Research stay at Harvard Metalab. Boston area and Zeega (I)

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In this series of posts I will describe my experience during the month of January, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. This year my focus is on the east coast of the United States, with the goal of completing my second doctoral research stay before I present my PhD on March 7, 2013! Last year I spent two months at the University of York (Future Cinema Lab) in Toronto, which is currently one of the most effervescent locations for interactive documentaries. You can read these two posts in the series to find out about my experience: Why Canada I and II. This year I received a scholarship from the Catalan Government to move to Boston for one month, to an interactive laboratory at Harvard University: the Harvard Metalab. I was warmly received there by the principal researcher, Matthew Battles 1, and his team


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Figure 1. Metalab original logo

During this period, I was a visiting researcher in metaLAB, a research and teaching unit at Harvard University dedicated to exploring and expanding the frontiers of networked culture in the arts and humanities. I was involved eventually in some projects as a visiting professor, taking advantage the rest of the time to advance some projects in relation to my research. MetaLAB is founded on the belief that many of the key research challenges and opportunities of our era — fundamental questions regarding experience in a connected world, democracy and social justice, the boundaries between nature and cultura — transcend divisions between the arts, humanities and sciences; between the academy, industry, and the public sphere; between theoretical and applied knowledge. MetaLAB serves as an institutional hub for Harvard’s digital art, design, and humanities communities while actively collaborating with partners both locally and worldwide.


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Figure 2. Metalab building

Jesse Shapins 2 and Kara Oheler 3, professors at the Universitiy of Harvard, founded Metalab in 2010, and then created a start-up project called Zeega, which is revolutionizing web publishing and interactive storytelling on the immersive web.


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Figure 3. Zeega logo

This project can be used to easily mix media from anywhere and share it across networks. You can read here the excellent interview with Jesse by Sandra Gaudenzi (all you need to know is there). Kara, Jesse and James, also Harvard professors, are now located a few streets away, on Broadway Street, where they have opened an office.


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Figure 4. Zeega founders/directors

So, I spent half my time at the Harvard lab and the other half at the Zeega office. Those were my first two weeks, and I had the opportunity to interview Jesse Shapins for a specific project. It was two weeks full of endless trips because I was staying 20 km away from Cambridge in a lovely (although distant) town called Woburn. Boston and its metropolitan area is a wonderful place, full of life, and is probably even better in spring and summer.

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Figure 5. Zeega team

Arnau Gifreu Castells (PhD)

Lecturer, researcher and producer





Matthew Battles cofounded HiLobrow, an online journal of cultural criticism. He has written about the cultural dimensions of science and technology for such venues as The American Scholar, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Harper’s Magazine, andThe Wilson Quarterly. Matthew has published extensively on the history and changing roles of libraries in culture; his bookLibrary: an Unquiet History (Norton) is available in eight languages worldwide and has been in print since 2003. In addition, he wrote the official history of Harvard’s Widener library, and is a contributor to the Oxford Companion to the Book. His forthcoming volume, a material and cultural history of writing entitled Letter by Letter, will appear in Spring 2013. With metaLAB, Matthew fosters research into the critical and curatorial dimensions of technology in art and culture; advances multidisciplinary, collaborative dimensions of scholarly community; and explores innovative models for publishing.


Jesse Shapins (@jshapins) is an entrepreneur, cultural theorist and media artist. His work has been featured in The New York Times,MetropolisPRAXIS and Wired, cited in books such as The Sentient City and Networked Locality, and been exhibited at MoMA, Deutsches Architektur Zentrum and the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, among other venues. He is Co-Founder/CEO of Zeega, a startup revolutionzing web publishing and interactive storytelling for a future beyond blogs. He is on the faculty of architecture at theHarvard Graduate School of Design, where he has invented courses such as The Mixed-Reality City and Media Archaeology of Place. He is also the Co-Founder of Yellow Arrow,Mapping Main StreetUnionDocs,metaLAB(at)HarvardPeriplurban, and The Colors Berlin, amongst other ventures.


Kara is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Zeega, an open-source HTML5 platform for creating interactive documentaries and winner of the 2011 Knight News Challenge. During 2012, she is a Radcliffe/Film Study Center Fellow at Harvard University and a Rockefeller Fellow with United States Artists. She is also the co-creator of Mapping Main Street, a collaborative documentary created with AIR’s MQ2 initiative, NPR, the CPB and the Berkman Center at Harvard. She is co-founder of metaLAB (at) Harvard, where she is the Documentary Arts and Media Innovation Fellow.Kara was the co-director of The UnionDocs Collaborative, a Brooklyn-based laboratory for non-fiction media research and group production, and Capitol of Punk, an award-winning interactive documentary which is a part of Yellow Arrow, a seminal project in locative media and participatory storytelling. She is also a transmission artist with free103point9. Since 1999, her public radio stories and public media projects have received George Foster Peabody, Edward R. Murrow, Associated Press, NFCB Golden Reel, PRNDI and Third Coast International Audio Festival awards and been exhibited at MoMA (New York), and the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard, among other venues. Her radio stories, often created with longtime collaborator Ann Heppermann, have aired nationally and internationally on shows like NPR’s Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, WNYC’s RadioLab and Studio 360, Marketplace and the BBC. Kara’s work has been featured in NewsweekThe Washington PostCurrent,SPINThe Brooklyn RailVery Short List, among others. She has taught courses and workshops on multimedia storytelling, writing for radio and non-narrated audio documentary at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, Sarah Lawrence College and Universität Konstanz. Her work has been funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Association of Independents in Radio’s MQ2 initiative, the Arizona Humanities Council, and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.