What Are Digital Humanities?

We have been hearing the term “Digital Humanities” a lot lately. But exactly what does it mean?

We asked Linda LoSchiavo, Director of Libraries at Fordham University in New York. “Digital humanities (DH) has morphed from the next big thing to this week’s stock-in-trade,” she told us. “Academic libraries now have dedicated staff (DH librarians), infrastructure (scanning centers), and activities (workshops, data curation, consultations, preservation and repository services). So how do you define DH?  If you’re within the academy, you’ll know it when you see it.”

As near as we can tell, Digital Humanities is all about converting a variety of materials (printed documents and more) into digital assets that can be disseminated and used by a group of distributed users. It also seems to be about creating new materials that can be distributed digitally.

Back in 2011, an organization called The PressForward Project introduced an online publication, The Journal of Digital Humanities, which published articles on topics like “Academic History Writing and its Disconnects” and, “Philosophical Leadership Needed for the Future: Digital Humanities Scholars in Museums.” Writing about history? Museum studies? What does it all mean?

The Journal of Digital Humanities has not published a new edition since Spring, 2014. But if you think that interest in Digital Humanities is fading away, you are mistaken. From June 26th-29th  2018, a conference on the topic will take place in Mexico City. It is called DH 2018, and will be sponsored by organizations that include The Organization of Digital Humanities Organizations and la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico.

Plenary sessions at the conference will include “Interactions: Platforms for Working with Linked Data,” “An Introduction to Encoding and Processing Text with TEI,” “Indexing Multilingual Content with the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS)” and, “The Re-Creation of Harry Potter: Tracing Style and Content across Novels, Movie Scripts and Fanfiction.” Linked systems? Metadata? Harry Potter? What does that all mean?

And by the way, it is possible to major in Digital Humanities in college. (Apparently, you can then apply for a job as a digital humanitarian?)

“Yes, colleges both large and small have begun offering majors in digital humanities,” Linda LoSchiavo confirms.

For example, here are the expected outcomes for the degree at the Australian National University:

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. apply theoretical frameworks and research techniques critically in order to understand the key issues raised by the digital humanities, and by the use of information technologies in the arts and social sciences more generally;
  2. identify and analyze relevant sources of online information and assess their importance and reliability within the context of the student’s disciplinary background;
  3. evaluate ideas and projects to assess the impact of digital technologies on humanities research and make connections between different disciplinary approaches and methods;
  4. communicate and debate effectively with others, both orally and in writing, using a variety of media and communication platforms; and
  5. understand the ethical implications of ideas, actions, and communications undertaken online.

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