MLab in the Humanities . University of Victoria Thu, 02 Aug 2018 16:59:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ./wp-content/uploads/2018/03/mLabLogo-70x70.png MLab in the Humanities . 32 32 Intimate Fields: Vol. 4 in the Kits Series ./if/ ./if/#respond Thu, 02 Aug 2018 16:04:50 +0000 ./?p=6865 We’re thrilled to announce a new volume in the the Kits for Cultural History series. It’s titled Intimate Fields, and it was made by Helen J. Burgess and Margaret Simon, both at North Carolina State University. Here’s an abstract they wrote for the project. You can also visit the project website and repo. We’ve enjoyed working with Helen and Maggie on this compelling iteration of the Kits.

Intimate Fields is an installation work that brings together ‘near field’ technologies from markedly different eras to argue that secrecy, absence, and distance are constituting features of felt human intimacy. Looking back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, our project expands to digital technologies the concept of ‘the posy’ and the practice of its creation and dissemination. Posies are short poems designed to be inscribed on gifted objects, most frequently rings. These bespoke accessories are meant to be worn on the body and to signify or transact amorous relations, act as memento mori, or even enable private and subversive modes of religious devotion. Posies and their objects were widely held to act as reminders of intimacy or as portals to memory. At the same time, the inscriptions themselves, particularly on courtship rings, are often generic and were collected and published in printed books for use and adaptation. By inter-animating today’s methods of near field communication and early modern wearables, this project explores how text and code technologies and the languages they carry can create, interrupt, or re-shape interpersonal connection.

Intimate Fields allows users to explore these potentials through a compact installation work that can be placed on a small table for display. The installation consists of a wooden laser cut box with multiple compartments. The box is bundled with an NFC (near field communication) reader connected to an Arduino Flora microcontroller and miniature thermal printer. Items in the box include printed scrolls and notes containing NFC stickers, textile items containing knotted codes, and a series of six ceramic/steel rings with embedded NFC chips. On touching the scrolls, notes and rings to the NFC reader, scripts are triggered to generate brief affectively charged poems remixed from a range of historical and contemporary texts. An accompanying bot posts remixed versions of posies to Twitter at regular intervals.

Intimate Fields was inspired by the work of Jentery Sayers and the MLab at the University of Victoria. There, Sayers curates a series of maker-inspired digital humanities projects called ‘Kits for Cultural History,’ in which our project resides as Volume 4 in the series. The mandate for Sayers’ original Early Wearables Kit was to create what he called a ‘fluxkit for scholarly communication,’ drawing on the Fluxus model in which boxes are assembled of inexpensive materials to create a shareable art object. Sayers imagined using this model to create what he calls ‘small boxes of inexpensive materials assembled for media history’—kits that can be shared and recreated as scholarly objects that both reveal aspects of material history as well as ‘prototype speculations about the past’ based on absences in what we know—in other words, to build objects that ‘recover, repair, and re-contextualize the stuff of history.’ The Kits are designed to be reproducible and executable—shareable like code, while simultaneously being executed on a local material platform (in code’s case, a desktop computer; in the Kit’s case, a 3D printer, laser cutter, etc). Indeed, Intimate Fields makes use of some of the digital lasercutter schematics from the original Early Wearables kit; it is a fork, in Github’s vernacular, in which project files are copied, modified, and either given a new space (in this case, the repository for Intimate Fields) or pushed back to the original.

As a work in the Kits for Cultural History series, Intimate Fields seeks to share in some of these ideas: reproducibility, prototyping, speculation, play. As a work of media history, its aim is to reveal how media objects conveyed secrets in the early modern period, and extend ‘media objects’ as a term to encompass the smell of rosemary and rosewater, the tactility and luster of linen and handspun silks, the intimate feel of a ring hugging the finger or laying suspended from a thread next to the skin. At the same time, it is clearly a creature of our own moment in history: the inclusion of Near Field Communication chips and an electronic reader shift the reader’s awareness into the now, even while drawing attention to the way in which media objects have always held secrets, if only we knew how to read them. The NFC chip and its forerunner, the RFID system, bring to the forefront the idea of intimacy. There is a secret message here, in this seemingly unreadable and yet strangely beautiful object with its spiraling copper coils and magnifying-glass chip. But we can only ‘read’ it if we place it in intimate proximity to a reader, tuned to the right frequency, coded to find the right blocks of data on the chip. The reader induces a current in the coil, much as opening a secret message induces an affective current in the heart—anticipation, longing, release. Induction, magnetization. 13.56 Mhz of electric love. Typical visual representations of a NFC transaction—and it usually is a transaction, between a mobile device and a payment terminal—represent the moment of communication as a kind of ‘ray-gun,’ beaming information from active device to passive reader. But that’s not how NFC works at all. The reader itself induces current, creating a communicative field that, if it could be seen, would be more accurately characterized as a kind of ‘fountain’ of energy, moving through the chip, inducing new current, and spiraling back to the reader like the roil of the earth’s molten iron core. Magnetism has its own aesthetic.

