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What is Digital Humanities?
This teaching material has been made at the University
of Szeged and supported by the European Union.
Project number: EFOP-3.4.3-16-2016-00014
Cím: 6720 Szeged, Dugonics tér 13.
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Digital turn: new research methods in the humanities course
What is Digital Humanities?
1 PROBLEMS OF DEFINING DIGITAL HUMANITIES
The definition of digital humanities (and its predecessor humanities computing) has been
debated for decades. There is no scholarly consensus about the definition of this concept.
The debated issues include(d) the following problems:
▪ What is common in the various applications and practices of digital humanities?
▪ What criteria do we need to qualify a project as a digital humanities one?
▪ Is digital humanities unified enough to be considered as a disciplinary field?
▪ If so, what are the boundaries of digital humanities as a discipline?
▪ What are its own set of standards and subfields?
▪ Is digital humanities mainly concerned with the application of computational
methods in the humanities?
▪ Does digital humanities signify a new (computational and algorithmic) thinking in the
▪ Does digital humanities represent a new paradigm shift in the humanities?
▪ Like all current scientific research, are the humanities already digital?
The goal of this teaching material is to provide a better understanding of the concept of
digital humanities from various viewpoints of distinguished scholars in the field, identify
the characteristic features of digital humanities research and introduce some typical DH
KEYWORDS: digital humanities, definitions, projects
REQUIRED TIME: 60 minutes
Warning up exercises.
Visit the What is Digital Humanities? website and refresh the page for a new definition.
Visit and follow DH defined on Twitter.
What are your favourite definitions? Why did you choose these ones?
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Let’s see some definitions of digital humanities that address these problems.
• “At its simplest, DH is the utilization of computers and computational tools for the
exploration, analysis, and production of humanistic knowledge.” (Jennifer Guilian)
• “A broad array of practices that seek to understand if/how digital technologies
allow us to ask new questions of or think in new ways about our objects of study”
• “The intersection between Arts & Humanities disciplines and technology. A space
where new tools are used and developed, and where new ways of looking at and
performing researching become possible. Most of all, it is fun. Fun because it is
challenging, each day, every day.” (David Beavan)
• “[t]he application of computational methods to humanities research or to cultural
heritage; or of humanities research methods to digital phenomena.” (Claire
• “A term of tactical convenience.” (Matthew Kirschenbaum)
• “DH is an umbrella term that, depending on who you are talking to, covers a huge
territory: everything from applied text analysis and corpus stylistics to the more
esoteric and theoretical realms of video game criticism.” (Matthew Jockers)
• “What sets Digital Humanities apart, for me, is its genuine interdisciplinarity, its
permanent emergence, and its open communication.” (Christof Schöch)
• “Digital Humanities is more than a methodology.” (James O’Sullivan)
• “DH is what critical theory is or was—an opportunity to ask new questions, try new
methods, engage in new conversations.” (ssenier)
• “Digital humanities attempts to bring humanistic inquiry and the artefacts of
human experience into useful dialogue with digital technology. It is, at once, a
practical and a philosophical endeavour: a matter of building and of theorizing the
built. Practitioners are as likely to be adept at Java as they are post-structuralism;
as drawn to the iPhone as they are to Moby Dick; as committed to a kind of
optimistic futurism as they are deeply sceptical of a posthuman condition. Digital
humanities is also one of most exciting fields in the humanities today, with a
burgeoning community of enthusiasts ranging from undergraduate students to
senior scholars.” (Stephen Ramsay)
• “Our principal task may no longer be to define or defend digital humanities to
sceptical outsiders, but instead to translate the subtleties of our research to
others within the expanded field—a project that can help DH matter beyond
itself.” (Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein)
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Watch the following short video films about the different definitions of digital
humanities by distinguished researchers in the field and do the exercises below.
My Digital Humanities 1.
Listen to the different understanding of digital humanities and identify who articulated the
following statements by finding the pairs. By clicking on the names of the scholars, you can
see in what digital humanities projects they have been involved.
A. Laura Mandell
1. Digital humanities is a whole ecosystem. Digital methods
change the type of questions that we can ask and how we
express our knowledge.
B. Claire Clivaz
2. Digital humanities started as being the application of
computing to humanities research and pedagogical problems.
As regards the shift from humanities computing to digital
humanities, more and more humanities theoretical frameworks
and perspectives are applied to computing. The dialectic and
dialogue between the traditions of computing and humanities
C. Geoffrey Rockwell
3. Digital humanities is a set of tools that has helped to define
the field and the field has helped to shape some of the tools.
D. Bryan Carter
4. Digital humanities is about bringing digital humanities
methodologies to bear on humanities data and humanities
methods of thinking. How can we further enact those methods?
