Digital humanities

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Example of research which includes the use of digital methods: network analysis as an archival tool.[1]

Digital humanities is an area of research and teaching at the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. Developing from the fields of humanities computing, humanistic computing,[2] and digital humanities praxis,[3] digital humanities embraces a variety of topics, from curating online collections to data mining large cultural data sets. Digital humanities (often abbreviated DH) incorporates both digitized and born-digital materials and combines the methodologies from traditional humanities disciplines (such as history, philosophy, linguistics, literature, art, archaeology, music, and cultural studies) and social sciences,[4] with tools provided by computing (such as Hypertext, Hypermedia, data visualisation, information retrieval, data mining, statistics, text mining, digital mapping), and digital publishing. The definition of the "digital humanities" is something that is being continually formulated by scholars and practitioners; they ask questions and demonstrate through projects and collaborations with others. Collaboration is a major part of DH, with not only scholars sharing their research with other scholars, but with ongoing DH projects, the public can share their ideas about different topics with each other and learn from each other's opinion.

In an interview on the subject of her work, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, an American scholar and exponent of the digital humanities, offers this practical definition: "For me it has to do with the work that gets done at the crossroads of digital media and traditional humanistic study. And that happens in two different ways. On the one hand, it’s bringing the tools and techniques of digital media to bear on traditional humanistic questions. But it’s also bringing humanistic modes of inquiry to bear on digital media."[5] "A chapter in Debates in the Digital Humanities[6] offers twenty-one definitions culled from a far longer online list."[7]

Related subfields of digital humanities have emerged like software studies, platform studies, and critical code studies. Digital Humanities also intersects with new media studies and information science as well as media theory of composition, game studies, particularly in areas related to digital humanities project design and production, and culturomics.[8] [9]

Areas of inquiry

Digital humanities scholars use computational methods either to answer existing research questions or to challenge existing theoretical paradigms, generating new questions and pioneering new approaches. One goal is to systematically integrate computer technology into the activities of humanities scholars,[10] as is done in contemporary empirical social sciences. Such technology-based activities might include incorporation into the traditional arts and humanities disciplines use of text-analytic techniques; GIS; commons-based peer collaboration; and interactive games and multimedia.

Despite the significant trend in digital humanities towards networked and multimodal forms of knowledge, spanning social, visual, and haptic media, a substantial amount of digital humanities focuses on documents and text in ways that differentiate the field's work from digital research in Media studies, Information studies, Communication studies, and Sociology. Another goal of digital humanities is to create scholarship that transcends textual sources. This includes the integration of multimedia, metadata and dynamic environments. An example of this is The Valley of the Shadow project at the University of Virginia, the Vectors Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular at University of Southern California or Digital Pioneers projects at Harvard. Another issue in the digital humanities is the visualization of cultural data sets as researched by Curtin University in Perth, Australia.[11]

A growing number of researchers in digital humanities are using computational methods for the analysis of large cultural data sets such as the Google Books corpus.[8] Examples of such projects were highlighted by the Humanities High Performance Computing competition sponsored by the Office of Digital Humanities in 2008,[12] and also by the Digging Into Data challenge organized in 2009[13] and 2011[14] by NEH in collaboration with NSF,[15] and in partnership with JISC in the UK, and SSHRC in Canada.[16]

Environments and tools

Digital humanities takes place in an environment that might be as small as a mobile device or as large as a virtual reality lab. These are the environments for "creating, publishing and working with digital scholarship [and] include everything from personal equipment to institutes and software to cyberspace."[17]

It is also involved in the creation of software, providing "environments and tools for producing, curating, and interacting with knowledge that is 'born digital' and lives in various digital contexts."[18] In this context, the field is sometimes known as computational humanities. Many such projects share a "commitment to open standards and open source."[19]


Digital humanities descends from the field of humanities computing, of computationally enabled "formal representations of the human record,"[20] whose origins reach back to the late 1940s in the pioneering work of Roberto Busa.[21][22]

Other aspects of digital humanities were descended from the IRIS Intermedia project on hypertext at Brown University in the 1980s.

The Text Encoding Initiative, born from the desire to create a standard encoding scheme for humanities electronic texts, is the outstanding achievement of early humanities computing. The project was launched in 1987 and published the first full version of the TEI Guidelines in May 1994.[22]

In the nineties, major digital text and image archives emerged at centers of humanities computing in the U.S. (e.g. the Women Writers Project,[23] the Rossetti Archive,[24] and The William Blake Archive[25]), which demonstrated the sophistication and robustness of text-encoding for literature.[26] The Blake archive, in particular, was designed by its editors to take advantage of "the syntheses made possible by the electronic medium" and thus accomplish an "editorial transformation" in the publication of Blake's work which was, from the author's hands, multimedia.[27]

The terminological change from "humanities computing" to "digital humanities" has been attributed to John Unsworth Susan Schreibman, and Ray Siemens who, as editors of the anthology A Companion to Digital Humanities (2004), tried to prevent the field from being viewed as "mere digitization."[28] Consequently, the hybrid term has created an overlap between fields like rhetoric and composition, which use "the methods of contemporary humanities in studying digital objects,"[28] and digital humanities, which uses "digital technology in studying traditional humanities objects".[28] The use of computational systems and the study of computational media within the arts and humanities more generally has been termed the 'computational turn'.[29]

In 2006 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), launched the Digital Humanities Initiative (renamed Office of Digital Humanities in 2008), which made widespread adoption of the term "digital humanities" all but irreversible in the United States.[30]

Digital humanities emerged from its former niche status and became "big news"[30] at the 2009 MLA convention in Philadelphia, where digital humanists made "some of the liveliest and most visible contributions"[31] and had their field hailed as "the first 'next big thing' in a long time."[32]

Today[when?], many historical researches have used DH paradigms and tools for Knowledge Mobilization and Public Dissemination (see Boulou Ebanda de B'béri's [33] (The University of Ottawa) which uses the ArcGIS program to map out 19th century Black pioneer's settlement patterns in Southern Ontario.

