A Definition of Digital Humanities

Digital humanities is the application and invention of techniques, tools, and methods regarding new media and the humanities. As a field of study, the digital humanities also interprets the impact of new technologies on societies and cultures. 

 Stephen Ramsay’s 2013 post, “DH Types One and Two” was especially influential in helping me understand and define the digital humanities. Ramsay’s acknowledgement of two separate but equally valid branches of DH provided a history lesson, an overview of the field, and an outline for future expansion. Pre-2004 definitions were hyper-focused on technology and how computers and methods from empirical sciences could be used to meet the end-goals of the humanities fields. This is reflected in Ramsay’s description of the “humanities computing” field, DH Type I. The boundaries for Type II are far more inclusive and can encompass inquiry, research, theory, and teaching. Type II builds upon the accomplishments of Type I (“How can this new technology serve our purposes?”) and dares to ask, “How can methods and techniques typical to the humanities serve and contribute to emerging media and technology?” 

I think it is important to include concrete examples of what DH looks like in any definition of the field. It is not enough to praise DH as a revolutionary, expanded field filled with unlimited possibilities. Nor is it enough to define DH as “whatever digital humanists do.” These broad statements run the risk of muddying the waters for newcomers and turning them away from the community before they even have a chance to get acquainted with what DH is all about. 

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