digital humanities workshop

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Digital Humanities

Digital HumanitiesContemporary Technology Research Tools

Kevin J. Comerford

Hi everyone, the Digital Humanities is an exciting area of growth in humanities research and scholarship. The field is relatively new, still evolving, and growing quickly both in terms of sophistication and breadth of tools, methods and subject focus. Over the next hour and a half well look at some of the underlying theory and concepts that have motivated the development of this field, well also look at actual digital humanities projects, and well examine the software tools that are popularly used in digital humanities research.1

Contact InformationAll Presentation Materials:

Presentation ResourcesKevin Comerford, Associate ProfessorDirector of Digital Initiatives & Scholarly CommunicationDirector of IT ServicesUNM University

This presentation is available on Slideshare, and I have also put an electronic resource guide and copies of some of the software tools well demonstrate on Dropbox at the link shown.2

TheoryDigital Humanities Concepts

There is a great deal of online discussion and informal publishing about the digital humanities. On the resource list for this presentation there is an article from the online college website that lists 20 valuable blogs about digital humanities reseach these are definitely worth examining.3

DefinitionsDigital Humanities is born of the encounter between traditional humanities and computational methods. Anne BurdickDigital humanities is work at the intersection of digital technology and humanities disciplines. Johanna DruckerDigital Humanities is less a unified field than an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which print is no longer the primary medium in which knowledge is produced and disseminated. Dig. Humanities Manifesto

Lets first talk about some of the leading figures in the digital humanities, and start with some basic definitions of the field. At its foundation, digital humanities is an extension of traditional humanities research. For those just dabbing their toes into the field, the work of Anne Burdick, from the Art Center College of Design, and Johanna Drucker from UCLA are an excellent place to start. Both of these scholars have contributed to the defining literature of the digital humanities, and they have taught extensively about the field. Both have open course syllabi published online that you can use to further your understanding of digital humanities principles and practice.4

DefinitionsOur key problem is this: The humanities is a discipline that values subtlety, nuance, conflicting ideas, and even paradox. When youre working with computers, on the other hand, you have to format information precisely and rigidly. So how do you use a computer to do humanities work? Should we stick to word-processing, or is there a way totake advantage of newer tools, like digital maps and data visualization, for humanities work? Miriam Posner

Miriam Posner is another UCLA professor who has taught extensively about Digital Humanities. As her quote implies, digital humanities work spans a broad scope of activities. On one end of the spectrum, digital humanities work can be as straightforward as digitizing content and publishing it online so it is accessible to scholars. On the far end of the spectrum the field utilizes sophisticated analytical techniques to detect similarities and differences in writing style, image content, or geographic distribution.5

Digital Humanities Manifestos, 2008 & 2009(

While the revolutionary flavor of digital humanities has dulled a bit over time, in the early 2000s there was quite a bit of scholarly discussion about how computational methods would combine with new ideas about humanities research, and in particular how these methods could break open perceived barriers in traditional humanities scholarship. New ideas about open access scholarly publishing contributed to defining a more expansive, and collaborative philosophy of how humanities research should be conducted in the twenty-first century.6

ManifestosThemes of Diversity: Diversity studies over the past 30 years contribute to a humanities that is no longer the province of old white menFocus on Openness: Open Access, Open Source, Open Annotation. Advocates for change in copyright laws and traditionsResearch is project-based. DH projects and research results are published online, rather than in print.Emphasizes teamwork and co-authorship: scholars with many talents needed for DH research

A cadre of interested scholars came together to create a digital humanities manifesto in 2008. The manifesto outlines both aspirational ideals, such as openness but also provides a descriptive framework of how new techniques in data analysis would change traditional notions of research. In particular, the manifesto recognizes that in order to use sophisticated computational tools, that humanists would need to partner collaboratively with statisticians, quantitative analysts, computer programmers and web designers to develop the product of digital research. Thus digital humanities would be seen as project-based and collaborative more of a group or team effort, rather than the work of individual scholars.


ManifestosDigital Humanities means iterative scholarship, mobilized collaborations, and networks of research.Our emblem is a digital photograph of a hammer (manual making) superimposed over a folded page (the 2d text that now unfolds in three dimensions).Digital Humanists recognize curation as a central feature of the future of the Humanities disciplines.Yes, there is something utopian at the core of digital humanities: The open, the unfixed, the contingent, the infinite, the expansive, the no place.

While some of the manifesto content can be seen as enthusiastic hyperbole, it does provide an intriguing foundation from which we can examine our attitudes toward and methods of performing humanities research.8

Source MaterialDigital Humanities research utilizes a variety of source material, both visual and textualPublished texts the most notable DH projects have performed analysis of traditional humanities textsDigital texts Websites, blogs, emails, etc.Primary source material archives and special collections contentVisual collections, both physical (i.e., to be digitized) and digital

The subject of digital humanities research includes both traditional and new media/social media source material. Frequently, digital humanities research combines mainstream intellectual theory or textual analysis methods, such as Hermeneutics, Marxism, Semiotics, etc. in tandem with digitization of content and contemporary data analysis or visualization methods to provide new insights into traditional materials. Well examine a couple of these research projects in a minute.

Many digital humanities projects incorporate digitization of physical materials into the research process. In fact, digitization often accounts for a significant portion of digital humanities research grants this is where libraries who hold primary source materials can collaborate with digital humanities scholars, as library funding for digitization of collections is frequently available through a variety of sources.9

Special Collections & ArchivesSources

Heres an example of a digital humanities project that I developed here at UNM, using our own library special collections. The Tony Hillerman Portal was a massive effort to digitize all of the manuscripts and papers of Southwest novelist Tony Hillerman. The portal as a website provides access to his papers as a digital collection, but also includes linked data that references cultural, historical and geographical terms and concepts the author used in his work. The site is also a platform for a seminal digital mapping project that well discuss a little later. On the right is a page from the archival finding aid for Hillermans papers, in the center is a screenshot of the Hillerman portal website that shows how the finding aid has been enhanced with descriptive analysis of each manuscript and digital image snapshots of manuscript pages. On the left is an example of the digitized manuscript for the novel Blessing Way, which can be viewed entirely online.10

Popular DH Working MethodsOnline Writing & Blogging / Open AnnotationText Analysis & Data MiningDigital ExhibitionsDigital Mapping/GISData VisualizationLinked DataPhotogrammetry, Virtual Worlds, 3-D Modeling

This list shows a variety of popular digital humanities working methods. Well only have time to discuss the first four today.11

Digital HumanitiesProjects GalleryExamples of Research


Common FeaturesAll digital projects have certain structural features in common. Some are built on platforms using software that has either been designed specifically from within the digital humanities community (such as Omeka), or has been repurposed to serve (WordPress, Drupal), or has been custom-built. We talk about the back end and front end of digital projects, the workings under the hood (files on servers, in browsers, databases, search engines, processing programs, and networks) and the user experience. Because all display of digital information on screen is specified in HTML, hyper-text markup language, all digital projects are produced in HTML as their final format. Johanna Drucker

Digital Humanities projects are published on the web, either through standalone websites, content management systems, or other types of digital repositories. Given the project-based nature of digital humanities projects13

Online Writing & Publishing


Digital Exhib