What is the digital humanities?

In 2012-13 a group of faculty on campus engaged in discussion of the emerging ‘digital humanities’ movement. Our immediate goal was to investigate the emergence of digital humanities as a field of study, and its relevance and usefulness as a research and teaching tool in the humanities, focusing on a response and critique of the topics introduced in the text Debates in the Digital Humanities authored my Matthew Gold, which centers on discussions of how to define the digital humanities, how to theorize them, critique them, practice them, teach them, and envision their future.

Five main insights emerged from our group based on readings and discussions:

  1. Digital humanities is not just one field of study or set of methodologies and tools, but a wide range of these.
  2. Digital humanities helps make the humanities more accessible to the public, and provides the tools for enabling closer engagement.
  3. Digital humanities is targeted at new audiences and the production of new critical knowledges.
  4. If humanists don’t participate in the discussion of what the digital humanities are, we are letting other disciplines make claims that are inadequately informed or uninformed by our disciplinary areas.
  5. We need to shift the conversation about digital humanities from the question introduced in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ‘What is digital humanities?’ to ‘What can digital humanities do?’
    1. How can digital literacy effectively use data?
    2. What is the epistemology of the digital humanities, and how does it engage in new approaches to the construction of critical knowledge?
    3. What can it effectively do with these new heuristic digital tools?
    4. How does it allow us to view social and cultural phenomena, histories, languages, and narratives in new ways, using its digital tools to allow us to view patterns in different ways and increase both the scope and breadth of our critical inquiries?

Below are participants’ reflections on the central questions of the seminar, including ruminations on the nature of digital humanities, its relevance to teaching and practice, and its place on the Wake Forest campus: