What Is Digital Humanities?
The field of digital humanities (DH) comprises a wide variety of methods that use technology to further our understanding of fields like history, literature, linguistics, geography, and more. DH practitioners put digital tools to work in the classroom, in their research, and in the community.
DH tools and methods are especially powerful in the humanities classroom. DH offers students new points of entry into the humanities and gives them new tools for interrogating sources, evaluating evidence, and forming arguments. DH also invites students to apply a humanistic eye to the world of technology that they’re immersed in, to use those same skills to understand and interact with the digital world in a more informed and ethical way.
The application of those humanistic skills to the digital world is the essential foundation for digital literacy, “the ability use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills” (American Library Association). It’s one of many ways that humanities educators can and do prepare students to enter the world as responsible and informed members of society. Digital humanities tools and methodologies offer powerful ways of combining these objectives of humanistic inquiry and digital literacy in mutually reinforcing ways.
- Digital storytelling provides students with a wide range of tools to create engaging, multimodal, and often interactive narratives. Through tools and methods like data visualization, oral history interviews, and audio-visual production, students can consider how the medium can extend, nuance, or challenge the narrative content. Digital storytelling invites students to recognize themselves as creators and to understand their own stories as part of a broader social fabric.
- Annotation assignments (standard fare for humanities courses) ask one thing of a student: curiosity. Annotation can help students identify the familiar and confront the unfamiliar. Students highlight not only what they might think is “significant” according to perceived scholarly standards, but what they find funny, out of place, interesting, or just plain weird. Digital annotation assignments translate these outcomes into virtual formats, but they also offer benefits of their own, deepening student engagement with sources and sharpening humanities skills. Digital annotation tools require students to attach their observations to specific locations on the document, a process that clarifies the direct links between evidence and argument and distinguishes between observations and inferences. They also facilitate collaborative annotation, so that students can see, build on, and nuance each other’s observations and inferences.
- Text analysis is one of the oldest forms of humanistic practice, but new digital tools can perform text analyses on a scale that would be impossible for a human being to achieve. These computationally-enabled forms of text analysis cannot replace traditional forms of practice, but they can complement them, revealing patterns across a single text or across vast corpora of texts that lead to new insights.
These three methods are by no means an exhaustive list. The National Endowment for the Humanities’ Edsitement website offers a robust list of existing resources if you’d like to learn more. But we also hope that you’ll join us in realizing a network of DH-interested educators across metro St. Louis and join a growing community of practice.