A definition of digital humanities

Digital humanities is an interdisciplinary, scholarly endeavor that harnesses technology to research and illuminate subjects in fields such as art, history, and literature, and to engage professionals and the public in a continuous dialogue about those projects.

Scholars pursuing digital humanities research may work independently or collaboratively, but ideally their work should cross disciplines. They use existing and emerging digital technologies to interrogate artifacts and to test theories, as well as new methods and tools to aid in research and presentation of findings. Those working in digital humanities also disseminate their work to professionals across disciplines, and engage with the broader community by making their findings available in public venues, thereby encouraging open communication with scholars.

I offer this as my working definition of digital humanities, realizing that in the broader discipline the meaning of the term remains unsettled. Blogs, journal articles, and even books have been written in an attempt to offer clarity. As technologies have developed during the past two decades, the definition of digital humanities has shifted from one that gave primacy to the use of computers, to one that encompasses various technologies and outcomes. Hardware and software that allow scholars to access, analyze, interpret, and report data continue to be developed and may well further challenge us to define and redefine digital humanities.

That technology must be a part of any definition of digital humanities seems clear. Of course, this does not mean that one must actually use technology in the act of research. The scholar who examines the effect of technology on society, for example by looking at mediatization, may be said to be engaging in digital humanities.

And that digital humanities in general focuses on traditional academic fields such as art, history, and literature also seems clear. To cross into the natural sciences might be viewed as a betrayal of the humanities. However, if digital humanities is to be truly interdisciplinary, why not?

Of particular concern to me as I study digital humanities is to understand how best to engage the community in reporting and refining one’s findings. It seems that the public is missing from too many definitions of digital humanities. Given the opportunity that the digital realm provides to open communication with the public, digital humanists should give due consideration to how best to spark and maintain that engagement.