Tag Archives: Digital Humanities

(Re)Defining Digital Humanities

I initially defined Digital Humanities as “an interdisciplinary field that explores how digital tools can facilitate, transform and/or improve the work of humanities scholars. It also seeks to critically examine the evolution and social-cultural and ethical impact of digital technologies.” After taking this course, I think I can maintain the general characterization of Digital Humanities as an interdisciplinary field, however, I do not think it is accurate to limit the object of study to the exploration of digital tools as applied to subjects, or questions in the Humanities.

My original definition revealed a rather static and narrow understanding of the problems that Digital Humanities scholarship seeks to address. Something that I had not considered, and that became clear early on in the course, was the centrality of the process of digitization. Digital Humanities, as a field of study, has evolved as it has become possible to digitize sources and materials, and necessary to develop the tools and methods that will allow scholars to work with digitized objects. Thus, digitization has created new challenges and forced a re-framing of old debates. This is illustrated by the questions about copyright protections, what are the appropriate and lawful ways to share and copy digitized materials, and what kind of metadata can best be used to preserve, store, and describe these items . Digitization has also created new opportunities, such as the ability to examine large corpus of text which could not have been read by a single person, or expanded access for more people to participate in the process of knowledge production.

These opportunities, however, do not come without their drawbacks, and it is also the work of Digital Humanities scholars to be clear-eyed, reflective and proactive about the gains and potential dangers that come with digitization. By allowing more people access to the process of knowledge production we run the risk of spreading misinformation, putting knowledge in the hands of dangerous individuals, and maybe even undermining the value of work done by professional scholars.

In light of these points, I would amend my original definition in this way: “Digital Humanities is an interdisciplinary field that examines the process of digitization and reflects on its ethical, social, and legal implications. The field seeks to responsibly develop methods, best practices and tools for the preservation, use, analysis, and presentation of  digitized materials “. I believe this definition better captures the role that the Digital Humanities play in advancing our understanding of digitization as a distinctive process of expression, representation and analysis of the human experience.