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Digital Humanities


Although the term “digital humanities” has been floating around for over a decade, a precise definition is difficult to pin down. In fact, debates over how to describe the field and mark its borders predate the label itself. Still some sort of definition is needed to move forward, so many DH-related books and journals settle on working definitions while acknowledging that a static definition can’t fully explain the nuances of an evolving field of study. Here are excerpts from several working definitions of DH that serve to illustrate the diverse and dynamic nature of the field:

  • “At its core digital humanities is more akin to a common methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies…. Yet digital humanities is also a social undertaking. It harbors networks of people who have been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years.... a culture that values collaboration, openness, nonhierarchical relations, and agility” - Matthew G. Kirschenbaum in his article “What Is Digital Humanities and What's It Doing in English Departments?”
  • “The phrase Digital Humanities… describes not just a collective singular but also the humanities in the plural, able to address and engage disparate subject matters across media, language, location, and history. But, however heterogeneous, the Digital Humanities is unified by its emphasis on making, connecting, interpreting, and collaborating” - Digital_Humanities by Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, Jeffrey Schnapp
  • “DH values collaboration, plurality, investigation of human culture, and the disruption of and reflection on traditional practices and is concerned with not just the use of digital technology for humanities projects but how the use of digital technology for humanities projects changes the user’s experience.” - THATCamp LAC 2012 (This definition was arrived at collaboratively during the conference in a "Glossary of the Digital Humanities" Google doc)


This list of milestones in the development of the Digital Humanities comes from John Unsworth's 2012 blog post What’s “digital humanities” and how did it get here?

1949-1970: DH in Computing Centers

1949: Father Roberto Busa began his index of every word in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas (11M words); visits Thomas Watson and enlists IBM

1963: Roy Wisbey founded the Centre for Literary and Linguistic Computing in Cambridge to support his work with Early Middle High German Texts.

1966Computers and the Humanities (now Language Resources and Evaluation) founded; Wilhelm Ott (developer of TUSTEP) learns to program

1970: The first instance of what later became the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing conference is held at the University of Cambridge.

1973-1992: DH and Scholarly Societies

1973: Founding of  The Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing

1978:  Founding of the  Association for Computers and The Humanities

1985Perseus Project begun at Harvard

1986Literary and Linguistic Computing (now Digital Scholarship in the Humanities) founded

1986SGML specification released

1987Text-Encoding InitiativeHumanist begun

1989: First joint ACH/ALLC conference held in Toronto (at which Bob Kraft demonstrates IbycusTLG, hypertext)

1991Electronic Beowulf Project

1992H-Net founded

1992-2004: DH and Libraries

1992Etext Center founded at Virginia by Kendon Stubbs

1993Mosaic released, IATH founded at Virginia, STG (Scholarly Technology Group - now the Center for Digital Scholarship) founded at Brown; EAD development begins at Berkeley.

1994: First edition of the TEI guidelinesCenter for History and New Media founded

1996: First draft of XML spec released (co-edited by the North American editor of the TEI Guidelines); Digital Library Program founded at the University of Michigan; SCETI founded at Penn

1999MITH founded

2003HASTAC founded

2004: Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities

 2005-2012: DH Mainstreamed

2005: The Blake Archive approved by MLA’s CSE

2006: MLA publishes Electronic Textual Editing

2006: ACLS report on Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities and Social Sciences

2006NEH Office of Digital Humanities

2007NEH DH Start-up grants

2007Centernet founded

2008: CLIR Survey of Digital Humanities Centers

2012: CLIR “One Culture: Computationally Intensive Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences”