By way of the subject of apparatus, this chapter has articulated some aspects of the pedagogies, research purposes, and activities of hybrid labs. We pay particular attention to media archaeology labs that have broadened the spectrum of digital humanities to include “old” media collections and related forms of early digital or pre-digital culture. This focus on labs which arguably find the old in the new speaks to Jonathan Sterne’s notion of the “analog humanities,” but also to the term “post-digital,” which reminds us of the constant necessity to historicize the often too-glibly used term “digital.” The apparatus becomes not just the item, device, or object that provides an occasion for study, but also the substance of the lab itself as an assemblage of items, catalogs, collections, methods, activities and subjectivities of scholarship. Across a wide range of lab types, the discourse, practices of technologies, and apparatus bear a family resemblance on the level of thin description, a form of interdisciplinary engagement that “makes it possible for the experimentalist and the theorist to communicate, albeit in a register by no means captures the full world of either, let alone both.”52
The long-running, multiyear section “Day in the Lab” section of ACM Interactions (a journal dedicated to Human-Computer-Interaction research) has featured a variety of international examples of centers and labs over the past decade.53 Many have focused on design and game labs, including the forming of their situated practices. That is, the examples articulated how they are constituted by people and their relations, but also by the technologies which form the apparatus of knowledge in that space. Besides asking about unique features, some questions included “What is one feature your lab would not do without?” Answers ranged from “big sheets of brown paper”54 to “pin-up boards, each approximately 25 feet long and seven feet high”55 for facilitating sharing in the space. Interestingly, the questions also included the prompt to respond to what was missing: “What is one feature of your lab that you want and don’t have?” Responses to that question ranged again from “nothing” to “a laser cutter and other physical prototyping tools”56 or “A Shop Bot and a 3-D printer”57 telling the story of fab labs and maker labs of the 2010s.
There is more to these narratives than technological apparatuses (or the lack thereof). The various anecdotes, wishlists, and device collections reveal a pragmatic consideration about the conditions and affordances that allow us to pursue out research in critical and creative spaces of making and thinking. If you ask a typical humanities student or scholar a similar question, quite often the response would probably be: time. Sometimes we extend that to include items like budgets for travel, or funds to hire staff, but increasingly there is a need for infrastructure that would better support the core sites of hybrid activity (see Chapter 4, on Infrastructure and Policy). Requests for apparatus familiar from the contexts of engineering, mathematics, and design practice have also become part of humanities equipment wishlists. This sort of an apparatus of knowledge is both material and conceptual in terms of how it is involved in the practices of knowledge production.
The lab spaces we address in this book are mangles, intra-actions of practice that imbricate humans with technology that conditions the sorts of things we are able to do as academics and designers.58 In some cases, that might mean practicing philosophy with artifacts, but it is also just taking apart and constructing artifacts, and, in some cases, sharing spaces with artifacts that open up a different sort of agenda for communication studies, media studies and the humanities in general. A lab where you engage in historical sources about vthe ideo gaming of the 1980s or philosophical principles of digital memory will transform into a different assemblage of knowledge if you have also accesss to old game consoles or pedagogical instruments like a flip-flop demonstration device. A discussion of computational culture transforms its nature if you do it with a punch card in your hands—or even better, if you are able to visit the art school’s textile design studio where they house a Jacquard loom (like for example, at the Winchester School of Art or the Milieux Institute at Concordia). Knowledge is spatialized, becomes embodied, relates to institutionl research and teaching collections and extends into much more than the spoken or written word without forgetting the importance of bespoke lab libraries.
These sorts of examples should not be unfamiliar to anyone involved in humanities pedagogy. And yet they become new ways to historicize the focus on emerging technologies of the labs, as well as refer to the apparatuses that formed the scientific laboratories. As one particular example of current hybrid labs, media archaeology labs place older technologies into our pedagogies, research and curricula as antidotes to any narrow understanding of the Digital humanities. Reminding scholars of the historicity of labs themselves becomes a way to look at the development of the lab apparatus—an active form around which many imaginaries and practices coalesce. This synthesis of multiple functions, objects, devices and indeed, apparatuses in which the lab becomes an active participant in the formation of the humanities matters, in the most literal sense.