kim Martin, Beth Compton, and Ryan Hunt
The past two years has seen the emergence of mobile spaces, whether for maker exploration, art displays, transporting classrooms, or providing access to technology. As co-founders of the MakerBus, a mobile makerspace aimed at increasing digital literacy and promoting engagement with local cultural heritage, the authors know first-hand the importance of mobility, and the successes and difficulties that come along with it. This chapter explores various perceived dichotomies that exist at the point where the maker movement meets academia. Through our unique point of view as humanities practitioners overseeing the MakerBus project, we offer a reflexive take on three main dichotomies that highlight both the practical limitations and theoretical implications of: the role we play as producers and consumers of both maker material and heritage and humanities content; our experiences trying to bridge academia and the community, shifting the locus of humanities research from the campus to the wider public, and breaking down the role of the expert; and the limits of our ability to provide universal access to technology and a critical awareness of our newfound roles as gatekeepers on a multitude of levels.
Chapter 30. “Designs for Foraging: Fruit Are Heavy,” by Carl DiSalvo, Tom Jenkins, Jong Won (Karl) Kim, Catherine Meschia, and Craig Durkin
The Design for Foraging project explores the appropriation of precision technologies for ad-hoc urban agricultures. Fruit Are Heavy is a custom-designed, low-fidelity sensing platform to infer the ripeness of fruit in trees by monitoring the relative droop of branches as the fruit matures. The project uses research-thru-design to speculate on diverse economies and propose alternative configurations of so-called smart cities.
Chapter 31. “Experience Design for the Humanities: Activating Multiple Interpretations,” by Stan Ruecker and Jennifer Roberts-Smith
This chapter argues that the humanities has an opportunity to create a new kind of experience design that is fundamentally different in its goals from experience design in industry. The underlying premise is that there are forms of activation resulting from cultural experiences that range from the immediate physiological reaction to the long-term creative response. The word “activation” refers here to the various physical and psychological states of response to a stimulus. Our own goal for this practice is therefore to explore new ways of designing experiences to engage audiences in complex acts of interpretation, as they move into and out from cultural performances and venues.
Chapter 32. “AIDS Quilt Touch: Virtual Quilt Browser,” by Anne Balsamo, Dale MacDonald, and Jon Winet
The AIDS Quilt Touch (AQT) Virtual Quilt Browser is one of several interactive experiences based on the AIDS Memorial Quilt. In free-browse mode, viewers can explore the Quilt by zooming and panning across the 25 gigapixel image. In the narrative threads mode, viewers can follow pathways that present stories about individual panels and the cultural significance of the Quilt. Other AQT applications include a story-making platform, a digital guest book, and interactive timelines.
Chapter 33. “Building Humanities Software that Matters: The Case of Ward One Mobile App,” by Heidi Rae Cooley and Duncan A. Buell
For the past four years, we have been developing critical interactives that bring unacknowledged histories of social inequity to visibility. Our current project is a mobile application for iPhone called Ward One that foregrounds the history of urban renewal that made possible the expansion of the University of South Carolina at the expense of working class African Americans. In this chapter, we focus on the software that makes the app an operational and nontrivial critical interactive. We discuss the structural logic of the content management system and the micro-processes that “push” (not “pull”) content to the touchscreen interface, how tracking location histories and dwell time affords personalization of experience at the machine level, and preference and “like” features that allow interactors to tailor their own experiences. We also discuss how guided and unguided learning software extract particular features to create individualized experiences. Ultimately, we show how everyday technological processes that run unnoticed in the background, tracking and keeping track of us, might very well produce the conditions for meaningful sociocultural change in the present.
Chapter 34. “Placeable: A Social Practice for Place-based Learning and Co-design Paradigms,” by Aaron D. Knochel and Amy Papaelias
Placeable is a place-based curricular approach that explores how social practice interfaces with design strategies for interactive media in undergraduate studio and digital research courses. Our chapter reviews the progression of placeable curriculum developed over several semesters as a collaboration between art education and design faculty. Placeable is based on three core constructs: seeking place-based knowledge to incorporate community assets that are relevant to the arts and humanities; using connective mobile making to allow for onsite rich media production; and employing co-design strategies to engage in critical intervention. Placeable project work activates interaction design, qualitative research methods and community asset mapping to innovate intersections between arts and humanities scholarship and making practices. We offer insights into the complexities of social practice and higher education as co-design paradigms in the context of broader critical making inquiries.
