CU Boulder’s Media Archaeology Lab gives students the experience of working on still-functioning vintage hardware, including the rare 1983 vintage Apple Lisa pictured above. (photo Courtesy Media Archaeology Lab)

Media Archaeology

CU Boulder’s Media Archaeology Lab (MAL) gives visitors an electronic blast from the past. Perhaps the largest of its kind in the country, it features obsolete but still working hardware from the late 19th century through today.

Its collection includes a 1912 Edison phonograph, a 1982 Commodore 64, a 1982 Vectrex Gaming Console, several working Apple IIes and a rare Apple Lisa. Everything in the lab works, says Lori Emerson, director and associate professor, and is meant to be “turned on, played with and experimented with.”

Emerson created the lab in 2009, taking her budget earmarked for a computer lab, which students didn’t need anymore, and instead purchasing 15 Apple IIe computers. She also purchased 15 copies of an early digital poem, “First Screening” by bpNichol on floppy disks. She hoped students would “think about what a difference it makes to write and create with different technology.”

Emerson, a poet, soon became intrigued with how different technology could impact one’s writing style. She started gathering her students to tinker with the equipment and the MAL took off from there. Donations from around the world came flooding in, and the lab soon grew so much it needed a new space.

The MAL is student-driven, with many volunteering their time to staff the lab so it can have extended hours. Emerson notes that new pieces are always are coming in.

—Grant Frickey