Defining Digital Humanities

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For Module #1 we were tasked with reading five articles and completing three hands-on activities. All of these assignments encouraged me to delve deeper into the many meanings and iterations of what Digital Humanities (DH) represents.  As Amanda Visconti, a Digital Humanist, writes for the London School of Economics and Political Science, “We’re builders, tech users, teachers, and thinkers around digital tools exploring literature, history, and other cultural heritage fields” (http://bit.ly/29Ye3zb). She describes the heart of Digital Humanities as a professional field of people who do many different things and who expressed intellectual inquiry in a variety of ways. For me, one part of defining DH is to define “who” is a Digital Humanist. Visconti explains that someone involved in DH is not one but all of these things: builders, tech users, teachers, and thinkers. I concur. The second part of defining DH is the “what,” which is drastically more complex. In many ways, to answer the “what” is to trace the field’s history from Humanities Computing through the “digital turn” which has landed us in our current understanding of DH. Today there is an emphasis on analysis and experiential learning over production and data dissemination that suggests, as one author wrote, “To do digital history is to create a new framework, an ontology, through the technology for people to experience.” From quantitative to qualitative, from an ends to a means, from breadth to depth–seems to be the focus of DH post-2004.  However, DH does encompass a unique and distinctive skill-set that is both technical as well as pedagogical. So all of that to say, here is my best attempt to define Digital Humanities.

Digital Humanities is a subject that encompasses technology, critical thinking, creativity, and scholarship in a way that lives online and allows individuals and groups to participate as both producers and consumers. It is inherently multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and accessible but focuses on text and data related to the humanities and social sciences. DH also represents a paradigmatic shift — providing a new framework for the ways in which we ask questions, learn and transfer information, and simultaneously teach/learn. It is both a cycle and a matrix that maintains two common factors: 1) the use of mechanized media and 2) the study of the human condition. Beyond these two factors the manifestation of Digital Humanities, as a philosophy and methodology, is intentionally fluid and dynamic.

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