Digital humanities is an area of research and teaching at the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. Developing from the fields of humanities computing, humanistic computing, and digital humanities praxis () digital humanities embraces a variety of topics, from curating online collections to data mining large cultural data sets. Digital humanities (often abbreviated DH) currently incorporates both digitized 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 data visualisation, information retrieval, data mining, statistics, text mining, digital mapping), and digital publishing. As well, related subfields of digital humanities have emerged like software studies, platform studies, and critical code studies. Digital Humanities also intersects with new media studies and information science as well as media theory of composition and game studies, particularly in areas related to digital humanities project design and production.
Areas of inquiry
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. Such technology-based activities might include incorporation into the traditional arts and humanities disciplines use of text-analytic techniques; GIS; commons-based peer collaboration; and interactive games and multimedia.
Despite the significant trend in digital humanities towards networked and multimodal forms of knowledge, spanning social, visual, and haptic media, 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 than transcends textual sources. This includes the integration of multimedia, metadata and dynamic environments. An example of this is 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.
Environments and tools
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. Many such projects share a "commitment to open standards and open source."
Digital humanities descends from the field of humanities computing, of computationally enabled "formal representations of the human record," whose origins reach back to the late 1940s in the pioneering work of Roberto Busa.
The Text Encoding Initiative, born from the desire to create a standard encoding scheme for humanities electronic texts, is the outstanding achievement of early humanities computing. The project was launched in 1987 and published the first full version of the TEI Guidelines in May 1994.
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 Blake archive, in particular, was designed by its editors to take advantage of "the syntheses made possible by the electronic medium" and thus accomplish an "editorial transformation" in the publication of Blake's work which was, from the author's hands, multimedia.
The terminological change from "humanities computing" to "digital humanities" has been attributed to John Unsworth and Ray Siemens who, as editors of the monograph A Companion to Digital 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 turn'.
In 2006 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), launched the Digital Humanities Initiative (renamed Office of Digital Humanities in 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."
Organizations and Institutions
The field of digital humanities is served by several organisations: The Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing (ALLC), the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH), and the Society for Digital Humanities/Société pour l'étude des médias interactifs (SDH/SEMI), which are joined under the umbrella organisation of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO). The alliance funds a number of projects such as the Digital Humanities Quarterly, supports the Text Encoding Initiative, the organisation and sponsoring of workshops and conferences, as well as the funding of small projects, awards and bursaries.
ADHO also oversees a joint annual conference, which began as the ACH/ALLC (or ALLC/ACH) conference, and is now known as the Digital Humanities conference.
Criticism and controversies
An edited text, 'Debates in the Digital Humanities' (2012) has identified a range of criticisms of digital humanities: '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'.
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."
There has also been some recent controversy amongst practitioners of digital humanities around the role that race and/or identity politics plays in digital humanities. 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. This is a current source of debate within the digital humanities.
At present, formal academic recognition of digital work in the humanities remains somewhat problematic, although there are signs that this might be changing. Some universities offer programs related to the field and some have dedicated Digital Humanities programmes.
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