Intimate Fields also bears witness to Sayers’ observation that reproduction is inevitably an act of situated practice, in which the embodied act of prototyping necessarily changes the act of interpretation. The specific instance of Intimate Fields built for exhibit at the Conference festival here betrays our own particular passions, sourcing materials that speak to us in specific ways (for Maggie, the magic of finding specific letter-folding techniques and reproducing them in specific papers; for Helen, the snagging of raw silk fiber on skin, the twirl of the spindle’s whorl). Here, we offer two boxes: one that is ‘executed,’ complete, and imbued with our own bodily labor and affects, and a second one that is a schematic, a range of possibilities, a kind of historical narrative recipe for reconstructing secrets. In this way, Intimate Fields is a ‘kit for e-Literature’: a kit for reconstructing potential texts that include both material and electronic, hard and soft elements.”

Post by Jentery Sayers, attached to the KitsForCulture and Makerspace projects, with the news tag. Featured image for this post care of Helen J. Burgess and Margaret Simon. Visit the website and repo for Intimate Fields.

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Prototyping Sounds at MLab ./sounds/ ./sounds/#respond Mon, 10 Apr 2017 18:56:32 +0000 ./?p=6837 I research historical sound, more specifically the work of sound effects designers from late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century theatre. These designers worked with acoustic materials and simple mechanisms to create everyday sounds, such as wind, rain, and thunder. A lot of my PhD work so far has focused on recreating a historical design, a theatre wind machine, following instructions left in the writings of sound effects designers. But these designers haven’t only left behind specific instructions for particular effects; they also advise the reader to experiment with their designs and develop their work further, to investigate new materials and grow an individual sound effect making practice.

I came to the MLab as a visiting researcher to spend a month working with the team on Prototyping the Past, and to try to figure out how their approach to prototyping might work for sound making using historical methods. Working on and through various problems via prototyping got me thinking more clearly about the most relevant parts of historical theatre sound texts in terms of developing skills, rather than just following design instructions correctly. I started prototyping my own “noisemaker” designs using tin cans, and this led to an introductory workshop at UVic.

The workshop was held right at the end of my research placement and was hosted by CFUV’s Women’s Radio Collective. It was useful to put some of my learning over the month into practice and see what people made of my approach in practice. I made a zine for the workshop, and we made quite a bit of noise.

I’ve learned that prototyping sound with materials is indeed a gateway to sound making more broadly and that, given the chance, people will take a basic design and improvise with it to develop something more complex. The most important bit, and my biggest takeaway from this month in general, is that you need to give them the space to experiment in the first place.

Many thanks to the White Rose College in the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH), who fund my PhD research and also supported this placement. Thanks to CFUV’s WRC for hosting all the noises, and to Miyoko for the podcast fun. Finally, thanks to all at MLab for being so welcoming and supportive all month, and especially to Teddie for all of her work getting the workshop and press set up!

Post by Fiona Keenan, attached to the PrototypingThePast and Makerspace projects, with the news tag. Featured image for this post care of Fiona Keenan and Teddie Brock. Download the zine for Fiona’s workshop as a ready-to-print-and-assemble PDF.

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Julie Thompson Klein to Visit UVic ./klein/ ./klein/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 02:05:16 +0000 ./?p=6827 The Office of Interdisciplinary Academic Programs and the Vice-President Academic and Provost’s Office are hosting Dr. Julie Thompson Klein as the 2016/17 Distinguished Women Scholar. Dr. Klein will be on campus Wednesday, April 5th through Friday, April 7th to visit with researchers and give two public talks:

“Building and Sustaining Interdisciplinary Studies on Campus,” Thursday, April 6th, 3:30 pm, David Strong Building C103

“Interdisciplinary Boundary Crossing and Literacy for the Digital Age,” Friday, April 7th, 12:00 noon, Mearns Centre, McPherson Library, Room 129

We hope to see you there!

Julie Thompson Klein to Visit UVic

Post by Jentery Sayers, attached to the Makerspace project, with the news tag. Image for this post care of UVic.

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Research Reel: Remaking the Past ./reel/ ./reel/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 00:36:53 +0000 ./?p=6818 Tiffany, Kat, Danielle, Victoria, and I recently made a video for UVic’s Research Reels event. It’s titled “Kits for Cultural History: Remaking the Past,” and it was screened on campus earlier this month. UVic uploaded the video to YouTube, and I’ve embedded it here.

Thanks again to UVic, Robert Baker (Blinds Veterans UK), Mara Mills (NYU), Matthew Rubery (QMUL), Bill Turkel (Western), Paul Walde (UVic), Fiona Keenan (U. of York), SSHRC, and CFI for their support. Thanks to Rah Bras for the music.