Organizations and Institutions

The field of digital humanities is served by several organisations: The Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing (ALLC), the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH), and the Society for Digital Humanities/Société pour l'étude des médias interactifs (SDH/SEMI), which are joined under the umbrella organisation of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO). The alliance funds a number of projects such as the Digital Humanities Quarterly, supports the Text Encoding Initiative, the organisation and sponsoring of workshops and conferences, as well as the funding of small projects, awards and bursaries.[34]

ADHO also oversees a joint annual conference, which began as the ACH/ALLC (or ALLC/ACH) conference, and is now known as the Digital Humanities conference.

CenterNet is an international network of about 100 digital humanities centers in 19 countries, working together to benefit digital humanities and related fields.[35][36]


The automatic analysis of vast textual corpora has created the possibility for scholars to analyze millions of documents in multiple languages with very limited manual intervention. Key enabling technologies have been Parsing, Machine Translation, Topic categorization, Machine Learning.

Narrative network of US Elections 2012[37]

The automatic parsing of textual corpora has enabled the extraction of actors and their relational networks on a vast scale, turning textual data into network data. The resulting networks, which can contain thousands of nodes, are then analyzed by using tools from Network theory to identify the key actors, the key communities or parties, and general properties such as robustness or structural stability of the overall network, or centrality of certain nodes.[38] This automates the approach introduced by Quantitative Narrative Analysis,[39] whereby subject-verb-object triplets are identified with pairs of actors linked by an action, or pairs formed by actor-object.[37]

Content analysis has been a traditional part of social sciences and media studies for a long time. For example, in 2008, Yukihiko Yoshida did a study called [40] "Leni Riefenstahl and German expressionism: research in Visual Cultural Studies using the trans-disciplinary semantic spaces of specialized dictionaries." The study took databases of images tagged with connotative and denotative keywords (a search engine) and found Riefenstahl’s imagery had the same qualities as imagery tagged "degenerate" in the title of the exhibition, "Degenerate Art" in Germany at 1937.

The automation of content analysis has allowed a "big data" revolution to take place in that field, with studies in social media and newspaper content that include millions of news items. Gender bias, readability, content similarity, reader preferences, and even mood have been analyzed based on text mining methods over millions of documents [41] [42] [43] [44] and historical documents written in literary Chinese. [45] The analysis of readability, gender bias and topic bias was demonstrated in [46] showing how different topics have different gender biases and levels of readability; the possibility to detect mood shifts in a vast population by analyzing Twitter content was demonstrated as well.[47]

Criticism and controversies

An edited text, 'Debates in the Digital Humanities' (2012) has identified a range of criticisms of digital humanities: 'a lack of attention to issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality; a preference for research-driven projects over pedagogical ones; an absence of political commitment; an inadequate level of diversity among its practitioners; an inability to address texts under copyright; and an institutional concentration in well-funded research universities'.[48]

The literary theorist Stanley Fish claims that the digital humanities pursue a revolutionary agenda and thereby undermine the conventional standards of "pre-eminence, authority and disciplinary power."[49]

There has also been some recent controversy amongst practitioners of digital humanities around the role that race and/or identity politics plays in digital humanities. Tara McPherson attributes some of the lack of racial diversity in digital humanities to the modality of UNIX and computers, themselves.[50] An open thread on recently garnered well over 100 comments on the issue of race in digital humanities, with scholars arguing about the amount that racial (and other) biases affect the tools and texts available for digital humanities research.[51] McPherson posits that there needs to be an understanding and theorizing of the implications of digital technology and race, even when the subject for analysis appears not to be about race.

See also




  1. League of Nations archives, United Nations Office in Geneva. Network visualization and analysis published in Grandjean, Martin (2014). "La connaissance est un réseau". Les Cahiers du Numérique. 10 (3): 37–54. Retrieved 2014-10-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Humanistic Computing, Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 86, No. 11, November, 1998, Pages 2123-2151.
  4. "Digital Humanities Network". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 27 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "On Scholarly Communication and the Digital Humanities: An Interview with Kathleen Fitzpatrick", In the Library with the Lead Pipe
  6. “Day of DH: Defining the Digital Humanities,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 69–71.
  7. Gardiner, Eileen and Ronald G. Musto. (2015). The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 5.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Roth, S. (2014), "Fashionable functions. A Google n-gram view of trends in functional differentiation (1800-2000)", International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction, Band 10, Nr. 2, S. 34-58 (online:
  9. Liu, C.-L., G. Jin, Q. Liu, W.-Y. Chiu, and Y.-S. Yu. (2011) "Some chances and challenges in applying language technologies to historical studies in Chinese", International Journal of Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing, 16(1-2):27‒46. (
  10. Opportunities/tabid/57/Default.aspx "Grant Opportunities" Check |url= value (help). National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities Grant Opportunities. Retrieved 25 January 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  12. Bobley, Brett (December 1, 2008). "Grant Announcement for Humanities High Performance Computing Program". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved May 1, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  19. Bradley, John (2012). "No job for techies: Technical contributions to research in digital humanities". In Marilyn Deegan and Willard McCarty (eds.). Collaborative Research in the Digital Humanities. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate. pp. 11–26 [14]. ISBN 9781409410683. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  21. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
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  27. "Editorial Principles". The William Blake Archive. Retrieved 17 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  33. The Promised Land Project
  34. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
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  47. Effects of the Recession on Public Mood in the UK; T Lansdall-Welfare, V Lampos, N Cristianini; Mining Social Network Dynamics (MSND) session on Social Media Applications
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