What is Digital Humanities?

Toward a Definition of Digital Humanities
For Humanities Departments at Fairfield University

Digital humanities start from a humanistic, rather than mechanistic, understanding of digital technologies in a variety of cultural contexts. It examines how those technologies undergird the creation of knowledge, and how new knowledge feeds back to technical advances in a reciprocal and recursive way.  As such, digital humanities extends the essential work of the humanities departments by giving us new tools to analyze texts, to write, to teach writing, to think, and to solve problems. Digital humanities also offer new ways to explore the idea of what constitutes a "text.” It includes exploring research, teaching, and social media in ways to encourage deep analysis of literature and productive writing. As a field, digital humanities encourages us to think about the relationship between print, media, and internet communication, and traditional disciplines of study.

As scholars, we use digital technologies for the following goals:

Accessibility: New digital archives can make texts accessible that were not available before. New archives of primary source materials give us greater access to texts that previously were only available in specialized libraries.

These online archives also open up new ways to involve students in the actual presenting and editing of texts. It is important that work with digitally reproduced archival material enables students to understand and work with the original texts and the process of transforming those texts for readers. Suddenly, scholarship and teaching become more closely connected.  

Textual analysis: Digital Humanities tools offer ways to search and collate texts. For example, when preparing an edition, these tools enable us to analyze a wide corpus of texts for comparison of textual variants.

Analysis of data: Digital Humanities tools offer us the ability to analyze large masses of data, and categorize them into useful formats that can be shared with and used by other scholars.

Presentation: Digital formats offer us ways to present our work in new formats, and to update it constantly. For example, digital editions of texts can be made available for classroom use; students find them attractive and easy to use because background information can be attached through hyperlinks.

Collaboration: Digital formats allow us to crowd-source information. For example, a web project that presents a bibliography of specific writers and translations of their work can solicit new pieces of information from readers around the globe, thus producing a far more complete product than any single researcher could efficiently find. Such a bibliography could be constantly updated, and thus become a tool for all scholars in the field.

New ways of knowledge: Digital Humanities tools offer new ways to conceptualize information. Mapping projects, for example, can spatialize knowledge in ways that old formats did not.