In his recent talk (From Lab to Classroom: Live Methods and Prototyping in the Arts and Humanities), Jentery Sayers traces the contextual origination, methodological orientation, and pedagogical thrust of his work at the University of Victoria’s Maker Lab in the Humanities (or MLab). While MLab does represent an academic variation upon the “makerspace model,” it also works against prescriptive teleologies/ontologies of “making” as popularly conceived within tech culture. Attempting to balance “immersion with critical distance,” Sayers proposes an ethic of speculative iteration upon the practice of communal “artefacting” toward divulgence of a central research question: “what can people learn from prototyping technologies that are broken, lost, missing, or no longer in circulation?” Through the application of prototype as heuristic/hermeneutic, Sayers hopes (and, indeed, has already begun) to break down reductive distinctions that exist within DH and related disciplines, ultimately collapsing (or at least, troubling) the difference between “making” and “breaking.”
This semantic matter is taken up—explicitly or implicitly—in much of the surrounding literature. Instead of attempting to reclaim the designation at hand, Chachra rejects it altogether in her 2015 article “Why I Am Not a Maker,” teasing out the assumptions inherent in the label. While the maker movement is often portrayed as countercultural, Chachra contends that it is merely reinscribing “familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.”
In “The Author Function,” Chan also challenges these problematic binaries, advocating greater recognition of and appreciation for “indeterminacy, contradictions, and possibilities”; however, she here focuses more upon technological affordances and applications than terminological self-identification. Like Sayers, Chan pushes for speculative engagement with the plausibility/preferability of certain technological futures, specifically as relates to neural networking and corpus linguistics.
Theorizing more generally this notion of “Speculative Computing,” Drucker identifies the fundamental premise: “a work is constituted in an interpretation enacted by an interpreter.” Once again, we see this same notion reflected in Sayer’s work at MLab—a shift from the “procedural and mechanistic” toward the “dynamic and constitutive.” Beyond computing, Eliot et al. posit in “New Old Things” that matter itself represents a “new medium” for historical research and humanistic endeavor. They point to hacker, maker, and DIY communities as potential models for new kinds of experimental, experiential projects across “digitized and materialized forms.”
Before this sort of synthesis can be achieved, however, it can be useful to isolate domains, as Sayers points out in “Dropping the Digital.” Promoting a temporary “ruination,” or procedural de-rhetorizing, of digital humanities toward identification of that which “makes them compelling in the first place,” Sayers argues that there are “computational skews” and exclusions within the general economy of DH that go unnoticed without careful examination of underlying metrics and terminologies.
In “Prototyping the Past,” he proceeds to explain how speculative crafting can be instrumentalized toward inclusionary ends, offering potential routes of inquiry/advancement into “entanglements of culture, materials, and design.” Eschewing historical fetishization in favor of conjectural contingency, this ethos of prototype accommodates and embraces potentially anachronistic “breaking” within a communal-conjectural frame of “making” whereby the liminal spaces “between bits and atoms” can be explored, interfaced, and perhaps even—in a sense—closed.
- Chachra, D. (2015) Why I am not a maker. The Atlantic [https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/01/why-i-am-not-a-maker/384767/]
- Chan, T. (2017) The author function: Imitating Grant Allen with queer writing machines [https://github.com/eltiffster/authorFunction]
- Drucker, J. and Nowviskie, B. (2004) Speculative computing: Aesthetic provocations in humanities computing. A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. S. Schreibman, R. Siemens, J. Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell. [http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/]
- Elliott, D., MacDougall, R., and Turkel, W. J. (2012) New old things: Fabrication, physical computing, and experiment in historical practice. Canadian Journal of Communication, 37(1), 121-128 [http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/view/2506]
- Sayers, J. (2015) Prototyping the past. Visible Language Journal, 49(3) [http://visiblelanguagejournal.com/issue/172/article/1232]
- Sayers, J. (2016) Dropping the digital. Debates in the Digital Humanitieshttp://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/88
- Sayers, J., Elliott, D., Kraus, K., Nowviskie, B. & Turkel, W. J. (2016) Between bits and atoms: Physical computing and desktop fabrication in the humanities. New Companion to Digital Humanities, ed S. Schreibman, R. Siemens, J. Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.lib.fsu.edu/doi/10.1002/9781118680605.ch1/pdf] (fsu login required)