For being such a young field Digital Humanities (DH) has an incredible amount of literature trying to define exactly what it is. The development of a field’s identity is important to scholars looking for guidance, funding, and even legitimacy. But as Kathleen Fitzpatrick points out, it is difficult to make much scholastic headway when every conference panel gets bogged down in an ideological debate of what qualifies as Digital Humanities and what doesn’t[1].

 

That being said I believe I’ve read enough to draft a working definition of Digital Humanities. Although I called it a field above I think that the Digitial Humanities don’t fit our traditional academic structure and are instead best characterized as a mindset. While I don’t fully agree with Lincoln Mullen’s argument that DH encompasses essentially anytime a scholar opens a word document I think her idea that DH is more than specific projects, technological methods, or particular disciplines is correct[2]. I see digital humanities as an approach to asking questions and finding new answers using technology. It is about embracing what is unique and possible in the digital age. I believe that while no specific method defines the field the innovative use of computers to answer old questions and uncover new ones is core to DH.

 

In the web 2.0 world work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The ivory tower of knowledge is an outdated model and will be relegated to those who can’t or won’t adapt. Now collaboration, interaction, and the inclusion of multiple perspectives is core to any scholarly work, especially in DH. On the production side this manifests itself in the creation of a research team of scholars, designers, coders, and project managers. On the academic side we see data sharing via APIs and metadata access provided by things like the Open Archives Initiative allowing individuals and scholars to build upon the work already done and to answer their own questions[3]. Finally on the public side projects embrace the common viewer and give them the context to explore the project, draw rational conclusions, and if done appropriately enable them to contribute to the conversation with opinions, personal experiences, and resources.

 

I think that all of this is why DH is so difficult to define. We keep trying to use old frameworks of study. We rely outdated words and models that fundamentally don’t understand what new scholarship is. While certainly not the only field to embrace this transition DH is certainly on the forefront of a fundamental shift in how we construct, shape, and share knowledge.


[1] Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “The Humanities, Done Digitally.” Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012).

[2] Mullen, Lincoln. “Digital Humanities Is a Spectrum; or, We’re All Digital Humanists Now.” <http://lincolnmullen.com/blog/digital-humanities-is-aspectrum/>

[3] Unsworth, John. “What is humanities computing and what is not?” Annual Review of Computer Philology 4 (2002).

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