By Whitney Anne Trettien on February 14, 2011
Walking through MIT to reach HyperStudio’s home base, you pass man-sized aluminum tanks of cryogenic nitrogen and share elevators with lab-coated technicians escorting racks of test tubes. It can be a bizarre world for a humanities scholar; yet the scientific labs with which HyperStudio shares a building are increasingly put forward as a model for Digital Humanities work — in fact, for the Humanities, writ large.
It’s easy to see why. Labs are collaborative environments where work, writing and credit is distributed. Labs are also “hands on” and experimental: things are poked, prodded and pulled apart; objects are made; hypotheses are tested. And, unlike in the humanities, teaching and research aren’t strongly distinguished in labs, since students — even undergraduates — are often solicited to assist with experiments.
But scientific labs aren’t the only model for future work in the humanities. During MLA, Kari Kraus pointed to the studio arts, emphasizing the role of process, building and design in evaluating Digital Humanities projects. I’m drawn to this idea not only for the kind of physical workspace it imagines humanists collaborating in, but for what it suggests about how humanities scholars should position themselves in relation to the world — namely, as individuals whose curiosity drives them to produce things that sparks the curiosity of others.
Last year, I began keeping a sketchbook in my office. Mentally, it’s the best addition I’ve ever made to my workspace. Whereas ruled lines demand writing, blank paper is an open field; and in the span of the month, I had already filled two books with everything from bored doodles to project designs mindmapping current research.
The search for models isn’t just about the kinds of physical spaces we want to work in, but the identities — artists, creators, designers, playsmiths — we choose for ourselves. Like a personal identity, the search doesn’t end: it evolves.
What other spaces inspire you to cross interdisciplinary boundaries? What changes in your methods of work have sparked more collaborative work?