Notes from MLA: Theories and Practices of the Literary Lab

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Notes from an MLA 2013 session on “Theories and Practices of the Literary Lab.”



Recent developments can be traced back to the rise of the Humanities “Institute.” Are literary labs a counterweight to or an emulation of the sciences as the bedrock of what is important in higher education, of what the university is? The creation of literary labs seems to promise some forms of change: different research questions, changing research practices, shifting institutional structures and professional relationships, new teaching strategies, etc.

Jeffrey Thompson Schnapp

  • founding the Stanford Humanities Laboratory: an oxymoron?
  • the term “digital” not necessary here? “laboratory” does the heavy lifting conceptually and methodologically, in at least 3 and a half ways:
      1. research-driven/project-based
      1. collaborative/team projects for bigger pictures and larger questions (shared audiences): “big humanities” (like big science, big oil, etc.?)
      1. crosses boundaries between applied and theoretical research
    • 3.5 inspires economic and entrepreneurial awareness: streams of income and output that are aware of social and institutional needs/contexts/shortcomings
  • the humanities laboratory as a “knowledge design studio”

Laura Mandell

  • students learn literature better as a byproduct of a particular project that, by the way, requires expertise in a literary subdomain
  • the important of preserving a space for play in the literary lab? important for teachers and humanists who are concerned with the transitional space where political subjects are granted certain forms of agency

Matthew Jockers

  • assigned 1200 novels in a graduate “literary lab” seminar: 2 group research projects on (1) changes in style, and (2) lexical/semantic change
  • “if you build it, they will come”—there are some things a lab should have:
  • a clear research objective: not an idea generator but a place for ideas to live, move, and die; therefore, 5 objects that Stanford Lit Lab’s original operations:
      1. quantitative projects
      1. collaborative basis (even if ends in single author)
      1. all projects are experimental (failed projects also produce new knowledge)
      1. open to students and faculty at all levels
      1. favored form of publication or research presentation is “lab report” that try to detail complete method and process

Mark Algee-Hewitt

  • lab as space committed to heterogeneity
  • more information here

Lindsey Eckert

  • Ryan is getting sick and has to leave the panel

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