What is DH?

Digital Humanities is research and teaching in the humanities using digital methods and tools.

In the University of Glasgow we think of the humanities as the disciplines studied in our College of Arts: language, literature, history, history of art, philosophy, archaeology, music, film, theatre and television studies and theology. These subjects are grouped in the Schools of Critical Studies, Culture & Creative Arts, Humanities and Modern Languages & Cultures. The term ‘humanities’ does have a wider meaning than this list, of course; it refers to the study of human culture and everything that humans do, have done or will do.

The digital methods we use in our work include textual analysis, online publication, document encoding, creation of searchable data sets, digital editing, creation of large bodies of text, analysis of sound (both speech and music), creation of multi-media data sets (text, images and sound). The tools we use are programs for creating digital data; for searching and identifying patterns in texts, annotated images and sounds; for tagging and annotating materials; for creating and interrogating structured data sets; for creating and managing online content; for visualising data in different ways. These digital tools allow us to ask questions that would be difficult to research without computers. We can bring together large bodies of data which provide evidence where, in the past, we had to rely on few examples and educated intuition. Quantitive research is now common, without compromising the qualitative research that is still typical and necessary in the humanities. It must be emphasised that digital humanities is still concerned with humanities research. Even in dealing with data which were created as digital entities (‘born-digital’) and in emerging fields such as new media studies, the questions asked are humanities research questions.

The previous name for the field was ‘Humanities Computing’. It was defined by a leading practitioner as “… an academic field concerned with the application of computing tools to arts and humanities data or to their use in the creation of these data. It is methodological in nature and interdisciplinary in scope. It works at the intersection of computing with the Arts and Humanities, focusing on the pragmatic issues of how computing assists scholarship…” – Dr Willard McCarty, King’s College London, What is Humanities Computing?, 1998.

In the mid-2000s the term ‘Humanities Computing’ came to be seen as old fashioned, no longer reflecting the mature discipline that had evolved. ‘Digital Humanities’ is now the preferred term. This reflects the change from creating computing tools for humanities scholarship, to humanities scholarship done through digital methods with not just new tools and techniques but new methodologies which are now become standard. Note that the term ‘Digital Humanities’ is generally accepted in the UK, USA and Australia. European countries have their own terms, some them direct translations but not all (French ‘les digital humanities ‘, German ‘der Digitalen Geisteswissenschaften’) but the term is becoming world wide. Whatever the name of the activities, it is certain is that we are in transition to a time when ‘Digital Humanities’ will be just humanities scholarship and the tools and techniques and methodologies that we call ‘Digital Humanities’ will be normal practice for all humanist scholars.