Digital humanities (DH) is an area of scholarly activity at the
intersection of computing or digital technologies and the disciplines
of the humanities. It includes the systematic use of digital resources
in the humanities, as well as the reflection on their
application. DH can be defined as new ways of doing scholarship
that involve collaborative, transdisciplinary, and computationally
engaged research, teaching, and publishing. It brings digital tools
and methods to the study of the humanities with the recognition that
the printed word is no longer the main medium for knowledge production
By producing and using new applications and techniques, DH makes new
kinds of teaching and research possible, while at the same time
studying and critiquing how these impact cultural heritage and digital
culture. Thus, a distinctive feature of DH is its cultivation of a
two-way relationship between the humanities and the digital: the field
both employs technology in the pursuit of humanities, research, and
subjects technology to humanistic questioning and interrogation, often
3 Values and methods
5.1 Digital archives
5.2 Cultural analytics
5.3 Textual mining, analysis, and visualization
5.4 Analysis of macroscopic trends in cultural change
5.5 Online publishing
6.1 Negative publicity
6.2 Black box
6.4 Issues of access
6.5 Cultural criticism
6.6 Difficulty of evaluation
6.7 Lack of focus on pedagogy
7.1 Centers and institutes
7.3 Journals and publications
8 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
The definition of the digital humanities is being continually
formulated by scholars and practitioners. Since the field is
constantly growing and changing, specific definitions can quickly
become outdated or unnecessarily limit future potential. The second
volume of Debates in the Digital
Humanities (2016) acknowledges the
difficulty in defining the field: "Along with the digital archives,
quantitative analyses, and tool-building projects that once
characterized the field, DH now encompasses a wide range of methods
and practices: visualizations of large image sets, 3D modeling of
historical artifacts, 'born digital' dissertations, hashtag activism
and the analysis thereof, alternate reality games, mobile makerspaces,
and more. In what has been called 'big tent' DH, it can at times be
difficult to determine with any specificity what, precisely, digital
humanities work entails."
Historically, the digital humanities developed out of humanities
computing and has become associated with other fields, such as
humanistic computing, social computing, and media studies. In concrete
terms, the digital humanities embraces a variety of topics, from
curating online collections of primary sources (primarily textual) to
the data mining of large cultural data sets to topic modeling. Digital
humanities incorporates both digitized (remediated) and born-digital
materials and combines the methodologies from traditional humanities
disciplines (such as history, philosophy, linguistics, literature,
art, archaeology, music, and cultural studies) and social sciences,
with tools provided by computing (such as hypertext, hypermedia, data
visualisation, information retrieval, data mining, statistics, text
mining, digital mapping), and digital publishing. Related subfields of
digital humanities have emerged like software studies, platform
studies, and critical code studies. Fields that parallel the digital
humanities include new media studies and information science as well
as media theory of composition, game studies, particularly in areas
related to digital humanities project design and production, and
Digital humanities descends from the field of humanities computing,
whose origins reach back to the late 1940s in the pioneering work of
Roberto Busa and the women he employed. In
collaboration with IBM, they created a computer-generated concordance
to Thomas Aquinas' writings known as the Index Thomisticus. Other
scholars began using mainframe computers to automate tasks like
word-searching, sorting, and counting, which was much faster than
processing information from texts with handwritten or typed index
cards. In the decades which followed archaeologists, classicists,
historians, literary scholars, and a broad array of humanities
researchers in other disciplines applied emerging computational
methods to transform humanities scholarship.
As Tara McPherson has pointed out, the digital humanities also inherit
practices and perspectives developed through many artistic and
theoretical engagements with electronic screen culture beginning the
late 1960s and 1970s. These range from research developed by
organizations such as
SIGGRAPH to creations by artists such as Charles
and Ray Eames and the members of E.A.T. (Experiments in
Technology). The Eames and E.A.T. explored nascent computer culture
and intermediality in creative works that dovetailed technological
innovation with art.
