Welcome to A Guide to Digital Humanities, a guide from the Center for Scholarly Communication & Digital Curation at Northwestern University. This guide, beginning with the introduction to digital humanities (DH) below, includes information on and links to DH values & methods, tools & resources, funding & evaluation, projects & publications, and DH@NU, a section dedicated to DH activities at Northwestern University. To follow updates to this guide and to keep up-to-date on DH news and events on and off campus, please check out the DH@NU blog.
WHAT IS DIGITAL HUMANITIES?
In his article “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” (2010), Matthew Kirschenbaum happens upon the Wikipedia entry for “digital humanities,” which its users, at the time, defined thusly:
“The digital humanities, also known as humanities computing, is a field of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. It is methodological by nature and interdisciplinary in scope. It involves investigation, analysis, synthesis and presentation of information in electronic form. It studies how these media affect the disciplines in which they are used, and what these disciplines have to contribute to our knowledge of computing.” (56)
And yet, this definition and its component parts need to be complicated in order to be better understood. As Burdick, Drucker, et al. write in the book Digital_Humanities (2012),
“[Digital humanities] asks what it means to be a human being in the networked information age and to participate in fluid communities of practice, asking and answering research questions that cannot be reduced to a single genre, medium, discipline, or institution. [...] It is a global, trans-historical, and transmedia approach to knowledge and meaning-making.” (vii)
Still others have insisted that digital humanities is something much more concrete and defined by the act of “building.” As Stephen Ramsay says in his now (in?)famous talk, “Who’s In and Who’s Out,” at MLA 2011,
“Personally, I think Digital Humanities is about building things. I’m willing to entertain highly expansive definitions of what it means to build something. I also think the discipline includes and should include people who theorize about building, people who design so that others might build, and those who supervise building (the coding question is, for me, a canard, insofar as many people build without knowing how to program). I’d even include people who are working to rebuild systems like our present, irretrievably broken system of scholarly publishing. But if you are not making anything, you are not — in my less-than-three-minute opinion — a digital humanist.” (2011)
After collating, analyzing, and synthesizing all of these definitions, one could abstract from them several discreet forms, none of which are necessarily mutually exclusive (though most contain two or more), that may help us better understand what digital humanities is. These include, but are not limited to:
- scholarship presented in digital form(s)
- scholarship enabled by digital methods & tools
- scholarship about digital technology & culture
- scholarship building and experimenting with digital technology
- scholarship critical of its own digital-ness
Whatever the definition of digital humanities is or turns out to be (see also the 500+ definitions culled from Day of DH over the years), it is our hope that this guide offers some insight and explanations for those interested in finding out more. Finally, digital humanities is an active field, full of collaboration, experimentation, building and doing, and we recommend participating in these definitional debates while also critically diving into tutorials, tools, and other resources, as well as joining the very open and active community of DH scholars and collaborators on Twitter, DH Questions & Answers, and the many DH blogs across the web.