One of the MLab’s research areas is humanities physical computing, or the construction of interactive systems that put digital and analog materials into conversation. At the core of this research is an investment in the data that cultural practices routinely produce (often unbeknownst to their practitioners). For instance, across popular culture we see the use of microcontrollers to make coffee machines tweet and books report their geolocation—a veritable Internet of Things (IoT). But how is the seemingly banal development of smart objects socially embedded? How might humanities practitioners use physical computing to better understand the cultural and economic assumptions that enable our habits and research? To shift our attention away from screens and construct new sorts of humanities interfaces? To facilitate a stronger awareness of computational mechanisms, electronics, media history, and experimental methods? With an emphasis on collaborative building and humanities-based praxis, these are the kinds of questions we ask in the MLab. And—with the Humanistic Fab Lab at Western—we are currently making physical kits for cultural inquiry. In doing so, we draw from fields such as media art, electronic music, interaction design, and science and technology studies.

This research (scheduled for 2013-17) is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Prior to 2013, the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab at UVic helped spark humanities physical computing research on campus through its support of the Humanities Physical Computing Research Group (consisting of Alyssa Arbuckle, UVic English; Ted Hiebert, UWB IAS; Doug Jarvis, Independent Artist; Joel Legassie, UVic History; Shaun Macpherson, UVic English; Alyssa McLeod, UVic English; Jana Millar Usiskin, UVic English; Daniel Powell, UVic English; Jentery Sayers, UVic English; Emily Smith, UVic English; Michael Stevens, UVic English; and Tara Thomson, UVic English), which was active during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

Our Physical Computing Projects

The following MLab projects currently involve physical computing: The Humanities Lab as Makerspace, the “Hello World” Workshop Series, and the Kits for Cultural History. Additionally, many HASTAC Scholars at UVic practice physical computing.

Humanities Physical ComputingFollow Our Research

To stay in the loop with our physical computing research, follow the stream of posts below. We do our best to regularly publish logs of our work.

Please do not hesitate to either comment on a log or email with suggestions.

Image above care of Devon Elliott. Image right care of Jentery Sayers.