Group for Experimental Methods in Humanistic Research
at Columbia University

Media become palpable in transmission, as when, for example, an audio signal is transformed from sound waves into electromagnetic pulse for digital storage. This research cluster concerns the material conditions of media production, reception, and dissemination. We are media theorists, archivists, practitioners, and historians interested in making good on the metaphor of media ‘archaeology.’ Archaeology, in its literal sense, reveals platforms and infrastructures that support cultural practice. To recover the object in its critical-theoretical figuration is to encounter it also as an epistemic thing and to recreate, experimentally, devices and techniques that brought it into existence. Moderated by Professor Durba Mitra, Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality (Harvard).

view all ↓
  • Jonah Bossewitch

The Spekerbot Project proposes a systematic study of the “smart speakers” a new product category that is growing rapidly. The state of consumer art in artificial intelligence is impressive, but the critical concerns around algorithmic bias and black box governance are even more pronounced on these platforms than on social media and the web.

These problems are difficult, if not impossible, to address analytically, since even developers who worked on these platforms do not know to expect from systems
trained on massive data sets. Social science methods provide us with another approach for studying these phenomena—An ethnography of the robots? Interviews with the speakerbots?

This project aims to observe and document the current moment, studying it closely. As a preliminary step, the...

  • Gabrielle DaCosta
  • Sam Yulsman

“The Land Before Time II” is a solo performance piece incorporating dance, electronic sound, and text. The dancer (Justin Cabrillos) wears a jacket onto which speakers are attached. The speakers emit sound which Cabrillos directs through his movement. These sounds include a combination of processed field recordings of environmental sounds, and text with varied sonic valances. Field recordings evoke the physical landscape of a lonely, post-apocalyptic future-scene; in which natural and digital forces are mutually interpenetrating. Texts, complementarily, use empathically-spoken narratives in both human and computer-voices to establish an eerie parity between “natural” and “digital” affect. Texts include, for example, improvised and rehearsed human speech (excerpts from interviews and pre-written dialogues about significant personal memories), computer-processed sounds (a ReadSpeaker robot reads passages from E.M. Forster’s...

  • Manan Ahmed
  • Jonah Bossewitch
  • Alex Gil
  • Nosheen K. Ali

Umang is a digital humanities endeavor for poetic dialogue in South Asia. The platform showcases curated videos of contemporary poetic thought in more than seven South Asian languages with English translation. Alongside, it features a moderated forum where users can submit and share their own poetry, as well as a blog for exploring the connections between literature, history, and society. Apart from providing a meeting place for poets, writers, artists, translators, learners and lovers of the poetic word, Umang seeks to use new media to amplify traditions of poetic reflection and nurture our capacities for empathetic, cross-cultural connection.


In June 2014, unknown organizations hacked and wiped the servers in an attempt to repress critical thought and expression in Pakistan. We will brainstorm and devise a plan to secure Umang Poetry and protect it for online discourse.

Rikers Bot
digital storytelling
  • Manan Ahmed
  • Adam Ares
  • Zeinab Aina
  • Thomas Brown III
  • Marjana Chowdhury
  • Andi Dixon
  • Alex Gil
  • Janine Ko
  • Katarzyna Kaczowka
  • Durba Mitra
  • Desmond Patton
  • Cameron Rasmussen
  • Christopher Riederer
  • Morgan Sparkman
  • Elijah Strauss
  • Dennis Yi Tenen
  • Young People at Rikers

@rikersbot is a coding workshop and an algorithmic storytelling project set in and about Rikers Island correctional facility, New York City’s main prison complex.

In the spring of 2015, the Center for Justice approached the Group for Experimental Methods with an idea of running an “Intro to Python” workshop for the young people incarcerated at Rikers and for Columbia University students interested in digital literacy. Our goal was to set up the encounter in a way that moved past one-way conversation and had effects that would persist beyond event itself.

