Knowledge Design: What should or could (scholarly) knowledge look like in the 21st century?

with the metaLAB (at) Harvard team
Comp. Lit 247 // DES 3364 :: Wed. 3 – 6 pm
42 Kirkland Street — classroom 1G

This Humanities Studio seminar will explore the shapes and forms that experimental scholarship is assuming in an array of arts and humanities disciplines, from media studies to digital humanities to cultural analytics. It will also explore emergent models of knowledge production and publication within and across media. Open to advanced undergrad and graduate students, and to students from the Graduate School of Design.

1321 Faces -- Image 9 Schawinsky

The Fascist Century: A research seminar on Fascism and Culture

Italian 245 :: Fri. 10 am – 12 pm

This course will provide an in-depth introduction to fascism, its intellectual and political roots, its critique of liberal democracy and communism, and its legacies, with particular attention to fascism’s cultural expressions. Its first half will be devoted to readings from key fascist thinkers and theorists; its second half to a series of case studies of major artists, writers, architects, and film-makers who embraced the fascist faith: among them Ezra Pound, author of the Cantos, one of the masterpieces of 20th century American poetry; Leni Riefenstahl, the German film director of classic documentaries such as Olympia and Triumph of the Will; F. T. Marinetti, founder of the Italian Futurist movement; and Mario Sironi, the leading painter, muralist, and graphic artist of the so-called Lictorial Style. Course themes will include: fascism vs. nazism; collectivism vs. individualism; radical right attitudes towards technology and industrialization; and comparisons between mid-20th century fascisms and the sub-cultures of the contemporary new right (from Jean-Marie Le Pen’s “Front National” to Baathism to the American militias to so-called “Islamofascism”).



(some) questions of theory IV

with John Hamilton (Comparative Literature)
RLL/Comp Lit 201 :: Fri 1-3 pm

The seminar is a continuation of this past fall’s seminar and continues to be built around a sequence of fundamental questions regarding the literary disciplines, their history and epistemology. Discussions are instigated by readings in philology, stylistics, the history of ideas, semiotics, structuralism, psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, film theory, genetic criticism, literary sociology, cultural studies, and digital humanities.

This fall’s lineup of questions is:

What is a seminar on literary theory?
What is literature?
What is a book?
What is an author?
What is reading?
What is interpretation?
What is translation?
What is rhetoric?
What is literary criticism?
What are the sciences of literature?
What is literary theory?
What are the genders of literature?



The Mixed Reality City (Transit Symphony)

with Matthew Battles, Kyle Parry, and the metaLAB team
Humanities Studio IV / GSD Advanced course 3448 :: Wed 8:30-11:30 am

The contemporary city is constituted by multiple overlapping, intermixing realities articulated across built form and imagined space, individual experience and collective memory, embodied sensation and digital mediation. Often, these multiple realities are invisible or illegible, with certain narratives dominating particular environments. However, realities always leave traces, to be excavated and reconstructed. The Mixed-Reality City is an exploratory research seminar and workshop in which students pursue studies of urbanism-in-the-making through means and methods emerging in the digital arts and humanities, including: data narrative, digital ethnography, adversarial design, and critical technical practice. The course focuses in equal parts on unpacking discourses and developing interpretative digital artifacts. The course will illuminate distributed spaces of urban activity that take on collective identities through networked events, ranging from the mundane (a conversation) to the momentous (a hurricane). Indeed, spatial events and phenomena are connected across cities by information technologies. Social networks, participatory maps, and online media collections are shaping mixed-city social spaces. In 2013, the image of the city is a composite image, in which fragments of dispersed urbanism are drawn together and entangled online. The Mixed-Reality City will explore how artists and designers might intervene in this emergent, hybrid cityscape.

Questions of Theory II

with John Hamilton (Comparative Literature)
RLL/Comp Lit 201 :: Fri 1-3 pm 

The seminar is a continuation of this past fall’s seminar and continues to be built around a sequence of fundamental questions regarding the literary disciplines, their history and epistemology. Discussions are instigated by readings in philology, stylistics, the history of ideas, semiotics, structuralism, psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, film theory, genetic criticism, literary sociology, cultural studies, and digital humanities.