Post by Teddie Brock, attached to the Makerspace and KitsForCulture projects, with the news tag. Featured video for this post care of Teddie Brock, Tiffany Chan, Katherine Goertz, Danielle Morgan, and Victoria Murawski.

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Workshop: Intro to Noisemaking ./noise/ ./noise/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:36:26 +0000 ./?p=6806 The MLab and CFUV’s Women’s Radio Collective are hosting a workshop on DIY noisemaking this Thursday, March 23rd. The workshop will be facilitated by the MLab’s visiting PhD researcher, Fiona Keenan, and is open to everyone over two sessions on an informal, drop-in basis.

Thursday, March 23rd
Afternoon session: 2:30 – 4:00 pm
Evening session: 6:30 – 8:00 pm
CFUV 101.9 FM
Student Union Building, Room B006
Facebook event page

The workshop is free to attend, and no experience is required. It is inclusive to self-identified women and non-binary or gender-fluid people.

About the workshop: Drawing from historical techniques in theatre and radio from the 19th and early 20th century, the workshop will focus on making low-tech noise machines with accessible materials as a way to explore the relationship between everyday objects and sound production. Throughout the day, we’ll also make recordings of everyone’s noise projects to contribute to a collaborative audio piece. If possible, everyone is encouraged to bring along an empty tin can (any size) to the workshop to make sure we have enough materials to go around.

Also on Thursday, tune into CFUV 101.9 FM for a special interview with Fiona airing on the Women’s Radio Collective program, Big Broadcast, at 8pm.

About Fiona: Fiona Keenan is a sound researcher and noisemaker, working primarily in systems for live sound performance. These systems include handbuilt electronics, mechanical sound producers, sound props, and software. Fiona completed an MSc in Sound Design at the University of Edinburgh in 2013 and is currently enrolled as a PhD student at the Department of Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media at the University of York.

Learn and listen at

An Introduction to Noisemaking, by Fiona Keenan

Poster by Fiona Keenan

Post by Teddie Brock, attached to the Makerspace project, with the news and fabrication tags. Featured image and poster care of Fiona Keenan.

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MLab Vid Short-Listed for Research Award ./reels/ ./reels/#respond Sun, 05 Mar 2017 18:45:29 +0000 ./?p=6788 Congrats to Teddie, Tiffany, Kat, Danielle, and Victoria, who made a video that has been short-listed for UVic’s Research Reels award. All short-listed videos will be screened on the UVic campus at 5pm this Tuesday (March 7th) in the David Lam Auditorium (Mac A144), and winners will also be announced then. Attend, if you can, to support the MLab team, and enjoy some free popcorn in the process.

Research Reels (Screening and Awards)
MacLaurin Building (MAC) A144
March 7th at 5:00pm
IdeaFest at UVic

Hope to see you there!

Post by Jentery Sayers, attached to the Makerspace and KitsForCulture projects, with the news, fabrication, and physcomp tags. Image for this post care of IdeaFest at UVic.

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Welcome, Fiona Keenan! ./keenan/ ./keenan/#respond Wed, 01 Mar 2017 19:26:38 +0000 ./?p=6802 The MLab is thrilled to welcome sound studies scholar, Fiona Keenan (Dept. of Theatre, Film and Television, University of York), to UVic. Fiona will be conducting a research placement with the Lab during the month of March. Here’s her bio:

I received an MSc in Sound Design (Distinction) from the University of Edinburgh in 2013, and started my PhD research at the University of York in October 2014. My research is funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH).

My main research focus is Sonic Interaction Design (Franinović and Serafin, 2013), and how to better link human action and sound together in digital interfaces and systems. I am examining late nineteenth and early twentieth century theatre sound effects to try to uncover what their designers knew about action and sound, and how we can use this knowledge for the design of new sonic interactions and digital sounding objects. This is an interdisciplinary piece of work, incorporating historical research, performance interface design, perceptual audio evaluation and practical/creative work to remake historical sound effects and prototype new digital sounding objects. I also have a research blog.

My creative work is mostly in sound design and music, focusing on systems for live performance. These include hand built audio electronics, mechanical sound producers, augmented instruments, sound props and software.

We’re looking forward to working with you, Fiona!

Post by Jentery Sayers, attached to the Makerspace project, with the news tag. Image for this post care of Fiona Keenan.

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Histories of Digital Labour: Early OCR ./mla2017/ ./mla2017/#respond Sat, 07 Jan 2017 18:36:49 +0000 ./?p=6775 Jentery and I just returned from giving a talk at the 2017 Modern Language Convention in Philadelphia. It was titled, “Early Histories of OCR (Optical Character Recognition): Mary Jameson and Reading Optophones” and was part of the “Histories of Digital Labor” panel convened by the MLA Committee on Information Technology and organized by Shawna Ross. Thank you, Shawna!

