digital humanities

7 Things You Should Know About Digital Humanities

Published:   Briefs, Case Studies, Papers, Reports

Lippincott, J., Spiro, L., Rugg, A., Sipher, J., & Well, C. (2017). Seven Things You Should Know About Digital Humanities (ELI 7 Things You Should Know). Retrieved from


The term “digital humanities” can refer to research and instruction that is about information technology or that uses IT. By applying technologies in new ways, the tools and methodologies of digital humanities open new avenues of inquiry and scholarly production. Digital humanities applies computational capabilities to humanistic questions, offering new pathways for scholars to conduct research and to create and publish scholarship. Digital humanities provides promising new channels for learners and will continue to influence the ways in which we think about and evolve technology toward better and more humanistic ends.

As defined by Johanna Drucker and colleagues at UCLA, the digital humanities is “work at the intersection of digital technology and humanities disciplines.” An EDUCAUSE/CNI working group framed the digital humanities as “the application and/or development of digital tools and resources to enable researchers to address questions and perform new types of analyses in the humanities disciplines,” and the NEH Office of Digital Humanities says digital humanities “explore how to harness new technology for thumanities research as well as those that study digital culture from a humanistic perspective.” Beyond blending the digital with the humanities, there is an intentionality about combining the two that defines it.

digital humanities can include

  • creating digital texts or data sets;
  • cleaning, organizing, and tagging those data sets;
  • applying computer-based methodologies to analyze them;
  • and making claims and creating visualizations that explain new findings from those analyses.

Scholars might reflect on

  • how the digital form of the data is organized,
  • how analysis is conducted/reproduced, and
  • how claims visualized in digital form may embody assumptions or biases.

Digital humanities can enrich pedagogy as well, such as when a student uses visualized data to study voter patterns or conducts data-driven analyses of works of literature.

Digital humanities usually involves work by teams in collaborative spaces or centers. Team members might include

  • researchers and faculty from multiple disciplines,
  • graduate students,
  • librarians,
  • instructional technologists,
  • data scientists and preservation experts,
  • technologists with expertise in critical computing and computing methods, and undergraduates



  • some disciplinary associations, including the Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association, have developed guidelines for evaluating digital proj- ects, many institutions have yet to define how work in digital humanities fits into considerations for tenure and promotion
  • Because large projects are often developed with external funding that is not readily replaced by institutional funds when the grant ends sustainability is a concern. Doing digital humanities well requires access to expertise in methodologies and tools such as GIS, mod- eling, programming, and data visualization that can be expensive for a single institution to obtain
  • Resistance to learning new tech- nologies can be another roadblock, as can the propensity of many humanists to resist working in teams. While some institutions have recognized the need for institutional infrastructure (computation and storage, equipment, software, and expertise), many have not yet incorporated such support into ongoing budgets.

Opportunities for undergraduate involvement in research, provid ing students with workplace skills such as data management, visualization, coding, and modeling. Digital humanities provides new insights into policy-making in areas such as social media, demo- graphics, and new means of engaging with popular culture and understanding past cultures. Evolution in this area will continue to build connections between the humanities and other disci- plines, cross-pollinating research and education in areas like med- icine and environmental studies. Insights about digital humanities itself will drive innovation in pedagogy and expand our conceptualization of classrooms and labs

more on digital humanities in this IMS blog

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