C21CH

Speculative Web Space

What Is Digital Humanities?

Digital Humanities remains a field difficult to define. It’s often noted that digital humanities is where using a computer transforms what is possible within the humanities. Using a computer to type a paper is nothing special, but it would have been when word processing was invented. The ability to access digital archives across the world within a few minutes allows us to ask and answer questions that would not have been feasible before the internet. Once a technology becomes commonplace, it’s no longer 'digital humanities', it’s just 'humanities'. This parallels the introduction of new technology to an organisation, to an industry, to society or an individual. Digital Humanities is an ongoing process from strangeness and novelty, through learning, to a new automatic way of doing things, a new expectation and assumption, a new quotidian routine.

Quotes

"It’s amazing what happens when you take somebody whose basic training is in humanities and you teach them how to program. It becomes a creative experience of astonishing proportions."1 - Lenny Muellner, Director of Publications and IT at the Centre for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University, 2013.

"Throughout its history, humanities computing has shown a healhty appetite for imagination and innovation while continuing to maintain high scholarly standards."2 - Susan Hockey, Emeritus Professor of Library and Information Studies at University College London, 2008.

"The digital humanities try to take account of the plasticity of digital forms and the way in which they point toward a new way of working with representation and mediation, what might be called the digital ‘folding’ of reality, whereby one is able to approach culture in a radically new way."3 - David M. Berry, Professor of Digital Humanities (Media and Film) at the University of Sussex, 2011.

"Yet despite the aggressive promotion of Digital Humanities as a radical insurgency, its institutional success has for the most part involved the displacement of politically progressive humanities scholarship and activism in favor of the manufacture of digital tools and archives...the unparalleled level of material support that Digital Humanities has received suggests that its most significant contribution to academic politics may lie in its (perhaps unintentional) facilitation of the neoliberal takeover of the university."4 - Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, David Golumbia in Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities

Types of Digital Humanities

Because it is relatively new, the field is plastic, so perhaps the best way to answer the question is by examples of what people are doing that they call Digital Humanities. The following summary of types of activity within Digital Humanities is derived from the DH2015 schedule and abstract list and my own experience.

You may also want to look at this list of example digital humanities sites accumulated ad hoc over the last 6 years.

Archives

Generative Practice

Using computers to create works, collections or other outcomes, such as part of an artistic practice.

Visualisation

Representing large amounts of data or information to discover and illustrate trends and characteristics, eg:

Text Processing

Linguistics

Geographical Mapping

Virtualisation and Reproduction

Publishing and Editing

Crowdsourcing

'Citizen-science' style projects where human judgement is required to process massive amounts of information. Examples from www.zooniverse.org:

Sociology

Interdisciplinarity

Applying digital techniques from other areas to DH and vice versa. Eg:

Data Mining

Using statistical techniques to discover often unexpected relationships in datasets.

Infrastructure

Organisation and Management

Cybernetics

Teaching and Adoption

Theory

Critique of usage, contemporary experience, the meaning of ‘memory’ and ‘heritage’, analysis of phenomena such as fan fiction and fandom, digital humans, digital natives, post-humans etc.

See also: Other Centres, Digital Humanities, Contemplations

References

  1. Lenny Muellner, “Digital Humanities: Across the Spectrum" Discussion at Lamont Library, Harvard University, 6/3/2016. Humanities in the digital age.
  2. Susuan Hockey, "A Companion to Digital Humanities", edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens & John Unsworth. John Wiley & Sons, 2008. A Companion to Digital Humanities.
  3. David M. Berry, "The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities." Published in 'Culture Machine', Vol. 12, 2011. The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities.
  4. Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, David Golumbia "Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities" LARB, May 1, 2016 https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/neoliberal-tools-archives-political-history-digital-humanities/

25/5/2016

William Pascoe & Daniel Price

Digital Humanities Lab

Centre For 21st Century Humanities

University of Newcastle