PAST (FALL 2014)

The Cosmos of the Comedy

Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding (Gen. Ed.) 51 :: Wed 1-3 pm

“The Cosmos of the Comedy” provides an in-depth introduction to Dante Alighieri’s 14th century masterpiece, the Comedy, as a point of entry to the history of Western poetics, philosophy, natural science and cosmology. The course combines attention to Dante’s dialogue with classical antiquity in these and other fields with exercises in critical writing and in multimedia translation and adaptation aimed at prompting critical reflection on the ways in which present cultural practices are built upon the practices of the past. The core of the course consists in intensive study of Dante’s encyclopedic poem in relation to the culture and history of Medieval Europe. Major topics to be covered include: concepts of modernity and antiquity in the Middle Ages; shifting notions of Latin and vernacular authorship during the 13th and 14th centuries; vernacular poetics and the medieval genre system; high medieval manuscript culture and/in the Comedy; gender and genre in Dante and the 12th-14th century lyric; medieval and ancient theories of his­tory; allusion; Dante, Aristotle and the natural sciences; classical and medieval language theory; Virgil and Ovid in the Middle Ages; Dante’s concepts of universal monarchy and the illustrious vernacular; myth and theology in Dante’s Christian poetics; the reception history of Dante’s work, 14th century to present.

Questions of Theory I

with John Hamilton (Comparative Literature)
RLL/Comp Lit 201 :: Fri 1-3 pm 

The seminar is built around a sequence of fundamental questions regarding the literary disciplines, their history and epistemology. Discussions are instigated by readings in philology, stylistics, the history of ideas, semiotics, structuralism, psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, film theory, genetic criticism, literary sociology, cultural studies, and digital humanities.



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with the metaLAB team
Humanities Studio 2

Amidst the archives that Bernard Berenson bequeathed to Harvard is a collection of 16,000 photographs of Renaissance paintings classified as “homeless”: works documented by photographs whose location is unknown. The studio will explore the curatorial possibilities of this corpus and develop an “animated archive” using the web-based Curarium platform. It will identify, describe, and interpret objects in the collection; reconstruct the stories of lost or destroyed works; and investigate the historical and cultural dimensions of lost art, including the role of dealers, market forces, and desire; the ephemeral nature of art; and the photographic documentation of treasured objects.

COLD STORAGE — An interactive documentary project

with the metaLAB team
Humanities Studio 1 :: cross-listed as GSD 09134

Libraries are not mere repositories, but sites breeding strange hybrids of knowledge, people, and material things. Building on the strength of two years of work in the Library Test Kitchen, this studio will research and produce an experimental documentary exploring library hybrids, with special focus on the Harvard Depository, where nine million of the documents that make up the university’s collections are stored. Students will explore the cultural and technical dimensions of libraries, depositories, and storage facilities; produce ethnography, oral history, and other writing; practice video production and editing; and engage in website design and development. Students with interest in the history of libraries or with media production or technical skills are particularly welcome.


Library Test Kitchen III — Library Machines

with Jeff Goldenson, Ann Whiteside, Jessica Yurkofsky
Graduate School of Design (advanced seminar) 9125

The Library represents one of the most exciting institutional design opportunities out there. Library Test Kitchen is a semester long immersion in this storied institution. New directions ahead will be explored through class discussion, exposure to the larger library landscape, and rapid prototyping. Students with relevant thesis topics or outside interests are encouraged to use the seminar as a workshop to further develop and iterate on their current thinking. Our goal is to show the library world— not tell it— new futures with the projects we build. Library Test Kitchen (LTK) is about making real things the world sees. In the Fall of 2012, LTK created LABRARY, a Pop-Up Library in the center of Harvard Square. It was an exciting public project, a truly collaborative endeavor which earned our seminar the ear and curious eye of the national library community. (For more past projects and press see Library Test Kitchen III will refocus our attention on developing individual projects that we’ll call Library Machines.

ARCHIVE (some past courses 2010-2013)

Fragments of a Material History of Literature 

with Matthew Battles (metaLAB [at] Harvard)
RLL/Comp Lit 220

The seminar provides a series of occasions for critical reflection on and expressive response to the complex interplay between cultural constructs and the media within which they are formalized. It is intended as a stimulus to research into the material foundations of institutions of literary study and to sustained reflection on the blind side of contemporary theorizations concerning textuality, writing, and media. It engages such topics as:

