Reading about lab space, I’m struck by what it means to embrace feminism in digital, humanites, and media work. For instance, in Jentery Sayers’s blogpost “The MLab: An Infrastructural Disposition,” he discusses “how the development and maintenance of humanities labs must be informed by precedent, anchored in relations (e.g., with existing models), and understood as cultural practices,” which he posits as the reasons deciding to “share the MLab’s inventory in spreadsheet form to communicate aspects of our physical computing and fabrication research.” The emphasis here on relations and sharing evoke a feminist work ethic that is often neglected in more traditional humanities studies where a scholar writes alone and then tries to share work in the most prestigious (and, consequently, often fiscally and institutionally restrictive) publication.
Moreover, Sayers’s description of the MLab as a lounge continues to highlight a feminist emphasis on openness through sharing: “lending library […] Notes are added. Dialogue emerges in the margins […] several tackboards to share announcements, ideas, and work in progress.” Sayers is stressing the importance of open communication but also of space, which are concepts I keep coming across in my own work.
I work as a research assistant for the Stainforth Library for Women Writers Project, and we recently had a few days of meetings where almost the entire team sat in a conference room for hours talking, working, and thinking. The result was that everyone learned something new about the project, we had a breakthrough about one of the more puzzling aspects of the manuscript, and we all gained a better understanding of how to get the project to the next level. Although the team communicates regularly via email, being in the same physical space offered us a certain productive energy that we don’t otherwise tap into.
On a similar note, I recently conducted an interview with Gabriel Wolfenstein of the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford. When I asked him about how CESTA’s lab space has been conceptualized, he said that, “the conceptual space here is as horizontal as possible” and that, “The layout of the lab is meant to encourage that.” Wolfenstein, like Sayers, also emphasizes the significance of open space for open ideas.
In class discussions, we’ve questioned the importance and relevance of lab space for (digital) humanities work, asking “do we really need a designated space for work that we can just as easily do at home or our favorite coffee house?” After the readings for this week, my answer is yes. I think lab space has tremendous potential for a feminist way of doing DH work with its opportunities for open communications and the sharing of ideas.