What distinguishes the “digital humanities” from regular humanities?
According to the University of Oxford,
“By digital humanities, we mean research that uses information technology as a central part of its methodology, for creating and/or processing data[…]In one way or another all the humanities are now digital: virtually all researchers use generic digital resources of various kinds, and often some specialist data resources as well. The digital humanities go beyond this to make more systematic use of specialist digital technologies. But they represent not so much a specialism as a broad area of common interest, and a community of practitioners embracing both humanities academics and technology specialists.”
In other words, the field of digital humanities is defined not only by the degree of use of digital technology itself, but the mentality or approach to such technology.
However, some scholars are skeptical about the idea of digital humanities itself. They challenge us to consider whether or not the surge in digital humanities scholarship is less of a revolution, and more of an expected trend.
In “There are No Digital Humanities,” Gary Hall argues:
“After all, the idea of a computational turn implies that the humanities, thanks to the development of a new generation of powerful computers and digital tools, have somehow become digital, or are in the process of becoming digital, or are at least coming to terms with the digital and computing (Frabetti). Yet one of the things I am attempting to show by drawing on the thought of Lyotard, Deleuze, and others is that the digital is not something that can now be added to the humanities—for the simple reason that the (supposedly predigital) humanities can be seen to have already had an understanding of and engagement with computing and the digital.”
Hall’s article is part of a larger online e-book titled Debates in the Digital Humanities, a great introduction to the field of digital humanities and contemporary issues surrounding scholarship in the field.
Writing a paper is different than developing a digital scholarship project.
With many digital projects, you may be transferring traditional scholarship (research paper, scholarly article, etc.) into a digital visualization, explanation, or exploration of the paper’s content and argument. In this case, the digital project serves to complement previously completed academic work, and does not necessarily require you to ask a new research question. You simply ask yourself, “How can I explore or represent my argument or content using digital tools?”
In other cases, you may be using digital projects and tools alongside developing a research paper. You should begin by asking yourself how your specific research question can be formed to take full advantage of relevant digital tools. When working on a research paper and a digital project simultaneously (or just making a digital project by itself), the research question should hint at how digital technology would help in answering the question, rather than being unnecessary or supplementary.