The first specialized journal in the digital humanities was Computers
and the Humanities, which debuted in 1966. The Association for
Literary and Linguistic Computer (ALLC) and the Association for
Computers and the
Humanities (ACH) were then founded in 1977 and 1978,
Soon, there was a need for a standardized protocol for tagging digital
texts, and the
Text Encoding Initiative
Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) was developed. The
TEI project was launched in 1987 and published the first full version
of the TEI Guidelines in May 1994. TEI helped shape the field of
electronic textual scholarship and led to Extensible Markup Language
(XML), which is a tag scheme for digital editing. Researchers also
began experimenting with databases and hypertextual editing, which are
structured around links and nodes, as opposed to the standard linear
convention of print. In the nineties, major digital text and image
archives emerged at centers of humanities computing in the U.S. (e.g.
the Women Writers Project, the Rossetti Archive, and The William
Blake Archive), which demonstrated the sophistication and
robustness of text-encoding for literature. The advent of personal
computing and the World Wide Web meant that Digital
could become less centered on text and more on design. The multimedia
nature of the internet has allowed Digital
Humanities work to
incorporate audio, video, and other components in addition to text.
The terminological change from "humanities computing" to "digital
humanities" has been attributed to John Unsworth, Susan Schreibman,
and Ray Siemens who, as editors of the anthology A Companion to
Humanities (2004), tried to prevent the field from being
viewed as "mere digitization." Consequently, the hybrid term has
created an overlap between fields like rhetoric and composition, which
use "the methods of contemporary humanities in studying digital
objects," and digital humanities, which uses "digital technology
in studying traditional humanities objects". The use of
computational systems and the study of computational media within the
arts and humanities more generally has been termed the 'computational
In 2006 the National Endowment for the
Humanities (NEH) launched the
Humanities Initiative (renamed Office of Digital
2008), which made widespread adoption of the term "digital humanities"
all but irreversible in the United States.
Digital humanities emerged from its former niche status and became
"big news" at the 2009 MLA convention in Philadelphia, where
digital humanists made "some of the liveliest and most visible
contributions" and had their field hailed as "the first 'next big
thing' in a long time."
Values and methods
Although digital humanities projects and initiatives are diverse, they
often reflect common values and methods. These can help in
understanding this hard-to-define field.
Critical & Theoretical
Iterative & Experimental
Collaborative & Distributed
Multimodal & Performative
Open & Accessible
Enhanced Critical Curation
Augmented Editions and Fluid Textuality
Law of Large Numbers
Distant/Close, Macro/Micro, Surface/Depth
Cultural Analytics, Aggregation, and Data-Mining
Visualization and Data Design
Locative Investigation and Thick Mapping
The Animated Archive
Distributed Knowledge Production and Performative Access
Code, Software, and Platform Studies
Repurposable Content and Remix Culture
In keeping with the value of being open and accessible, many digital
humanities projects and journals are open access and/or under Creative
Commons licensing, showing the field's "commitment to open standards
and open source."
Open access is designed to enable anyone with an
internet-enabled device and internet connection to view a website or
read an article without having to pay, as well as share content with
the appropriate permissions.
Digital humanities scholars use computational methods either to answer
existing research questions or to challenge existing theoretical
paradigms, generating new questions and pioneering new approaches. One
goal is to systematically integrate computer technology into the
activities of humanities scholars, as is done in contemporary
empirical social sciences. Yet despite the significant trend in
digital humanities towards networked and multimodal forms of
knowledge, a substantial amount of digital humanities focuses on
documents and text in ways that differentiate the field's work from
digital research in media studies, information studies, communication
studies, and sociology. Another goal of digital humanities is to
create scholarship that transcends textual sources. This includes the
integration of multimedia, metadata, and dynamic environments (see The
Valley of the Shadow project at the University of Virginia, the
Vectors Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular at
University of Southern California, or Digital Pioneers projects at
Harvard). A growing number of researchers in digital humanities
are using computational methods for the analysis of large cultural
data sets such as the
Google Books corpus. Examples of such
projects were highlighted by the
Humanities High Performance Computing
competition sponsored by the Office of Digital
Humanities in 2008,
and also by the Digging Into Data challenge organized in 2009 and
2011 by NEH in collaboration with NSF, and in partnership with
JISC in the UK, and SSHRC in Canada. In addition to books,
historical newspapers can also be analyzed with big data methods. The
analysis of vast quantities of historical newspaper content has showed
how periodic structures can be automatically discovered, and a similar
analysis was performed on social media. As part of the big
data revolution, Gender bias, readability, content similarity, reader
preferences, and even mood have been analyzed based on text mining
methods over millions of documents and historical
documents written in literary Chinese.
Digital humanities is also involved in the creation of software,
providing "environments and tools for producing, curating, and
interacting with knowledge that is 'born digital' and lives in various
digital contexts." In this context, the field is sometimes known
as computational humanities.
Narrative network of US Elections 2012
Digital humanities scholars use a variety of digital tools for their
research, which may take place in an environment as small as a mobile
device or as large as a virtual reality lab. Environments for
"creating, publishing and working with digital scholarship include
everything from personal equipment to institutes and software to
cyberspace." Some scholars use advanced programming languages and
databases, while others use less complex tools, depending on their
needs. DiRT (Digital Research Tools Directory) offers a registry
of digital research tools for scholars. TAPoR (Text Analysis Portal
for Research) is a gateway to text analysis and retrieval tools.
An accessible, free example of an online textual analysis program is
Voyant Tools, which only requires the user to copy and paste
either a body of text or a URL and then click the 'reveal' button to
run the program. There is also an online list of online or
Humanities tools that are largely free, aimed
toward helping students and others who lack access to funding or
institutional servers. Free, open source web publishing platforms like
Omeka are also popular tools.
Example of a visualization tool used to study poetry in a new way with
Digital humanities projects are more likely than traditional
humanities work to involve a team or a lab, which may be composed of
faculty, staff, graduate or undergraduate students, information
technology specialists, and partners in galleries, libraries,
archives, and museums. Credit and authorship are often given to
multiple people to reflect this collaborative nature, which is
different from the sole authorship model in the traditional humanities
(and more like the natural sciences).
There are thousands of digital humanities projects, ranging from
small-scale ones with limited or no funding to large-scale ones with
multi-year financial support. Some are continually updated while
others may not be due to loss of support or interest, though they may
still remain online in either a beta version or a finished form. The
following are a few examples of the variety of projects in the
Women Writers Project (begun in 1988) is a long-term research
project to make pre-Victorian women writers more accessible through an
electronic collection of rare texts. The
Walt Whitman Archive
(begun in the 1990s) sought to create a hypertext and scholarly
edition of Whitman’s works and now includes photographs, sounds, and
the only comprehensive current bibliography of Whitman criticism. The
Emily Dickinson Archive (begun in 2013) is a collection of
high-resolution images of Dickinson’s poetry manuscripts as well as
a searchable lexicon of over 9,000 words that appear in the poems.
Example of network analysis as an archival tool at the League of
The Slave Societies Digital Archive (formerly Ecclesiastical and
Secular Sources for Slave Societies), directed by Jane Landers and
hosted at Vanderbilt University, preserves endangered ecclesiastical
and secular documents related to Africans and African-descended
peoples in slave societies. This Digital Archive currently holds
500,000 unique images, dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries, and
documents the history of between 6 and 8 million individuals. They are
the most extensive serial records for the history of Africans in the
Atlantic World and also include valuable information on the
indigenous, European, and Asian populations who lived alongside them.
"Cultural analytics" refers to the use of computational method for
exploration and analysis of large visual collections and also
contemporary digital media. The concept was developed in 2005 by Lev
Manovich who then established the Cultural Analytics Lab in 2007 at
Qualcomm Institute at California Institute for Telecommunication and
Information (Calit2). The lab has been using methods from the field of
computer science called Computer Vision many types of both historical
and contemporary visual media—for example, all covers of Time
magazine published between 1923 and 2009, 20,000 historical art
photographs from the collection in Museum of Modern
Art (MoMA) in New
York, one million pages from Manga books, and 16 million
images shared on Instagram in 17 global cities. Cultural analytics
also includes using methods from media design and data visualization
to create interactive visual interfaces for exploration of large
visual collections e.g., Selfiecity and On Broadway.
Cultural Analytics research is also addressing a number of theoretical
questions. How can we "observe" giant cultural universes of both
user-generated and professional media content created today, without
reducing them to averages, outliers, or pre-existing categories? How
can work with large cultural data help us question our stereotypes and
assumptions about cultures? What new theoretical cultural concepts and
models are required for studying global digital culture with its new
mega-scale, speed, and connectivity?
The term “cultural analytics” (or “culture analytics”) is now
used by many other researchers, as exemplified by two academic
symposiums, a four-month long research program at UCLA that
brought together 120 leading researchers from university and industry
labs, an academic peer-review Journal of Cultural Analytics: CA
established in 2016, and academic job listings.
Textual mining, analysis, and visualization
WordHoard (begun in 2004) is a free application that enables scholarly
but non-technical users to read and analyze, in new ways,
deeply-tagged texts, including the canon of Early Greek epic, Chaucer,
Shakespeare, and Spenser. The Republic of Letters (begun in 2008)
seeks to visualize the social network of Enlightenment writers through
an interactive map and visualization tools. Network analysis and data
visualization is also used for reflections on the field itself –
researchers may produce network maps of social media interactions or
infographics from data on digital humanities scholars and projects.
Network analysis: graph of Digital
Humanities Twitter users
Analysis of macroscopic trends in cultural change
Culturomics is a form of computational lexicology that studies human
behavior and cultural trends through the quantitative analysis of
digitized texts. Researchers data mine large digital archives
to investigate cultural phenomena reflected in language and word
usage. The term is an American neologism first described in a 2010
Science article called Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions
of Digitized Books, co-authored by Harvard researchers Jean-Baptiste
Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden.
A 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences of the United States of America compared the trajectory of
n-grams over time in both digitised books from the 2010 Science
article with those found in a large corpus of regional newspapers
from the United Kingdom over the course of 150 years. The study
further went on to use more advanced Natural language processing
techniques to discover macroscopic trends in history and culture,
including gender bias, geographical focus, technology, and politics,
along with accurate dates for specific events.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (begun in 1995) is a dynamic
reference work of terms, concepts, and people from philosophy
maintained by scholars in the field. MLA Commons offers an open
peer-review site (where anyone can comment) for their ongoing curated
collection of teaching artifacts in Digital Pedagogy in the
Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments (2016). The Debates in
Humanities platform contains volumes of the open-access
book of the same title (2012 and 2016 editions) and allows readers to
interact with material by marking sentences as interesting or adding
terms to a crowdsourced index.
Lauren F. Klein and Matthew K. Gold have identified a range of
criticisms in the digital humanities field: "'a lack of attention to
issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality; a preference for
research-driven projects over pedagogical ones; an absence of
political commitment; an inadequate level of diversity among its
practitioners; an inability to address texts under copyright; and an
institutional concentration in well-funded research universities".
Some of the concerns have given rise to the emergent subfield of
Klein and Gold note that many appearances of the digital humanities in
public media are often in a critical fashion. Armand Leroi, writing in
The New York Times, discusses the contrast between the algorithmic
analysis of themes in literary texts and the work of Harold Bloom, who
qualitatively and phenomenologically analyzes the themes of literature
over time. Leroi questions whether or not the digital humanities can
provide a truly robust analysis of literature and social phenomenon or
offer a novel alternative perspective on them. The literary theorist
Stanley Fish claims that the digital humanities pursue a revolutionary
agenda and thereby undermine the conventional standards of
"pre-eminence, authority and disciplinary power." However, digital
humanities scholars note that "Digital
Humanities is an extension of
traditional knowledge skills and methods, not a replacement for them.
Its distinctive contributions do not obliterate the insights of the
past, but add and supplement the humanities' long-standing commitment
to scholarly interpretation, informed research, structured argument,
and dialogue within communities of practice".
