So, what’s this all about? How is it different from what we normally do?

After our first class, I wondered if many of the students had a grasp of exactly about what we were discussing.  There were two salient questions that I felt were unanswered.

First, what exactly IS Digital Humanities?  It’s hard to describe, as you can imagine.  If you were to ask, “what is French literature?”  The most immediate response would be something like “the corpus of written text produced in France.”  But, we all know that it’s considerably more than that.  So, I’ll give you the “bare bones” description of Digital Humanities, and I’ll follow it with the standard caveat:  “we all know that it’s more than that.”

Digital Humanities–  The first part of the term is digital, meaning that its information stored by machines in a format consisting of zeros and ones.  Computers store information in this format:  a zero or a one.  Why?  Shucks, I don’t know.  What’s a zero and what’s a one, in terms of data storage?  Shucks, I don’t know.  The second part of the term is humanities, for which Wikipedia gives a great definition.  “The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences.”

So, put the two together, and we have:  academic disciplines studying the human condition, using digital methods that are analytical, critical or speculative.

But, hey, we all know that it’s more than that.

My second inquiry, relates to how digital humanities differs from regular humanities.  Kirschenbaum’s article, which we discussed last week, outlines this.  He gives three characteristics of digital humanities:

It’s social.  DH involves networks of people.

It involves a common methodological outlook.

It is one sector of the humanities that is seeing growth, not only in terms of human participation, but also in garnering financial support from institutions.

And of course, we all know that there is a lot more to it, than “that.”


  • Derek Bruff

    I think of the digital humanities as the use of computers to answer the kinds of questions those in the humanities usually try to answer. Sometimes the use of computers is necessary because of the need to explore “born digital” texts (like this blog, which doesn’t exist in print form).  Sometimes computers are used because they provide new methodologies for exploring “born print” texts.

  • Anonymous

    I struggle with the DH label.  First of all, weren’t a lot of us doing this already, and do we really need a label? Secondly, the label becomes less and less meaningful as these technologies are integrated into more and more research practices.  So why the label?  To raise awareness?  To create in and out groups?  This is why I’m not fully happy with this “new” field!

    • Derek Bruff

      That’s similar to how I often think about teaching with technology. At some point the tech tools become so “normal” that teaching with technology is just teaching–using whatever tools make sense.

  • Anonymous

    I think that the consensus, from the comments by Lynn and Derek, and some of the other posts, is that DH is best defined by projects, not as a “phenomenon.”  What do you think?