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Why Digital Humanities?

Why delve into the realm of Digital Humanities? Because Digital Humanities is a dynamic field, blending traditional scholarship and research with the power of technology and innovation. It encompasses studying the “digital” (like new media and new modes of behavior and communication) through a traditional humanist perspective. It also harnesses the power of information technology to slice, dice, parse, examine, and research the humanities disciplines.

Digital Humanities offers exciting possibilities:

  • Wider access to cultural information
  • Opportunities to manipulate (mix, match, map, mash-up, model, mine) data in new ways
  • Transformation of scholarly communication
  • New avenues for scholarship for both students and researchers
  • Revitalization of humanities scholarship into a more collaborative and participatory framework.


Digital Humanities Defined

Digital Humanities Quarterly provides this short definition:

Digital Humanities is a diverse and still emerging field that encompasses the practice of humanities research in and through information technology, and the exploration of how the humanities may evolve through their engagement with technology, media, and computational methods.

A definition from The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 (a product of nine seminars held as part of the UCLA Mellon Seminar in Digital Humanities) proposes:

Digital Humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which: a) print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and b) digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences. The Digital Humanities seeks to play an inaugural role with respect to a world in which, no longer the sole producers, stewards, and disseminators of knowledge or culture, universities are called upon to shape natively digital models of scholarly discourse for the newly emergent public spheres of the present era (the www, the blogosphere, digital libraries, etc.), to model excellence and innovation in these domains, and to facilitate the formation of networks of knowledge production, exchange, and dissemination that are, at once, global and local.

Lastly, an expanded definition of Digital Humanities can be extracted from this comprehensive definition of a Digital Humanities Center:

A digital humanities center is an entity where new media and technologies are used for humanities-based research, teaching, and intellectual engagement and experimentation. The goals of the center are to further humanities scholarship, create new forms of knowledge, and explore technology’s impact on humanities-based disciplines. To accomplish these goals, a digital humanities center undertakes some or all of the following activities:

  • builds digital collections as scholarly or teaching resources;
  • creates tools for
    • authoring (i.e., creating multimedia products and applications with minimal technical knowledge or training)
    • building digital collections
    • analyzing humanities collections, data, or research processes
    • managing the research process;
  • uses digital collections and analytical tools to generate new intellectual products;
  • offers digital humanities training (in the form of workshops, courses, academic degree programs, postgraduate and faculty training, fellowships, and internships);
  • offers lectures, programs, conferences, or seminars on digital humanities topics for general or academic audiences;
  • has its own academic appointments and staffing (i.e., staff does not rely solely on faculty located in another academic department);
  • provides collegial support for, and collaboration with, members of other academic departments within the DHC’s home institution (e.g., offers free or fee-based consultation services; enters into collaborative projects with other campus departments);
  • provides collegial support for, and collaboration with, members of other academic departments, organizations, or projects outside the DHC’s home institution (e.g., offers free or fee-based consultation to outside groups; enters into collaborative projects with external groups);
  • conducts research in humanities and humanities computing (digital scholarship);
  • creates a zone of experimentation and innovation for humanists;
  • serves as an information portal for a particular humanities discipline;
  • serves as a repository for humanities-based digital collections (e.g., Web sites, electronic text projects, QuickTime movie clips);
  • provides technology solutions to humanities departments (e.g., serves an information technology (IT) role for humanities departments).

Source: Zorich, D.M. (2008). A Survey of Digital Humanities Centers in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Council on Library and Information Resources. Available at http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub143/pub143.pdf