A Definition of Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities practitioners are an interdisciplinary and collaborative group of researchers, scholars, librarians, curators, and activists who create and use digital tools and techniques to explore questions about what it means to be human.  Those in the field of public history, specifically, seek to make humanities stories accessible to communities outside of academia, and we must respond to and include the communities whose stories we tell. 

This expansive definition recognizes that digital humanists constantly add to the multiple tools and techniques—such as data visualization, text analysis, data mapping, virtual world building, gamification, and relationship mapping—that constitute its methods.  Once considered “humanities computing,” a wide array of methodologies now animate digital humanities work.[1]

Although many scholars consider digital humanities a field, I regard it as a growing set of practices.  Those who engage in digital humanities are practitioners from a variety of fields and they work with digital methods to illuminate traditional humanities questions in new ways.  Increasingly a component of humanities research, teaching, and narratives, digital humanities—like writing itself—is part of what humanists do.  Just as Writing in the Disciplines (WID) refers to “writing assignments tailored to the genres of a specific discipline or field,” digital work may be adapted to the questions and conventions of specific fields.[2]  This does not diminish digital humanities just as WID has not lessened the craft of writing.

[1] To explore the move toward more expansive definitions of digital humanities, compare, for example, John Unsworth, “What is Humanities Computing and What is Not?” Brandeis University, (2000) and Johanna Drucker, “The Emerging Field of Digital Humanities: An Interview with Johanna Drucker,” InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies 9, no. 2 (2013).

[2] Excelsior Online Writing Lab (OWL), “Writing in the Disciplines,” 2022, at https://owl.excelsior.edu/writing-in-the-disciplines/.

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