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Digital Humanities: What is DH?

Resources for teaching and scholarship in the field of digital humanities.

Getting Started

Getting Started in the Digital HumanitiesLisa Spiro provides an introduction to getting started on her Digital Scholarship in the Humanities blog. Also available at the Journal of Digital Humanities.

A Guide to Digital Humanities: Created by Josh Honn, Digital Scholarship Librarian at Northwestern University Libraries. A key resource for creating this guide, Josh Honn's guide provides a wealth of information for those just getting started in digital humanities, including an "Introduction", "Tools", "Resources", "Funding", "Evaluation", and "Projects."

The CUNY Digital Humanities Resource GuideA collaboratively produced informative introduction to the field of Digital Humanities and a key resource for creating this guide. A project of the CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative (DHI)

Digital Humanities - What? Why? How?Dr. Amanda Visconti of Purdue University Libraries answers big DH questions in a talk given to the Digital Library Federation (DLF) Research Network on July 20, 2016.

Duke University Libraries Digital Humanities Guide: Provides a concise, easy to use introduction to key digital humanities resources, providing a general DH chronology, links to projects around DH practices, standards and tools, journals, and key readings.

Introducing the Digital Humanities: Presentation by Korey Jackson, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at MPublishing (University of Michigan). The presentation was given at the Teaching and Technology Collaborative in 2011, and he describes it as "a whirlwind tour of new large-scale databases and tools for conducting and storing research, and a demonstration of some of the interactive platforms for broadcasting and publishing findings."

Glossary of Digital Humanities Created at THATCamp 2012 in Austin Texas, intended as a primer for newbies to Digital Humanities.  A great starting point for learning the vocabulary of digital humanities. 

Other Helpful Guides & Resources for Getting Started

Digital humanities café LibGuide from Harvard Library: E-scholarship, scholarly communication and blogs.

Digital humanities LibGuide from Cunningham Memorial Library, Indiana State University: General Information about Digital Humanities.

Digital humanities LibGuide from Duke University LibrariesGetting Started Handout, DH Chronololgy, Recent books, Projects.

Digital humanities LibGuide from Rutgers University Libraries: Publications and Books.

Digital humanities LibGuide from University of Delaware Library: Teaching Resources, DH in the Classroom Recent Articles, Centers, Tools and Tutorials.

Digital humanities LibGuide from University of Illinois at Chicago University Library: Evaluating DH and DH Projects.

Digital humanities LibGuide from University of Texas Arlington: Centers, Quantifying DH Infographic, and Open Access.

Essential Tools & Considerations

Adapted from An Essential Tools List from CUNY Academic Commons "Tips"

Twitter is an essential tool for keeping up with the field. Click here for a guide to using Twitter for scholarly networking in DH.

Interesting articles worth considering about the use of hashtags and free social media services for research, as well as the difficulties in retrieving #digital humanities data on Twitter by Melissa Terra:

RSS Reader
An RSS reader or news reader is another must-have for many people. Here's a great video that explains RSS in Plain English. In counterpoint, this piece from the New York Observer offers some caveats. GoogleReader was once the king of RSS readers, but the search giant is retired the service in July of 2013. Lifehacker explores some of the alternatives, including popular choice Feedly.

Personalized News Reader
You may also want to investigate a solution for "asynchronous reading" via a tool such as Instapaper or ReadItLater– see the ProfHacker article on this. These allow you to save sites for offline reading later. Another off -shoot of  the RSS reader field is smart, passive personalized readers such as Zite, which monitor your behaviors on sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, then algorithmically construct a personalized stream of articles and posts you might be interested in. Zite was also fast to offer support for users to import their Google Reader subscriptions.

Social Bookmarking
A bookmarking tool, such as Delicious, is also very useful; to see it in action, take a look at Matt Gold's shared bookmarks. ProfHacker has a good article on the topic, and also on alternatives

Delicious is another prime example of the loss of control somewhat inherent in Web tools. Delicious, operated for years by Yahoo, was once the leader in social bookmarking, and a solid bedrock of dependable functionality for tasks of saving, tagging, organizing, annotating and sharing sets of links. When Yahoo sold the service to YouTube founders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, however, the pair retooled the site (more than once) in attempts to reach a younger, more mobile and more visual set of users. Some of the site's original functionality was lost and overall reactions from long-time users were mixed.

