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Participatory and collaborative sensemaking of complex phenomena is central in today’s information-rich world. The critical thinking and close reading skills at the foundation of humanistic inquiry are uniquely suited to supporting these new forms of sensemaking – but exploring connections or contradictions between texts can be challenging when those texts are digitized or involve multimedia. On the other hand, the interactive options within digital platforms can be purposely designed to encourage the development of valuable skills such as reflective reading through annotation and critical making, as well as facilitating the comparison of various media, texts, and sources. 

To research and design for these urgent challenges, the Poetic Media Lab is a Digital Humanities research and design group based in the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford. We design and build creative platforms that promote new ways of conducting research, teaching, and learnign in the 21st century. Our interdisciplinary lab includes faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates from the humanities, computer science, and the school of education.

In projects like Lacuna, we create dynamic and flexible digital tools for students and instructors to make visible and share their reading, annotation, and discussion practices. Lacuna then provides new kinds of insight, teaching methods, and collaborative knowledge building not possible in an “analog” humanities course. Through a user-centered, iterative design process, our team plans incorporates rigorous evaluation of instructor and student needs in order to create simple and user-friendly tools for humanities education. For examples, learn more about Lacuna. We also produce free, open-source materials for instructors using Lacuna like samlpe activities, assigments, syllabi, and lesson and unit plans to facilitate their “out of the box” adoption by other instructors with features like our Knowledge Base.

In projects like Poetic Thinking, our lab recognizes that creativity animates the objects we study in the humanities. Humanistic inquiry in academia, however, often bypasses creative forms of expression in favor of more systematic, logic-driven, and analytical practices, formalized in products like argumentative essays. We know that one of the most effective ways for students to evaluate the components and production of creative works is to engage in creative practice, a pedagogical model exemplified the blended lecture and studio model in the arts. In designing new kinds of curricula and tools for Poetic Thinking, we ask: How can digital tools help us to similarly integrate studying and engaging with creativity in the humanities (and other disciplines with similar learning goals) to promote these kindred skills and literacies for today’s students?

Beyond our interest in teaching, education, and the academic study of learning technologies, many of our lab's products are used for collaborative research or to address humanistic research in new ways.

  • Programs like Berkeley's Anthropological Research on the Contemporary (ARC) lab have redesigned Lacuna to faciliate collaborative ethnographic and anthropolgical inquiry among faculty members and researchers. 
  • At Princteon, a project titled "Rhizomatic Reading" is using digital annotation features designed in Lacuna to analyze connections across literary texts.
  • And in the Poetic Media Lab's "Reader Study" project, Lacuna technology is used to gather reader reception data for controlled studies of participants who read novels and share their annotations for researchers to gather and analyze "reader response" reception data.

To learn more about the Poetic Media Lab, our research, products, and collaborations, you can contact the Lab Co-Director, Daniel Bush, at