Some have hailed the digital humanities as a solution to the apparent
problems within the humanities, namely a decline in funding, a repeat
of debates, and a fading set of theoretical claims and methodological
arguments. Adam Kirsch, writing in the New Republic, calls this
the "False Promise" of the digital humanities. While the rest of
humanities and many social science departments are seeing a decline in
funding or prestige, the digital humanities has been seeing increasing
funding and prestige. Burdened with the problems of novelty, the
digital humanities is discussed as either a revolutionary alternative
to the humanities as it is usually conceived or as simply new wine in
old bottles. Kirsch believes that digital humanities practitioners
suffer from problems of being marketers rather than scholars, who
attest to the grand capacity of their research more than actually
performing new analysis and when they do so, only performing trivial
parlor tricks of research. This form of criticism has been repeated by
others, such as in Carl Staumshein, writing in Inside Higher
Education, who calls it a "Digital
Humanities Bubble". Later in
the same publication, Straumshein alleges that the digital humanities
is a 'Corporatist Restructuring' of the Humanities. Some see the
alliance of the digital humanities with business to be a positive turn
that causes the business world to pay more attention, thus bringing
needed funding and attention to the humanities. If it were not
burdened by the title of digital humanities, it could escape the
allegations that it is elitist and unfairly funded.
There has also been critique of the use of digital humanities tools by
scholars who do not fully understand what happens to the data they
input and place too much trust in the "black box" of software that
cannot be sufficiently examined for errors. Johanna Drucker, a
professor at UCLA Department of Information Studies, has criticized
the "epistemological fallacies" prevalent in popular visualization
tools and technologies (such as Google's n-gram graph) used by digital
humanities scholars and the general public, calling some network
diagramming and topic modeling tools "just too crude for humanistic
work." The lack of transparency in these programs obscures the
subjective nature of the data and its processing, she argues, as these
programs "generate standard diagrams based on conventional algorithms
for screen display...mak[ing] it very difficult for the semantics of
the data processing to be made evident."
There has also been some recent controversy among practitioners of
digital humanities around the role that race and/or identity politics
plays. Tara McPherson attributes some of the lack of racial diversity
in digital humanities to the modality of UNIX and computers
themselves. An open thread on DHpoco.org recently garnered well
over 100 comments on the issue of race in digital humanities, with
scholars arguing about the amount that racial (and other) biases
affect the tools and texts available for digital humanities
research. McPherson posits that there needs to be an understanding
and theorizing of the implications of digital technology and race,
even when the subject for analysis appears not to be about race.
Amy E. Earhart criticizes what has become the new digital humanities
"canon" in the shift from websites using simple
HTML to the usage of
the TEI and visuals in textual recovery projects. Works that has
been previously lost or excluded were afforded a new home on the
internet, but much of the same marginalizing practices found in
traditional humanities also took place digitally. According to
Earhart, there is a "need to examine the canon that we, as digital
humanists, are constructing, a canon that skews toward traditional
texts and excludes crucial work by women, people of color, and the
Issues of access
Practitioners in digital humanities are also failing to meet the needs
of users with disabilities. George H. Williams argues that universal
design is imperative for practitioners to increase usability because
"many of the otherwise most valuable digital resources are useless for
people who are—for example—deaf or hard of hearing, as well as for
people who are blind, have low vision, or have difficulty
distinguishing particular colors." In order to provide
accessibility successfully, and productive universal design, it is
important to understand why and how users with disabilities are using
the digital resources while remembering that all users approach their
informational needs differently.
Digital humanities have been criticized for not only ignoring
traditional questions of lineage and history in the humanities, but
lacking the fundamental cultural criticism that defines the
humanities. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the
humanities have to be tied to cultural criticism, per se, in order to
be the humanities. The sciences[vague] see the Digital
Humanities as a welcome improvement over the non-quantitative and
repetitive historically popular methods of the humanities and social
Difficulty of evaluation
As the field matures, there has been a recognition that the standard
model of academic peer-review of work may not be adequate for digital
humanities projects, which often involve website components,
databases, and other non-print objects. Evaluation of quality and
impact thus require a combination of old and new methods of peer
review. One response has been the creation of the DHCommons
Journal. This accepts non-traditional submissions, especially
mid-stage digital projects, and provides an innovative model of peer
review more suited for the multimedia, transdisciplinary, and
milestone-driven nature of Digital
Humanities projects. Other
professional humanities organizations, such as the American Historical
Association and the Modern Language Association, have developed
guidelines for evaluating academic digital scholarship.