Post by Tiffany Chan and Jentery Sayers, attached to the KitsForCulture and ReadingOptophone projects, with the fabrication, news, and physcomp tags.

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Illustrated Guide to Prototyping the Past ./ptp/ Fri, 25 Nov 2016 17:59:11 +0000 ./?p=6749 In August 2016, the MLab began work on An Illustrated Guide to Prototyping the Past, which, instead of acting as a how-to manual, outlines the problems that prompt researchers to prototype histories of media and technologies. These problems include the “scale problem,” the “imitation problem,” the “capitalism problem,” the “labour problem,” and the “rot problem.” Throughout the last few years, problems like these impelled the MLab to prototype early wearbles, early optophonics, and early magnetic recording. Rather than attempting to solve these problems, or telling readers how to solve them, our Illustrated Guide conveys how they help us better understand historical gaps, social issues, or cultural phenomena we might otherwise overlook. Each week during the 2016-17 academic year, the MLab focuses on a different problem and holds a workshop to assemble the information we’ve gathered and the illustrations we’ve created. We then polish this material for our Illustrated Guide, which we will publish in print and electronically.

Kat Piecing Together the Book

Kat Piecing Together Our Guide (photo by Maasa Lebus)

Research Leads, Contributors, and Support

Since August 2016, the following researchers have contributed to An Illustrated Guide to Prototyping the Past: Teddie Brock, Tiffany Chan, Katherine Goertz, Maasa Lebus, Evan Locke, Danielle Morgan, and Jentery Sayers, based on research by Nina Belojevic, Nicole Clouston, Laura Dosky, Devon Elliott, Jonathan O. Johnson, Shaun Macpherson, Kaitlynn McQueston, Victoria Murawski, William J. Turkel, and Zaqir Virani. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund supported this research.

Sketch of the Scale Problem, by Danielle

Early Sketch for the Guide (by Danielle)

Project Status

This project is ongoing, and completion is expected in 2017. An Illustrated Guide to Prototyping the Past will be available in print and also electronically (open access). To follow the project as it progresses, see the stream of posts below.

Post by Danielle Morgan, attached to the KitsForCulture project, with the fabrication, physcomp, and projects tags. Featured image for this post, of Kat, Tiffany, Teddie, and Jentery working on Chapter 1 of our Illustrated Guide, also by Danielle.

Physical Computing + Fabrication at DHSI ./dhsi/ ./dhsi/#respond Fri, 25 Nov 2016 01:29:16 +0000 ./?p=6733 Since 2013, the MLab has taught several Physical Computing and Fabrication courses at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at UVic. During the week-long intensive course, we introduce DHSI students to a variety of prototyping techniques involving microcontrollers, photogrammetry, 3D scanning, 3D modelling, everyday materials (e.g., cardboard and paper), and additive and subtractive manufacturing.

In 2013, Devon, Jentery, and Bill’s class experimented with different microcontrollers, and they collaboratively built a 3D printer. In 2014, Devon, Jentery, and Bill worked with students to emulate early videogames in original arcade cabinets, build another printer, and experiment with MaxMSP for interactive exhibits. In 2015, Nina, Shaun, Devon, and Jentery’s class built their own “metaphors in a box” using laser cut materials and microcontrollers. They also explored 3D modelling with SketchUp and photo-stitching with Agisoft Photoscan. (The 2015 syllabus is available on GitHub.) Finally, in 2016, Tiffany, Danielle, Jentery, and I (Kat) conducted workshops on Arduino, Agisoft Photoscan, 3D structured-light scanning, 123D Design, and 123D Make. Near the end of the week, students explored how they could use these tools to develop their own projects. (The 2016 syllabus is available on Github.)

DHSI student, Padmini Ray Murray, working on #box, a light-emitting heart corresponding with Twitter hashtags

DHSI student, Padmini Ray Murray, working on #box, a light-emitting heart corresponding with Twitter hashtags

Research Leads, Contributors, and Support

Since 2013, the following researchers have contributed to the Physical Computing and Fabrication course at DHSI: Nina Belojevic, Tiffany Chan, Devon Elliott, Katherine Goertz, Shaun Macpherson, Danielle Morgan, Jentery Sayers, and Bill Turkel. The course was first taught by Devon and Bill in 2012. The Digital Humanities Summer Institute, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund supported this research.

A 3D printer built by students during DHSI 2013

A 3D printer built by students during DHSI 2013

Project Status

This project was completed in June 2016. The most recent version of our syllabus is available for download and reuse.

Post by Katherine Goertz, attached to the Makerspace project, with the fabrication, physcomp, and projects tags. Featured image of Seamus and me scanning a spacecraft care of Danielle Morgan.

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