In teaching programming through digital storytelling, we hoped to encourage a dialog between the youth at Rikers, Columbia faculty and students, and the larger community of the...

  • Sierra Eckert
  • Kristen Gallerneaux
  • Phillip R. Polefrone
  • Dennis Yi Tenen
  • Grant Wythoff

Our first mission: to identify “Mystery Object 40.9.11” in the collections of the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. In the summer of 1915, a wireless telegraph station in Sayville, Long Island owned by the German company Telefunken was caught sending covert commands to U-Boats patrolling the Atlantic Ocean. Precisely how the Germans cryptographically hid their communications right under everyone’s noses in the United States—and in turn, above their heads—remains a mystery.

Today, the Henry Ford Museum holds a collection of equipment originating from the “RCA Museum.” These materials were distributed to the The Henry Ford and several other institutions in between 1937-1940. Noteworthy is that the RCA Museum only ever existed on paper—items consequential to the history of technology were gathered by RCA representatives...

  • Jonah Bossewitch
  • Rob Garfield

While chipping away at my dissertation this summer I found myself faced with the daunting task of transcribing about a dozen hours of video. I desperately wanted to believe that, in 2014, transcription was a machine’s task, so I took a minor detour through the state of the (consumer) art in voice recognition. One of my computers runs OSX which includes Dictation (since Mavericks), the same voice recognition software that powers Siri. Following these instructions I used the Soundflower kernel extensions to send the audio output from Audacity into Dictation’s input.

Dictation did such an awful job understanding my video that I actually found it easier to transcribe the videos...

  • Manan Ahmed
  • Jonah Bossewitch
  • Tara Conley
  • Sierra Eckert
  • Emily Fuhrman
  • Alex Gil
  • Anna Hiatt
  • Phillip R. Polefrone
  • Juan Francisco Saldarriaga
  • Dennis Yi Tenen
  • Zoe Wood

Following the turmoil of #gameragate our friends at are getting hacked. It is our duty as citizens of the internet to protect free speech online. Action Defense is first, an all-nighter code-fest to move #feminism to a secure, static, hacker-proof platform and second, the attempt to articulate online security basics for the wider activist community.

Online Security for Activists

During the initial meeting our group identified several potential vectors of attack. We’ve closed down vulnerabilities and took steps to harden the site’s publishing platform. These included: deleting default administrator accounts, restricting database user privileges, and limiting code execution. Most importantly, we found and eliminated a number of unauthorized users with administrator privileges.

To further minimize security risks we explored the possibility of moving #feminism to may first/people link, an internet service provider that specializes in hosting...

  • Grant Wythoff

An article in progress, previously presented at the New Apparatus Theory panel at SLSA-Turin 2014, Archaeologies of Film and Media, Bradford, and the Heyman Center for the Humanities. As we begin to take up new objects of study, how do humanists—largely trained in the analysis of text—apply their expertise to the interpretation of artifacts? What are the unique forms of evidence and argumentation found in media studies and digital humanities?

In the mid-1950s, a collection of Neanderthal artifacts was unearthed in the southwest of France, kicking off one of the most famous debates over the study of cultural transmission through the archaeological...

  • Dennis Yi Tenen
▁▁▁▂▄▄▅▅▆▅▆▇▇█ 93378 words on 2016-03-10

While I write these introductory remarks, a ceiling-mounted smoke detector in my kitchen emits a loud noise every three minutes or so. A pleasant female voice announces also “low battery.” This is, I learn, a precaution stipulated by US National Fire Alarm Code 72-108 11.6.6 (2013). The clause requiring a “distinct audible signal before the battery is incapable of operating” is encoded into the device. The smoke detector literally embodies that piece of legislation in its circuitry. We thus obtain a condition where two meanings of code—as governance and machine instruction—coincide. Code equals code.

I am at home, but I also receive a notification of the alarm on my mobile phone. Along with monitoring apps that help make my home “smarter,” the phone contains most...