What is Digital Humanities?

Digital Humanities (DH) is a collaborative method that employs technology for performing scholarship and disseminating knowledge in humanities disciplines and in the humanistic social sciences. Digital Humanities also encompasses the development and use of innovative technological tools for teaching and learning. Digital Humanities further encourages creative engagement with technology and critical consciousness of technology’s complex effects in our daily lives and on our wider world.

Most DH work is project-based, and virtually every DH project is a collaboration. DH project collaborators typically include at least one humanist or social scientist with a problem to be solved and one or more computer scientists who collaborate in designing a computational method or digital tool for approaching or solving the problem. Project teams frequently mix faculty members and students from different disciplines, so cross-campus collaborations are common in DH work.

The DH Studio will collaborate with you to plan, launch, and manage your DH project, which you might envision as a small-scale, short-term, project involving a small team or a large-scale, long-term, project with numerous interdisciplinary collaborators.

Photo of Father Roberto Busa Fr. Roberto Busa

Pioneer of Digital Humanities

Launched in the late 1940s, the Index Thomisticus was the first long-term, large-scale, DH project. A collaboration between Fr Roberto Busa, SJ and Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, the Index Thomisticus, now called the Corpus Thomisticum, is a computerized, searchable, corpus of the works of Thomas Aquinas. Over the decades, numerous researchers have participated in the project. Fr Busa died in 2011, but the Corpus Thomisticum is still ongoing, and is currently developing a syntactic annotation of the complete corpus, an activity that began in 2006.

DH Tools

With the rapid growth of DH since the turn of the millennium, many humanists and computer scientists have also collaborated to create free, out-of-the-box, DH tools that are user-friendly for scholars and students who do not have advanced training or experience in computer programming. These DH tools include Scalar (a multimodal digital publishing platform, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities) and Omeka (a content-management system for creating and maintaining archives and collections, supported by the Mellon Foundation and others). USD’s DH Studio offers training to faculty and students in the use of these and other innovative DH tools.

DH Values

While the project may be the primary unit of DH labor, DH is also a lively intellectual field with a growing body of theory, lively debates, and an emerging set of values including

  • Openness and accessibility
  • Democratization of knowledge
  • Interdisciplinarity and collaboration
  • Equity, diversity, and equality
  • Proper credit for all project contributors
  • Sustainability and extensibility of projects
  • Experimentation
  • Reflection
  • Facilitation of humanistic interventions in the public square

“‘Digital Humanities’ refers to new modes of scholarship and to institutional units for collaborative, transdisciplinary, and computationally engaged research, teaching, and publication.”

“DH is…an array of convergent practices” that respond to the fact that “print is no longer the primary medium in which knowledge is produced and disseminated.”

“DH understands its object of study as the entire human record…This is why some DH research extend[s] outside the traditional core of humanities to embrace quantitative methods from the social and natural sciences and modes of thinking from the arts.”

A. Burdick, J. Drucker, et al. (2012). Digital_Humanities (MIT Press), 122.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick defines DH as "… a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities, or […] ask traditional kinds of humanities-oriented questions about computing technologies."

The Humanities, Done Digitally, Debates in the Digital Humanities 2012

students in class DH Studio
silhouette of three people DH Colloquium Series
speaker in front of screen Digital Research and Scholarship
computer network systems Digital Pedagogy
group of people smiling DH People
person typing on computer DH Resources