Luckily, some other social bookmarking sites picked up the slack. Many users switched to Diigo, which has many features that Delicious lacked (including storage of cached site copies, highlighting and collaborative editing). Pinboard also appealed to early adopters of Delicious, as its founder Maciej Cegłowski  has worked to retain the core set of tagging and RSS compatibility that made Delicious so useful. Pinboard is a pay service with a small one-time charge, which some see as a strength after Yahoo's sale of the free Delicious. For that small fee its users seem to feel more confident that a service they pay to keep up is better than a free one that might disappear or change on short notice. Ceglowski is also responsive to user requests. For advanced users with some programming skills, Pinboard's API remains very close to the original Delicous API.

Other Social Media Sites for DH
Tumblr is another social media platform that you can use to search for DH hashtags and find DH scholars.  To find Tumblr users to follow, use the RSS feed for Tumblr entries tagged with 'digital-humanities' to find more posts related to digital humanities.

Pinterest is a visual virtual pinboard that you can use to collect and search for visual DH information.  To find Pinterest boards about Digital Humanities, use the feed for Pinterest Boards on Digitial Humanities.

Tools, Techniques, and Skills Development for Managing Information

"Going Digital" by William J. Turkel: Provides helpful information and tools about getting started with online research. Turkel's "How To" posts also provide helpful information.

ProfHacker at the Chronicle of Higher Education: Provides great advice on tools and techniques for managing the digital and the humanities aspects of your life.

DH23Things: Digital skills development program created by Helen Webster for researchers in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Cambridge University.

Tooling up for the Digital Humanities: Web site collaboration between the Spatial History Project and the Computer Graphics Lab at Stanford University provides a gateway for scholars with minimal exposure to digital methodology but who are interested in exploring the field of digital humanities. Topics include online presence, digitization, text analysis, spatial analysis, databases, pedagogy, and data visualization.

A Guide to Digital Humanities: DH Values and Methods by Josh Honn

A Guide to Digital Humanities by Josh Honn. Header graphic adapted from a Gephi visualization by Creative Applications

Below is Josh Honn's (Digital Humanities Librarian, Northwestern University Libraries) insightful introduction to the "Values and Methods" section from A Guide to Digital Humanities (formerly licensed through Creative Commons), which expounds upon the "form and content, theory and practice" of digital humanities scholarship.  Some of this information is also available in Honn's 2013 dh + lib conference presentation, "Digital Humanities (101)." Check out Northwestern University Libraries' new guide to digital humanities, and you can learn more about Josh Honn's projects and writings on his personal site.


Whether or not digital humanities, this hard to define field/thing, has certain values inherent to it, may be equally hard to prove, but many DH projects, often due to their digital nature, do have characteristics and traits in common to the point where one can see a community of practice built around, supported by, an interested in building upon, a set of common values. Even if the term “values” is problematic, these threads common to DH are an interesting way in getting to understand digital humanities itself, in both form and content, theory and practice.

  • Critical & Theoretical
    Digital humanities scholarship is grounded in theory and critical in the tradition similar to many scholarly practices. However, and in addition, DH is often also grounded in a humanistic self-criticism, including the criticism of the very tools, technologies, and platforms that enable its own practices and publications.

  • Iterative & Experimental
    As the authors of Digital_Humanities (2012) write, “one of the strongest attributes of [DH] is that the iterative versioning of digital projects fosters experimentation, risk-taking, redefinition, and sometimes failure. It is important that we do not short-circuit this experimental process in the rush to normalize practices, standardize methodologies, and define evaluative metrics.”

  • Collaborative & Distributed
    Digital humanities texts often have multiple authors, but more subtle and robust collaborations are the foundation of many DH projects, involving distributed networks of expertise including scholars, students, programmers, technologists, librarians, designers, and more.

  • Multimodal & Performative
    Not always confined by the strictures and structures of print, digital humanities scholarship embraces many modes—text, audio, video, etc.—while also being expressive and performative in and of themselves. These performative texts use design and multiple modes of expression to put forth an argument, often breaking down the reader/writer dichotomy in new ways.

  • Open & Accessible
    While not exclusively open access, most digital humanities scholarship embraces open and public forms of publishing, from the pre- and post-publication peer review of Twitter and blog posts, to Creative Commons-enabled digital publications, curated digital archives, and interactive digital projects.

Along with the central role of theory, methodologies drive much digital humanities work. However, DH methodologies vary and should not been seen as explicitly linked with, or confused for, DH technologies (Kraus, 2013). In many ways, understanding digital humanities is easiest through grappling with its many methodologies, which may be why so many DH presentations focus on process and project. It’s difficult to collocate the totality of DH methodologies, but in the book Digital_Humanities (2012), the authors dedicate a chapter to “emerging methods and genres” which we synthesize below by way of an introduction.

