A Definition of Digital Humanities

Definition of Digital Humanities 

Digital Humanities is a system of diverse communities who practice an evolving body of activities rooted in the common practice of co-mingling digital technology and the collective record of humankind in order to amplify human understanding of the past and the present.  The ways in which digital technology can accelerate data processing and manipulation fuels this amplification of understanding.  It can collect, catalog and create models of textual data. It can provide virtual models or augmented reality experiences that allow humankind to study the products, places and experiences of the past. It can facilitate new ways of communication and connection by expressing human understanding in conversations with a broader audience.  Additionally, some communities also consider how digital technology can transform the essence of the human experience at its confluence with digital age by attempting to provide a human-sensory overlay to data that would be impossible for the human mind to consider without digital tools.  In other words, digital humanities is bridging the gap between the data humans are now able to gather and the information humans are able to realize within the limited confines of the human brain.  Digital humanities make it possible for humans to interpret complex data effectively in order to open doors to knowledge that previously would have been elusive or inaccessible because of human limitations.


Unpacking the Definition 

In the past scholars and practitioners have described digital humanities as the intersection of two lines of thinking about the humanities and computing.  Over the past twenty years, explosive developments in technology have transformed what the computational field is able to do.  As a result the humanities have benefitted from the ways in which technology has accelerated and expanded practices within the field.

The breadth and depth of experiences incubated by digital humanities has resulted in an explosion of diverse communities engaged in the work of DH.  Place, practice and purpose influence these communities in ways that make them unique yet connected.  For example, museums, schools and universities have different cultures.  Each place may practice different ways of using digital humanities such as modeling, information management, or information visualization.  And, each place will have a unique practical purpose for doing digital humanities based on varying goals of education, research or communication. Therefore, to conceive of digital humanities as an intersection is no longer relevant because the lines of thinking about DH have broadened and deepened at the same time that the flow of data and computational capability have increased.

Like an estuary, digital humanities is a distinct environmental system where two bodies of thought – the technological and the anthropological – comingle to create a zone ripe for specialization, adaptation and innovation.  Within the larger environmental system, a variety of specialized communities exist that act to filter information, to buffer the interface between the human and the digital or to act as an incubator of new ideas.  These communities provide locales for human activities such as research, education, collaboration.  Technological constructs create pathways in order to connect communities of digital humanists within the larger system or to connect communities in the DH environment with the larger world.

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