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Defining Digital Humanities

Defining Digital Humanities

The Digital Humanities (DH) remediates art(ifacts) through a digital lens. DH stands at the intersection of art and science; it makes technology explicit in our understanding and interpretation of culture. DH makes clear that the humanities and technology are inseparable. It calls our attention to form and function as it rearranges the traditional atoms of humanistic study into remixed bits for our consideration and play.

Humanists of print culture are academics, researchers, writers, teachers, and critics. Their main tool is language, inscribed on the pages of journals and books. Their club was exclusive: professors with Ph.D.s building a canon of knowledge through years of research, nuancing and debating their analyses and interpretations in the pages of peer-evaluated manuscripts printed on dead trees. They are the focused experts creating a more profound and subtle understanding of human expressions. The humanities became a cathedral of sorts ensconced in the halls of the world’s universities. Their sacred duty was to decide what to pass on; what human artifacts were deserving of our consideration and attention and which were not. These are the keepers of the canon, and the chief technology driving their efforts became the standard symbol and medium in the fifteenth century: the book.

Digital Humanists come out of this tradition. They are academics, amateur experts, researchers, writers, facilitators, curators, and hackers. Their main tool is still language, but includes a subtextual language that writes digital media: code. These humanists are also experts, but they invite participation from all who have a passion for collaboration, regardless of expertise, background, formal education. Digital Humanists are aware of the importance of media in shaping our understanding of the world and our place in it, so work here is defined by the content and the technology that shapes it. They work in an incunabular transition from print to digital, where the rules have not been fixed or agreed upon. The Digital Humanists bring their past with them into the digital, looking at the artifacts of the past through new digital techniques. All voices are potentially valuable in Digital Humanities, and its tool is the universal machine that allows these threads to be represented, remixed, and read in new ways: the computer.

Practitioners of the Digital Humanities are both scholars and hackers. They have an interest in the academic analysis of cultural discourse, but this analysis is supported by digital approaches rather than those of paper. Here, I outline five integral characteristics of DH in theory and praxis. I don’t mean for this to be an exhaustive definition, nor will it ever be complete. Consider it a way in.