From 2005 to 2008 I kept a research weblog called Digital History Hacks. As an open access, open content publishing platform, the blog served my purposes nicely. It was less well suited to sharing open source code, however, and didn’t support humanistic fabrication at all. Adding a private wiki helped a little bit, but didn’t go nearly far enough. So I decided to build The New Manufactory around the following ideas.

Working in the Heraclitean mode. If it ever made sense to divide scholarship into phases of research and writing, it no longer does. We now have to work in a mode where things around us are constantly changing, and we’re trying to do everything, all the time. As Heraclitus supposedly said, “all is flux.” So until your interpretation stabilizes…

  • You keep refining your ensemble of questions
  • Your spiders and feeds provide a constant stream of potential sources
  • Unsupervised learning methods reveal clusters which help to direct your attention
  • Adaptive filters track your interests as they fluctuate
  • You create or contribute to open source software as needed
  • You write/publish incrementally in an open access venue
  • Your research process is subject to continual peer review
  • Your reputation develops

Assemblages and rhizomes. Digital scholarship adds algorithms, source code, digital representations, version control, networked collaborators, application programming interfaces, simulations, machine learners, visualizations and a slew of other new things to philology. Beyond that, fabrication adds tools, instruments, materials, machines, workbenches, techniques, feedstock, fasteners, electronics, numerical control, and so on. The things that we have to figure out don’t come in neat packages or fit into hierarchies.

A tight loop between digitization and materialization. Digital representations have a number of well known qualities: they’re perfectly plastic, can be duplicated almost without cost, transmitted in the blink of an eye and stored in vanishingly small physical spaces. Every digital source can also be the subject of computational processing. So it makes a lot of sense to create and share digital records. Freeing information in this social sense, however, doesn’t mean that information can or should always be divorced from material objects or particular settings. We can link the digital and material with GPS, RFIDs, radio triangulation, barcodes, computer vision or embedded network servers. We can augment the material world with digital sources, and increasingly we can materialize digital sources with 3D printers or inexpensive CNC mills and lathes.

Everything should be self-documenting. Recording devices like sensors, scanners and cameras can be built into the workbench. They can automatically upload and archive photographs, videos, audio files and other kinds of digital representations. Electronic instruments can be polled for measurements. Machine tools can report their status via syndicated feeds. When we make and use things in the world, we can make and make use of born-digital data, too.

Co-presence and telepresence. Human beings (and other primates) learn by watching one another’s eyes and hands, so why not make it possible to do this remotely? Workers at a pair of augmented workbenches could be made aware of one another’s actions by a stream of low-latency signals. Sensors and actuators could support remote gesture, touch, manipulation and a sense of presence. Services like Pachube can be used to leverage this information, so that it can be remixed and repurposed.