  • the history of literacy and its relation to other modes of expression: oral, graphic, audio, televisual, and networked
  • the transition from scroll to codex, manuscript to printed book, machine-produced to electronic document
  • shifting systems for organizing, associating, and managing textual material, such as page numbers, indices and tables, paragraphs and punctuation, and annotation and cross-reference
  • the affordances and effects of storage: the library as a site that manages and problematizes the material nature of writing; the archive as memory and treasury
  • the materially-coded status of literature relative to other forms of written communication
  • the shifting line between private and public forms of discourse
  • media permutations of such concepts as authorship, voice, style, and literary quality
  • the socially-embedded nature of literary artifacts, from keepsake to vade mecum to commodity
  • theoretical, bibliographic, and literary schematizations of literary materiality
  • the artifactual nature of literary objects as sites of archaeology, history, and connoisseurship
  • the ways in which books learn: how the material transformations of a given text through time express continuity and change

The seminar’s core hands-on exercises are integrated into metaLAB’s Teaching with Things project.

Digital Power, Digital Interpretation, Digital Making 

with Peter Galison (History of Science), Martha Minow (Harvard Law School) and Jonathan Zittrain (SEAS, Harvard Law School)
History of Science 297

Harvard is beginning a new initiative to explore intersections between digital power, digital making and digital interpretation. This is a working seminar designed to examine questions within those domains through a cluster of projects designed to merge theoretical and critical inquiry with making. For example: What is the health of the Internet and how could we construct ways to measure it? To what degree ought our online and offline lives to converge or to diverge? What is the nature of public space in the age of ubiquitous communications networks and the world wide web? How are notions of political participation, privacy, and social norms being reshaped by the digital revolution? How should we reimagine institutions such as libraries, archives, schools and universities for the digital age? How can digital filmmaking connect with new forms of interactive design and exhibition? How are cultural, cognitive and communicative models being altered by digital media?

Library Test Kitchen

with Jeff Goldenson (Library Innovation Lab) and Ann Whiteside (Loeb Design Library)
Graduate School of Design 9125 (advanced seminar)

Bridging the analog and the digital worlds, the offline and the online, libraries and learning spaces represent one of the most exciting opportunities for design and redesign on the contemporary scene. Library Test Kitchen is a fast prototyping lab for the modeling smart spaces: spaces of learning, thinking, serious play, contemplation of and interaction with knowledge. It provides students the unique opportunity to develop and fully realize their design ideas on a 1:1 scale within the setting of one of the world’s greatest research library systems –the Harvard Libraries– and Harvard University as a whole. The Harvard Library system is in the midst of unprecedented transformation. As part of the process, the system’s own Innovation Lab has financed the Library Test Kitchen for a second year. Not just as an engine of local change, but also as a driver of innovation on a national and international stage. The course assumes the form of a studio devoted to critical and speculative thinking, hands-on problem solving, fabrication and making. In addition to the Harvard libraries, the course’s network of clients and collaborators includes major public library systems nationwide.

BIBLIOTHECA: The Library Past/Present/Future

with John Palfrey (Harvard Law School)
Graduate School of Design 3498

This seminar combines exploration of the history of the library as an institution of knowledge storage, retrieval and production with a design studio concerned with a series real-world problem sets involving library spaces on the Harvard campus as well as the future shape and functions of library spaces. Topics include: libraries in the cultural imagination, library infrastructures from registers to card catalogues to digital catalogues, the history of shelving systems and lecterns, library architectures from the Library of Alexandria to the Digital Public Library of America.

xpCrit/Digital Humanities 2.0: a metaLAB (at) Harvard seminar

RLL/Comp Lit 219

A seminar and workshop for the development of semester-long projects, the course provides an introduction to new scholarly models in the arts and humanities via readings, case studies and conversations with expert practitioners.

Boccaccio and/on Authority (Latin to Vernacular, Vernacular to Latin)
RLL Italian/Comp Lit 155

This course provides an in-depth survey of Giovanni Boccaccio’s experiments in a range of genres from epic to elegy, narrative to allegory, geography to mythography. It emphasizes the question of the relation between vernacular and Latin models of authorship and Boccaccio’s engagement with both ancient and contemporary sources.

BIBLIOTHECA II: The Library Test Kitchen

with Jeff Goldenson (Library Innovation Lab)

What form should the Harvard Library of the 21st century assume? Should it simply vanish into virtual desktops and merge into a timeless and placeless universal database? Should it alter its identity and become a workshop, a laboratory, an innovation incubator where emerging and future forms interact and dialogue with the relics of the past? Or should it simply merge with the university itself as a place of knowledge production and reproduction?