What can we add to our methodological toolkit?
E. Bill Endres
5. In 20 years’ time humanities will be entirely digitized.
My Digital Humanities 2.
Before you listen to Toma Tosovac’s views about digital humanities, it is important to clarify two terms
occurring in his presentation.
Close reading: “The distinctive procedure of a New Critic is explication, or close reading: the detailed
analysis of the complex interrelations and ambiguities (multiple meanings) of the verbal and figurative
components within a work” (Abrams 1999, 181). Close reading is a mode of literary analysis which
pays special attention to the specific details, complexities and nuances of a passage or text.
Distant reading: “allows you to focus on units that are much smaller or much larger than the text:
devices, themes, tropes – or genres and systems” (Moretti 2013, 48-49). This “focus on units” works
through “a process of deliberate reduction and abstraction:” “you reduce the text to a few elements,
and abstract them from the narrative flow” (Moretti 2000, 57; Moretti 2005, 1, 53). Distant reading
is a data-driven literary research which, by using quantitative methods, aims to unveil and analyse
repeated patterns, hidden connections, trends, cycles and parallels in large quantity of texts (“the
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Fill in the gaps after listening to Tosovac’s presentation.
Many practices in digital humanities are related to (1)____________ and (2)_____________.
Processing a large amount of texts and removing them out of their contexts turns everything
into ____________(3). By doing so, there is a danger of loosing the depth and shades of
meaning of particular words. DH runs the risk of becoming the grand (4)______________ of
the traditional humanities. Digital humanities enables us to engage us with our digitised (5)
_________________ in new ways and new forms. The goal is to give us (6) __________ and
(7) __________ to engage study, transform, criticize and even play with our own cultural
heritage. One of the challenges is concerned with how to bridge the gap between (8)
________ and (9) _________ reading.
My digital humanities 3.
A. Elena Pierazzo
1. Digital humanities is an intersection between science,
technology and humanities. Creativity and collaboration
are at the core of DH research.
B. James Cummings
2. Using digital techniques in a such a way that they teach
you something new that you would not have found when
you were using analogue methods.
C. Patricia Murrieta-Flores
3. Digital humanities is humanistic enquiry advanced
through computational means.
D. Kenneth M. Price
4. Digital humanities is the way of doing research with
computers in a way you could not do it without a
computer. To explore our cultural heritage in ways that
you could not do before. Digital humanities is empowering
the scholar in doing things that you cannot do without the
E. Eli Bleeker
5. DH is the application of digital technologies and
methodologies to the study of the humanities. It brings
together information that is completely disparate so that
we can study it together. Levelling of scholarship is an
important aspect of digital humanities.
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My digital humanities 4.
A. Roderick Coover
1. Digital humanities is concerned with using digital
technologies to ask new questions, in new ways, through new
methodologies in new practices.
B. Angel D. Nieves
2. Digital humanities is humanities disciplines with digital tools.
The tools we use provoke and produce the thoughts we have
in relation to our discipline. It is a conversation between
C. Marjorie Burghart
3. Digital humanities is to bridge art, research and social issues.
D. Kathryn Sutherland
4. Digital humanities is the application of quantitative methods
to pre-existing problems identified in humanities disciplines.
The substance of the questions digital humanities offers us
new methods of answering will remain disciplinary. Digital
humanities is a meeting of disciplines rather than a discipline
E. Paul Eggert
5. Digital humanities means to further and go beyond
humanities research. Probably in few years we will not think
DH as something separate from the humanities. We’ll just
hopefully use digital methods in the humanities.
My digital humanities no. 5.
A. Matthew Vincent
1. DH is the application of computational techniques to
cultural heritage. DH is a miracle as it combines two different
worlds. The implications range from the practical (e. g.
creation of digital editions and libraries) to theoretical ones (e.
g. what are humanities?, what is the relationship between
humanities and other sciences).
B. Frederico Meschini
2. DH is a methodological laboratory. It is a trading zone where
people in the humanities and computer sciences exchange
knowledge and try to find new methodologies and techniques
in research. It also creates spin-off in the form of new
methodologies, techniques and methods.
C. Joris van Zundert
3. The components of DH include networks, publications, and
conferences that help us to find collaborators. They have
similar concerns and difficulties.
D. Graeme Earl
4. DH is the future of humanities disciplines. We apply new
technologies in research that opens up entirely new lines of
investigation and prepares us to do things in many different
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2 INTERDISCIPLINARY DH RESEARCH
The following chart shows the interdisciplinary nature of digital humanities. In DH projects
researchers of different disciplines work together and co-write the publications resulting
from their collaboration. DH researchers value collegiality, collaboration, creativity,
openness, transparency and reproducibility. In these projects researchers work jointly to
integrate information, data, texts, techniques, methods, perspectives and theories. The
methodological focus of DH research fosters honest debates on practical issues. Recent years
saw the emergence of digital source criticism and critical code studies that contribute a lot
to more informed scholarship in digital humanities.
