What is Digital Humanities?

With advancements in computational technology, digital humanities (DH) has steadily grown into what it is known as today—a burgeoning field at the cross section of digital possibilities and humanities exploration. DH has a broad definition due to its flexibility and potential to answer a variety of humanities questions and to investigate many aspects of human culture in new ways. Generally speaking, DH seeks to complement and complicate such traditional humanities disciplines as history, literature, and philosophy even as it points in new interdisciplinary directions.  

DH often employs such methods as digitization and statistical modeling to convert human artifacts into machine-readable and human-readable data that might be visualized in maps, timelines, and network graphs. Materials are often available online to users who (due to economic, geographic, or other barriers) may not otherwise be afforded access. DH tools are constantly being created, upgraded, and used in new ways, allowing for more work to be completed on a larger scale than traditionally has been the case. Projects that would have been deemed too time-intensive to complete manually have been made possible through these advancements. For example, some tools allow digital humanists to distantly read thousands of books from a particular time period, revealing trends about such things as authorship and genre. Other tools allow for the recovery and presentation of historical artifacts that might otherwise remain inaccessible to many students and scholars.   

The new generation of students seated in humanities classrooms are growing up in an age where technology is all around them. Incorporating digital pedagogy in the classroom—in both DH-specific courses and courses that incorporate DH pedagogy in individual assignments and exercises—can encourage students to use that technology in ways that allow them to think more critically about the world and to investigate human culture in more profound ways than they have done in the past. DH not only encourages new ways of thinking, but also introduces a stimulating component to the classroom that can inspire students to get more excited about learning itself. The technical skills and “soft skills” (such as communication, collaboration, and project management) that are fundamental to DH complement research and writing skills emphasized in traditional humanities classrooms and position students to take advantage of a variety of employment opportunities following graduation.

DH often promotes public humanities beyond the individual classroom as well, providing opportunities and experiences for the wider university community. The general public is able to access materials based in local archives and cultural organizations and to participate in critical analysis of diverse humanities topics—forming partnerships and collaborations on a variety of fronts, and deeply engaging in a global conversation about human culture.