What is Digital Humanities?
Digital Humanities is an established and robust field of inquiry. It has a history that spans back into the 1940s with Roberto Busa and the development of the Index Thomisticus. The Index Thomisticus is a complete lemmatization of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and his apocryphal or associated texts. When Busa first began his project, it quickly became unmanageable with traditional paper based methods. He convinced Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, to sponsor his project in 1949. It took another 30 years to produce the 56 volume Index and finally appeared on the web in 2005.
In the intervening years, digital humanities community has produced many projects and platforms that have revolutionized research and teaching in the humanities. An exhaustive list of early DH projects would be very large, but a representative sample might include the following: The William Blake Archive is an important early example of a project headed by a multidisciplinary team: Morris Eaves (University of Rochester), Robert Essick (University of California, Riverside), Joseph Viscomi (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The archive is sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Rossetti Archive hosts a scholarly collection of materials to facilitate the study of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Rossetti Archive was originally edited by Jerome McGann who remains one of the foremost thinkers and theoreticians of the digital humanities. The Textual Condition (1991) and Radiant Textuality (2004) represent canonical works for DH practitioners. In fact, McGann describes a new generation of humanities scholars in Radiant Textuality that has proven to be prescient: “The next generation of literary and aesthetic theorists who will most matter are people who will be at least as involved with making things as with writing texts.” The development of resources as well as tools to facilitate DH research and teaching has been a hallmark of the field. An exhaustive list of these tools can be found on the Digital Research Tools (DiRT). The drive to include DH or “digital studies” within the liberal arts has emerged from a desire to expand the methodological skillset of our graduates. One of the earliest examples of this methodological widening came with the reappraisal of our so-called Scholarly Primitives; John Unsworth’s approach was the first proposed as a philosophical frame for the liberal arts and by universities more generally. By acknowledging our basic approaches to knowledge creation, we are better able to understand how computation is a logical extension of a broader methodological commons.
Broadly speaking, digital humanities is finding new ways to understand and interpret the human condition. Our 21st century context is increasingly dominated by networked computers, databases, applications, and embedded technologies. Digital literacy is now necessary to live a full and well-connected life. As with print based literacy and numeracy, there are ethical concerns inherent to those lacking access to information. Those without programmatic access to information are left at a fundamental disadvantage when seeking employment and positions of leadership. Pedagogically, DH seeks to give students access to information, ideas, and cultures not otherwise available, but DH also endeavors to remedy these inequalities by making their research and tools freely available online. Pedagogically, DH represents a concerted effort toward training technically capable, socially engaged, and humanistically focused employees, researchers, and citizens. Any DH focused program must teach core competencies in computation and introduce students to the significance of the larger history of technology and cultural criticism. In addition to pragmatic concerns related to offering an authentic and durable technical education in the context of the liberal arts, DH tends to promote a culture and community of collaboration and public engagement. Digital humanists have an entrepreneurial sensibility that leads them to work in teams and develop projects with both public and scholarly appeal. Any program that aspires to these goals must give all humanists, regardless of major, an awareness of an increasingly influential field and allow them to better anticipate the direction and content of many graduate level research groups.
A Short Guide to Digital Humanities, Drucker et al.
Digital Liberal Arts and Project Based Pedagogies, Aaron Mauro
Getting Started in the Digital Humanities, Lisa Spiro
What is Digital Humanities and What is it Doing in English Departments, Matthew Kirschenbaum
There are many challenges facing faculty as they add digital skills and methods into existing or new courses. Creating new and authentic assignments with valid and robust assessment methods often requires rethinking long standing pedagogical practices. Scaffolding skills within course content is key, but students also require much more detailed documentation, online support, and workshop opportunities. Read more about building courses here.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to developing digital skills focused curriculum in the liberal arts. Academic units interested in formalizing digital methods and skills within their curriculum will need to assess their local faculty strengths, institutional supports, start-up funding availability, and student interest. Skills based curriculum must be though as augmenting existing expertise and course offerings. These new subjects and methods must never be presumed to replace the critical training the humanities offers. Read more about establishing curriculum here.
Digital humanities is a fast paced field. It is constantly producing new tools, resources, and platforms to conduct humanities based research. At the undergraduate level, it is important for students to have an understanding of the canonical digital humanities tools and resources that have shaped the field in the last decades. Learning how to integrate tools and platforms into the classroom is key to doing digital humanities in the preliminary stages. Learning how to build new tools and resources is the hallmark of senior undergraduate researchers and graduate student level contributions. Read more about discovering digital research tools.
Universities and colleges are often strapped for physical space. There are often competing demands for physical space that are often equally valid and requires no small amount of political acumen to accommodate faculty, student, and staff interests simultaneously. Many institutions have opted to provide highly flexible spaces that are capable of accommodating multiple researchers, departments, and projects simultaneously. Read more about providing research spaces here.
Our faculty are our greatest resource of domain level expert knowledge. They are highly proficient researchers with an established set of skills and abilities. They are often already well versed in digital platforms and resources, quite often provided by the libraries and archives in which they conduct their research. It is often required for faculty to retrain, in part, to adequately lead a new digital project or build an online tool. Read more about seeking training networks.
Encouraging Collaborative Digital Projects
Digital research requires a new set of conditions to allow faculty and students to be adequately rewarded for their contributions. Promotion and tenure guidelines have been built over many years and carry a tremendous amount of institutional inertia. Institutional leadership at all levels must be ready and willing to communicate with faculty about how digital projects factor into their performance review procedures. Similarly, faculty in a mentorship position with students must describe how student contributions will be credited. Read more about humanities based project development.
Supporting Open Access and Digital Humanities Publications
Digital humanities research lives online and is often offered for free and under a limited copyright. Many digital humanities journals are available through the principles of Open Access to the general public, without a paywall. Many tools and platforms are also offered through a similar logic of open source or limited copyright. Institutions have increasingly supported OA initiatives through libraries as a means of limiting the growing costs associated with scholarly journal and database subscriptions. Read more about supporting OA.
Applying for Funding
Digital humanities has been able to attract higher levels of funding from both internal and external sources. While there are often costs associated with doing digital research, there are also costs associated with increased staffing levels required to support large teams. Digital projects also require data longevity plans that may require additional planning. Read more about digital humanities funding sources.Next Page: Previous Page: