Made in the Machine: Class Description and Syllabus

Made in the Machine: New Cultural Practices, Critical Analyses, and Techniques in Digital Fabrication, Making, and Manufacturing

DM-GY 9103, Spring 2016
Prof. Arlene Ducao, arlduc [at]
Thursdays, 3:30-6:20 PM
2 Metrotech Center, Room 817


Recent innovations in digital fabrication have made its technologies much more cheap, sophisticated, and accessible for people of many ages and experiences. In this class, we will explore some of these innovations, the techniques and affordances that they enable, and the future directions that they imply. This will be a project-based class, but as much emphasis will be put on cultural and critical analysis as on technical learning. Class sessions will involve case studies, guest speakers, site visits, and discussion of fabrication methodologies.

Prerequisites: An interest in digital fabrication and its impact on the fabric of society. Basic experience with a fabrication technology or system is recommended, but not required. Examples include:

  • 3D printing
  • Digital cutting (laser, waterjet, vinyl, etc)
  • CNC milling
  • CNC routing
  • Digital wire bending
  • Computational sewing or knitting
  • Mass or contract manufacturing (OEMs, ODMs, etc)

Learning Goals

  1. Learn one or more new digital fabrication technique(s) to understand the experiential context of fabrication. Deliverable: fabricate a simple object and write a short reflection piece.
  2. Examine and critique modes of machine production in a socio-historical setting. Deliverable: write a 2000-word research paper or piece of creative nonfiction.
  3. Combine goals 1 and 2 to explore, via your own personal history and culture, new and emerging trends in digital fabrication at multiple scales. Deliverable: To be discussed in class.

Class Format (Flexible)

  • First part (60-90 minutes): Lecture, discussion, critique.
  • Second part (90-110 minutes): Hands-on building & testing.



Guests and site visits are subject to change.

  • Session 1, January 28: Overview and Introductions.
  • NO CLASS on Feb 4. I’ll hold office hours on Feb 1 and/or 2.
Phase I: Let’s Fab
  • Session 2, February 11: Deep Dives
  • Session 3, February 18: New Tech in Fab. Guest speaker: Lining Yao, MIT.
  • Session 4, February 25: Industry City Site Visit. Address: 220 36th Street, Brooklyn
  • Session 5, March 3: Part I Project Presentations
Phase II: Socioeconomic Histories of Fabrication
  • Session 6, March 10: From the Industrial Revolution to the Maker Movement and Beyond. Guest speaker: Shuyang Zhou, Seeed Studios.
  • SPRING BREAK, March 17.
  • Session 7, March 24: A closer look at globalization. Guest speakers: bunnie Huang, bunniestudios, Jie Qi, MIT.
  • Session 8, March 31: Field trip to Brooklyn Navy Yard.
  • Session 9, April 7: Part II Paper Presentations
Phase III: Fabrication as Cultural Study
  • Session 10, April 14: Making Things, Making Meanings
  • Session 11, April 21: Guest Speaker: Auto-ethnographies in Fabrication. Guest speaker: Vernelle Noel, Penn State.
  • Session 12, April 28: Guest Speaker: Manufacturing with Awareness
  • Session 13, May 5: Part III Final Presentations

Recommended Books (to be discussed in Class 1)

Making and Makers
  • To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure by Henry Petroski
  • Invention by Design; How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing by Henry Petroski
  • Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson
  • The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers by Mark Hatch
  • Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez
  • Design, Make, Play: Growing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators by Margaret Honey
  • The Maker’s Manual: A Practical Guide to the New Industrial Revolution by Paolo Aliverti
  • Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing by Hod Lipson
  • Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop–from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication by Neil Gershenfeld
  • Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik
  • Fabrication Engineering at the Micro- and Nanoscale: Fourth Edition by Stephen A. Campbell
  • Engineering: A Beginner’s Guide by Natasha McCarthy
Cultures and Histories of Making, Manufacturing, and Engineering
  • The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America by Leo Marx
  • The Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By by Scott A. Shane
  • Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering: The History of an Occupational Color Line by Amy E. Slaton
  • America’s Assembly Line by David E. Nye
  • America as Second Creation: Technology and Narratives of New Beginnings by David E. Nye
  • Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940 by David E. Nye
  • Making Technology Masculine: Men, Women, and Modern Machines in America, 1870-1945 by Ruth Oldenziel
  • More Work For Mother: The Ironies Of Household Technology From The Open Hearth To The Microwave by Ruth Schwartz Cowan
  • Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism by Merritt Roe Smith
  • On the Outskirts of Engineering: Learning Identity, Gender, and Power via Engineering Practice by Karen L. Tonso
  • Dominance by Design: Technological Imperatives and America’s Civilizing Mission by Michael Adas
  • Girls Coming to Tech!: A History of American Engineering Education for Women by Amy Sue Bix
  • American Technological Sublime by David E. Nye
  • Technology Choices: Why Occupations Differ in Their Embrace of New Technology By Diane E. Bailey and Paul M. Leonardi
  • Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development: Transforming the Industrial State by Nicholas A. Ashford and Ralph P. Hall
  • The Citizen’s Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century by Joseph R. Blasi, Richard B. Freeman, and Douglas L. Kruse
  • One World: The Ethics of Globalization, Second Edition by Peter Singer

Office Hours

Thursday by appointment. E-mail arlduc [at] to make an appointment.


  • 20% Phase 1 Project: Demonstration of prototype & brief write-up.
  • 20% Phase 2 Paper: Research article & MLA-formatted bibliography.
  • 25% Phase 3 Final: An ethnographic project drawing on skills and concepts developed in Phase 1 and 2.
  • 20% Class participation.
  • 15% Blog posts based on class discussion and project development. At least nine posts are required for the semester (three posts per class phase).
  • Encouraged extra credit options:
    • Expanded blogging
    • Video documentation
    • Project web site
    • Conference paper


Attendance to all class sessions is mandatory. Class starts at 3:30 sharp. Excused absence requests, i.e. for a religious holiday or a conference, must be made at least 3 business days ahead of the scheduled absence. Emergency absences must be accompanied by official documentation, i.e. a doctor’s note or MTA notice. One letter grade drop will occur for every two unexcused late arrivals or one unexcused absence. For additional NYU School of Engineering Academic Policies and Requirements, please consult this link.

Moses Statement

If you are student with a disability who is requesting accommodations, please contact New York University’s Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at 212-998-4980 or  You must be registered with CSD to receive accommodations.  Information about the Moses Center can be found at The Moses Center is located at 726 Broadway on the 2nd floor.