Lack of focus on pedagogy
The 2012 edition of Debates in the Digital
Humanities recognized the
fact that pedagogy was the “neglected ‘stepchild’ of DH” and
included an entire section on teaching the digital humanities. Part
of the reason is that grants in the humanities are geared more toward
research with quantifiable results rather than teaching innovations,
which are harder to measure. In recognition of a need for more
scholarship on the area of teaching, Digital
Humanities Pedagogy was
published and offered case studies and strategies to address how to
teach digital humanities methods in various disciplines.
The Alliance of Digital
Humanities Organizations (ADHO) is an umbrella
organization that supports digital research and teaching as a
consultative and advisory force for its constituent organizations. Its
governance was approved in 2005 and it has overseen the annual Digital
Humanities conference since 2006. The current members of ADHO are:
Australasian Association for Digital
Association for Computers and the
Canadian Society for Digital
Humanities / Société canadienne des
humanités numériques (CSDH/SCHN)
centerNet, an international network of digital humanities centers
The European Association for Digital
Japanese Association for Digital
Humanistica, L'association francophone des humanités
ADHO funds a number of projects such as the Digital Humanities
Quarterly journal and the Digital Scholarship in the
journal, supports the Text Encoding Initiative, and sponsors workshops
and conferences, as well as funding small projects, awards, and
HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and
Collaboratory) is a free and open access virtual, interdisciplinary
community focused on changing teaching and learning through the
sharing of news, tools, methods, and pedagogy, including digital
humanities scholarship. It is reputed to be the world's first and
oldest academic social network.
Centers and institutes
Department of Digital
Humanities (King's College London, UK)
Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (University
of Glasgow, Scotland)
Humanities Lab (University of Sussex, UK)
Humlab, Umeå University (Sweden)
Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) (University of Victoria,
Heidelberg Centre for Digital
Humanities (Heidelberg University,
The European Summer University in Digital
Cultural Analytics Lab (The Graduate Center, City University of New
York, USA, and Qualcomm Institute, USA)
Center for Digital Research in the
Humanities (University of
Institute for Advanced Technology in the
Humanities (University of
Maryland Institute for Technology in the
Humanities (University of
Roy Rosenzweig Center for
History and New Media (George Mason
University, Virginia, USA)
UCL Centre for Digital
Humanities (University College London, UK)
Center for Public
History and Digital
Humanities (Cleveland State
Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation (Washington State
Scholars' Lab (University of Virginia, USA)
Centre for Digital
Humanities Research (Australian National
Helsinki Centre for Digital
Humanities (HELDIG) (University of
Laboratory for digital cultures and humanities of the University of
Lausanne (LaDHUL) (University of Lausanne, Switzerland)
Centre for Information-Modeling, Austrian Centre for Digital
Humanities (ZIM-ACDH) (University of Graz, Austria)
Text Encoding Initiative
Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) conference
Journals and publications
Humanities Quarterly (DHQ)
Digital Literary Studies
Digital Scholarship in the
Humanities (DSH) (formerly Literary and
Digital Studies / Le champ numérique (DS/CN)
Humanités numériques (Humanistica)
Journal of Digital Archives and Digital Humanities
Journal of Digital and Media Literacy
Journal of Digital
Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy
Journal of the Japanese Association for Digital
Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative
Umanistica Digitale (AIUCD)
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Digital humanities.
What is digital humanities? - a critical project highlighting the
diversity of DH definitions
The Alliance of Digital
Humanities Organizations - the main
international alliance of DH programs
CenterNet - Mapping of DH centers
Computers and writing
Text Encoding Initiative