Digital scholarship is a reworking of the field digital humanities (DH), a retroactive fiddling to try and encompass more of fields like social sciences that were originally left out from DH. After working in these fields for the fair span of two days, one question has emerged most prominently for me about this field – what is digital humanities?
From what I’ve gathered, digital humanities can be loosely described as humanities work that involves digital technology. DH seems to be an area rich with promise for augmenting and presenting humanities material in a digitally equipped age. “DHers” concede that DH began in earnest within the last thirty years, but we cannot precisely enumerate which principles guide the field or where its demarcating boundaries lie. It’s even a little unclear as to whether my sentences above should read “digital humanities is” or “digital humanities are.”
DH forms an eclectic community, from so-called “digital forensics” to crowd-sourced projects to the more historical linguistics of text mining. DH’s variety surfaces in the astonishes range of projects that come out of it, paralleling the variety of professionals working on it. To digress into theory and wave my arms around, what does it take to constitute a field, any field? Certainly not an easy question, but I find myself loosely comparing this to the field I’ve been trained in, neuroscience. Neuroscience, like DH, is a relatively new field of study, and it draws from many different sciences ranged from psychology to physics in order to understand neural cells. DH’s focus is more diffuse (The Humanities, rather than one cell type), but DHers similarly bring to bear a diversity of methods onto one focus project at a time.
The best way for me to do DH justice is to point at exemplar projects in the last few years. I’ll be exploring some of these projects over the next week, but here are a few of my favorites so far, all accessible online:
– What’s on the Menu?,
New York Public Library
– Metadata Games,
British Public Library
– The Walt Whitman Archive,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
– the game Spent,
Urban Ministries of Durham
Though DH is relatively new, it’s never too soon to wonder – What future does digital humanities have? Will all of the humanities one day be subsumed into DH, making the name obsolete and redundant (like social media versus media)? While we’re on the topic of the future, let’s go two steps forward. For example, how do we preserve projects in DH after they are completed? Especially for projects online, this requires consideration of maintaining existing material and updating the project when it becomes outdated. (No one likes looking at the a website ten years old.) Even preservation projects of digitized medieval manuscripts will one day need someone to preserve them.