What Happened to the Digital Humanities?

DH digital humanities

A former colleague recently asked me, "What happened to 'digital humanities' which seemed so big twenty years ago?"  It was his opinion that the digital humanities (DH) was dead. We talked. I disagreed about it being dead but I agree that it seems a bit lost or less visible. Our conversation will play out this week in several posts here under the Digital Humanities category.

The definition of the digital humanities is continually being formulated by scholars and practitioners. Since the field is constantly growing and changing, specific definitions can quickly become outdated or unnecessarily limit future potential. Digital humanities are not dead. It is still an active interdisciplinary field.

Digital humanities descends from the field of humanities computing, whose origins reach back to the 1940s and 50s. Pioneering work by Jesuit scholar Roberto Busa beginning in 1946, and English professor Josephine Miles in the early 1950s might be considered its origin.

Busa and his team worked with IBM to create a computer-generated concordance to Thomas Aquinas' writings that was known as the Index Thomisticus. Other scholars began using mainframe computers to automate tasks like word-searching, sorting, and counting, which was much faster than processing information from texts by hand.

The field grew as archaeologists, classicists, historians, literary scholars, and a broad array of humanities researchers in other disciplines applied emerging computational methods to transform humanities scholarship.

Digital humanities projects often involve collaboration between scholars from diverse disciplines such as computer science, linguistics, history, literature, and cultural studies. Today, natural language processing and AI offer new opportunities for text mining and ways to analyze large amounts of text and find patterns, trends, and insights.

You have probably heard of the efforts to digitize and make accessible a wide range of cultural heritage materials, including manuscripts, artworks, photographs, and historical documents, through online archives and repositories.


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