What is Digital Humanities?

Zach Kleinbaum


Intro to Digital Humanities

Writing Assignment #1


What is Digital Humanities?

Digital Humanities is an interdisciplinary academic field of study encompassing aspects of both Humanities Computing and the traditional humanities. Humanities Computing is a field focused on software development meant to utilize the capabilities of computers for analysis of traditional humanities’ resources,  like manuscripts and artworks. John Unsworth’s definition of the field as “new and continuing investments of personal, professional, institutional, and cultural resources,” contributes to the notion that Humanities Computing is the creation of assets for use by traditional humanists, but lacks its own substance considering that the field would not exist without people to utilize the products. [1] Humanities Computing is a subcategory of the traditional humanities, because it is centered on the creation of tools and not their employment. Humanities Computing is an asset for Traditional humanitarians, who use the new tools in their work, but cannot qualify as its own individual field of study.

Digital Humanities builds upon the foundation established by Humanities Computing by utilizing modern technology as a means of research in the humanities. However Digital Humanities seeks to bind the two fields by posing traditional humanitarian research questions and approaching them with new modes of engagement allowing for the discovery of unseen trends and patterns in large data sets. Digital Humanities goes beyond software development, its main goal is to create “‘good’ data” meant to “undergird new searches for patterns, visualization, and algorithmic analysis.”[2] Using methods like text analysis, digital mapping, archiving, and databasing, Digital Humanitarians develop quantitative and statistical reports of traditional resources signifying trends and patterns that previously went unnoticed.

An example of Digital Humanities at work is The Newton Project, which is an archive created to provide internet users free access to transcripted versions of Newton’s original manuscripts. The goal of the archive is to provide users with access to previously unreleased documents, allowing them to contribute to the ever growing interpretations of Newton’s work.[3] The Newton Project exemplifies a key aspect of the Digital Humanities, collaboration. Projects are constantly changing due to user collaboration, therefore Digital Humanities stresses the process in answering a specific research question and the “the questions raised by such algorithmic thinking” over the status of the final product, which is constantly in limbo.[4] The main factor to distinguish Digital Humanities from Humanities Computing is the presence of a research question, or an objective for each project to expand public knowledge regarding specific subject matter. Digital Humanities is not just focused on technology, but on creating an intricate understanding of human culture and society by processing, organizing, and displaying data in innovative ways. The Digital Humanities changes the way history is studied and that is what separates it from Humanities Computing and qualifies it as its own field.

[1]Unsworth, John. “What is Humanities Computing and what is not?” Annual Review of Computer Philology 4 (2002).

[2]Kramer, Michael. “What Does Digital Humanities bring to the Table?,” Michaeljkramer.net (blog), September 23, 2012, http://www.michaeljkramer.net/cr/what-does-digital-humanities-bring-to-the-table/ .

[3]Popova, Maria. “Digital Humanities Spotlight: 7 Important Digitization Projects,” http://www.brainpickings.org

[4]McCarty, Willard. “Humanities Computing,” http://www.mccarty.org.uk/essays/McCarty,%20Humanities%20computing.pdf

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