Chapter 35. “Making the Model: Scholarship and Rhetoric in 3-D Historical Reconstructions,” by Elaine Sullivan, Angel David Nieves, and Lisa M. Snyder
Scholars investigating the impact of the built landscape on historic communities are increasingly turning to the creation of 3-D computer models to reconstruct aspects of now-disappeared or altered sites. These models are frequently dismissed by humanities scholars as simple representations or illustrations and not a form of research scholarship. We argue that the making of a 3-D reconstruction model asks scholars to perform the same processes as traditional research, with the difference that the final product is an interactive environment with an emphasis on the visual, as opposed to the written word. To design a successful research project that incorporates 3-D content, the scholar must identify a question that is best (or sometimes can only be) answered by considering space and spatial relationships. The resulting model is not a neutral representation of “the past,” but the scholar’s interpretation of specific aspects of a place at a certain time–an interpretation that can be challenged, revised, or rejected by others. Using case studies from across historical time and space (ancient Egypt; Chicago 1893; 20th-century South Africa), this chapter demonstrates how “making” a model can be a rich form of critical scholarly practice.
V. Making, Ethics, Justice
This section focuses on issues of labor, equity, intersectionality, and material conditions that run throughout the book. We are prompted to move beyond the “gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products” and “celebrate and foster education, maintenance, analysis, critique, and, above all, caregiving—all of the undervalued, underappreciated, ongoing work of making other people’s lives better” (Chachra). We are also given several examples of how social justice may inform project design and development in humanities labs (Boggs et al.). And we conclude with a thought-provoking consideration of how we define “we” through material practice (Anderson and Campbell). So crucial to a digital humanities of the present moment, this final section offers us some language as well as a few paradigms for work that is aware of the boundaries it draws.
Chapter 36. “Beyond Making,” by Debbie Chachra
“Making” has historically been made possible by an enormous amount of labor that does not result in artifacts, such as caregiving and education, work which is often invisible, gendered, and poorly-compensated or unpaid. This short chapter argues against the devaluation of these types of labor as a byproduct of an emphasis on “making.”
Chapter 37. “Making It Matter,” by Jeremy Boggs, Jennifer Reed, and J. K. Purdom Lindblad
For making to matter in the humanities, making should demonstrate that the people involved matter. This chapter encourages an ethos of making that encourages attention to–and advocacy for–the humane. Regardless of whether the act of making is one of production, praxis, theory, or a combination of the three, thoughtful making in the humanities should forefront reflection on human experiences and impacts.
Chapter 38. “Ethics in the Making,” by Erin R. Anderson and Trisha N. Campbell
Picking up on calls for an “ethical turn” in digital humanities, we consider how digital artists and composers might attune ourselves toward the ethical potential of our own encounters with the media and materials of our practice. While others have suggested the potential for works of digital art to affect or move audiences toward new ethical ends, we seek to push the conversation to consider the act of making itself. Grounding our argument in our own practice-based digital methods, we discuss two projects that use performative and disruptive approaches to digital audio in order to make, speak, and feel with the voices of others–the voices of accused murderers (“Call Me a Murderer,” Campbell) and the voices of the dead (“Our Time Is Up,” Anderson). By considering our sensory and affective relationships to the production of these works, we propose a model of posthuman empathy, which invites us to confront complex ethical entanglements of selves and others, humans and machines, living and dead. Ultimately, we argue that intentional compositional engagement with digital media and methods might provide us with a powerful opportunity to account for a fuller range of our ethical relations with the social-material world.
It was a pleasure to compile and edit this book, and to collaborate with all of its amazing contributors. Nadia Timperio worked with me to prepare the volume and facilitate peer-to-peer review, David Goehring copyedited the volume, and Allison Murphy proofread it with me. Alex Gil, Matt Gold, and Lauren Klein gave valuable feedback on the proposal and manuscript. Eternal thanks to Kari Kraus, Bill Turkel, and Kathy Woodward for their advice early on, and to Carrie Bodle, Axel Roesler, and Phillip Thurtle for teaching with me during the University of Washington’s 2008 Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities, which inspired the volume. Thanks as well as to everyone at the University of Minnesota Press and Westchester Publishing Services for making the book happen: Douglas Armato, Anne Carter, Danielle M. Kasprzak, Daniel Ochsner, Terence Smyre, and Kenneth Wee at Minnesota, and Susan Baker, Melody Negron, and Maura Neville at Westchester.
Cover for Making Things and Drawing Boundaries and featured image care of the University of Minnesota Press. This page was created on 25 June 2019 and last updated on 7 June 2021.