  • Enhanced Critical Curation
    Object-based arguments through the curation of digital media, including collection repositories and scholarly narratives supported by digitized or born-digital primary source materials.

  • Augmented Editions and Fluid Textuality
    Digital critical editions, marked up and encoded texts, often created through crowd-sourced methods and open to perpetual revision, annotation, and remix.

  • Scale: The Law of Large Numbers
    As data sets grow larger and larger, humanists hope to create new findings through computational- and algorithmic-enabled interpretations of our digitized and born-digital culture materials.

  • Distant/Close, Macro/Micro, Surface/Depth
    In contrast to, and often in conjunction with, close reading, distant reading looks to understand and analyze large corpora across time through “trends, patterns, and relationships.”

  • Cultural Analytics, Aggregation, and Data-Mining
    Through computational means, cultural analytics mines, studies, and displays cultural materials in new aggregated or remixed forms, often including interactive and narrativized visualizations

  • Visualization and Data Design
    Arguments made from the visualization of data, including virtual/spatial representations, geo-referencing and mapping, simulated environments, and other designs constructed from and informed by data.

  • Locative Investigation and Thick Mapping
    The creation of “data landscapes” through connecting real, virtual, and interpretive sites, often manifesting as digital cultural mapping or geographic information systems (GIS).

  • The Animated Archive
    In which the static archive of the past is made alive and virtually experiential, including the active archiving of physical spaces through virtual means, and multi-modal/faceted approaches to collection access and interactivity.

  • Distributed Knowledge Production and Performative Access
    Digital projects take collaborative teams that cross both disciplines and borders and that often challenge the idea of “the author” through team contributions, crowdsourcing, and the user-based performance of the “text.”

  • Humanities Gaming
    Taking on “historical simulation,” humanities gaming uses virtual learning environments to create interactive narratives that engage users and enable the exploration of humanist themes.

  • Code, Software, and Platform Studies
    Humanists have studied texts, the book, and many other forms of writing, so what to make of the code programmers write, the software computer users use, and the platforms that shape our social and cultural interactions?

  • Database Documentaries
    Multi-modal narratives formed from a database, branching out into multiple paths users explore, possibly incorporating live-feed data, all calling into question authorial control/intent and the role of the reader.

  • Repurposable Content and Remix Culture
    Digital content can be read, written, and rewritten, and as such all digital objects are subject to sample, migration, translation, remix, and other forms of critical reuse.

  • Pervasive Infrastructure
    Our digital realities encompass many types of machines and screens and increasingly our objects are stored in the cloud, distributed over servers in multiple locations, so what does that mean for humans and data?
  • Ubiquitous Scholarship
    Print publication no longer is the only way forward, and as new modes of publishing proliferate, and new players in publishing participate, publishing becomes increasingly ubiquitous and open.

Defining the Digital Humanities

Watch this brief video for a concise, analytical definition of Digital Humanities by Greta Franzini, Ph.D. (@GretaFranzini)


Columbia University, Defining the Digital Humanities Panel Presentation.

Digital humanities scholars are a diverse group whose work is the result of cross-pollination among humanities scholarship, computer science, and digital media. Many well-known digital humanities projects apply tools borrowed from computer science—such as data-mining or geographic information systems—to works of literature, historical documents, and other materials traditionally in the domain of the humanities. What do digital humanities scholars see as the potential of this interdisciplinary field? And what are the important theoretical and methodological contributions digital humanities can offer to both the humanities and the sciences

Panelists: Daniel J. Cohen, Assoc. Professor of History and Director of the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University. Federica Frabetti, Senior Lecturer in the Communication, Media, and Culture Program at Oxford Brookes University. Dino Buzzetti recently retired from the Dept. of Philosophy at the University of Bologna.

Duration: 1 hour 50 minutes.

The Foundations and Future of Digital Humanities

A series of clips highlghting advanced discussions of digital humanities by practitioners.  

Excerpt from the Humanities Panel discussion of the 2007 Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboration (HASTAC) Conference. Duration: 4:39 minutes long.

Just for Fun

Postcolonial Digital Humanities is founded and run by Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam, scholars of postcolonial studies and digital humanities who also run the #dhpoco: Postcolonial Digital Humanities Tumblr.

#DHPoco: Postcolonial Digital Humanities