Paige Morgan

What is digital humanities?

Digital humanities, sometimes described as “humanities computing,” and often abbreviated as “DH,” involves

  • using computer technology to preserve, conduct research, and discover new perspectives on literature, art, music, and history from any era and region.
  • studying the humanities artifacts: literature, historical records, art, etc. — that are created for digital environments, rather than in print.

As an 18th and 19th century person, I’m more engaged with the former than the latter. When I first learned about it, I was excited because digital humanities involved making things, as well as writing essays. I love making things.

DH can be an imposing field, apparently populated by people who’ve become adept in two separate fields: literature and tech. But it doesn’t need to be seen in this way.

Sometimes, making things involves learning programming languages. Not always. It might just mean that you know which of the already existing tools and platforms will accomplish your goal. Literature professors teach students how to study novels and poetry, and how to produce essays. As a digital humanist, I have a responsibility to help people become more comfortable working in an electronic environment. That’s why this site is WordPress-based instead of built from scratch — because I need to be intimately familiar with the tools that my students, clients, friends, and colleagues encounter.

It’s tempting to sum this up as “teaching people how to use computers,” but that doesn’t really capture the whole picture. A teacher who loved books, and taught children to read, would see the ultimate success as the point when her students were able to choose library books because they were interested enough to want to read them.

For me, then, the digital humanities isn’t about trying to teach my students and colleagues till they can write code all day and all night. It’s when the tools are so accessible that deciding to use them (or not to use them) is as simple as deciding to go to the library to find an interesting book. And I can contribute to reaching that point by teaching, by listening, and by making things.

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