Patrick Sahle, “DH studieren! Auf dem Weg zu einem Kern- und Referenzcurriculum” DARIAH-DE Working
Papers No. 1 (2013), 6.
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3 EXAMPLES FOR DH PROJECTS
To illustrate the nature and scope of digital humanities research, in this section I would like
to offer some examples for digital humanities projects and some related software (with
• Text Encoding Initiative
Its purpose is to produce guidelines for the creation and management in digital form of
all types of data created and used by researchers of the humanities.
Projects: Text Creation Partnership (Early English & American books), Women Writers
Project (Early modern women writers), ELTeC (multilingual European Literary Text
Tutorial for beginners: Text encoding and the TEI
• Text analysis
Projects: Projects of the Stanford Literary Lab, Projects of Yale DHLab, Ted Underwood’s
Software: TAPoR, Voyant, Lexos, AntConc, Text analysis with Python
• Stylometry and authorship attribution
Stylometry uses quantitative methods to analyze style, for example, to determine
Projects and case studies: The Federalist Papers, Shakespeare’s authorship, Authorship
of The Cuckoo's Calling, the authorship of Wuthering Heights
Software: JGAAP, Stylo
Cluster Analysis of 66 English novels from Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad: produced using ‘stylo’.
• Text resue
Text resuse algorithms detect words, sentences and paragraphs that have been reused
Projects: 18th-century French authors, Text reuse detection in Finish newspapers and
Software: Tracer, Text-pair, Text reuse with BLAST, text reuse with R
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• Electronic scholarly editions
Projects: William Blake Archive, Canterbury Tales Project, Jonathan Swift Archive,
Romantic Circles, Oxford Scholarly Editions Online
• (Social) Network analysis
Projects: People of Medieval Scotland, 1093-1371, Mapping the Republic of Letters,
Reconstructing Intellectual Networks: From the ESTC’s bibliographic metadata to
Software: Palladio, Gephi, NetworkX, Tools for Temporal Social Network Analysis, Neo4j
• Topic modeling
Topic modeling enables us to find hidden semantic information about selected corpora.
Statistical methods are used to discover the themes that are embedded in the texts and
to reveal the connections of these themes and their changes over time.
Projects: Topic Modeling Genre: An Exploration of French Classical and Enlightenment
Drama, On Poetic Topic Modeling: Extracting Themes and Motifs From a Corpus of
Spanish Poetry, Media Monitoring of the Past (Topic Modeling of Swiss Newspapers)
Software: TopicsExplorer, MALLET, Topic Models with R, Gensim (Python)
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The rate of apparition of the three topics related to sports, health and finance in Swiss newspapers
Abrams, M. H. and G. G. Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 9th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth
Cengage Learning, 2009.
Morettti, F., “Conjectures on World Literature,” New Left Review 1 (Jan-Feb 2000): 54–68.
Moretti, F., Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. London and New York: Verso,
Sahle, P., “DH studieren! Auf dem Weg zu einem Kern- und Referenzcurriculum” DARIAH-DE
Working Papers No. 1 (2013), 1-37. http://webdoc.sub.gwdg.de/pub/mon/dariah-de/dwp-2013-
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Berry, D., Understanding Digital Humanities. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2012.
Burdick, D., M. Hayler and G. Griffin (eds). Research Methods for Creating and Curating Data in the
Digital Humanities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016
Deuff. O. Le, Digital Humanities: History and Development. London: Wiley-ISTE, 2018.
Gardiner, E. and R. G. Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Gold, M. K. and L. F. Klein, Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis, MN: University of
Minnesota Press, 2019. https://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/projects/debates-in-the-digital-
Hayler, M. and G. Griffin (eds), Research Methods for Reading Digital Data in the Digital Humanities.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016..
Rockwell, G. and S. Sinclair, Hermeneutica: Computer-Assisted Interpretation in the Humanities.
Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2016.
Schreibman, S., R. Siemens and J. Unsworth (eds), A New Companion to Digital Humanities. Oxford:
Terras, M., J. Nyhan and E. Vanhoutte. Defining Digital Humanities: A Reader. Surrey: Routledge. 2013.
How to cite this teaching material? Róbert Péter, “What is Digital Humanities” (Szeged:
University of Szeged, 2021), https://eta.bibl.u-szeged.hu/id/eprint/4880
As for the exercises, you can find the answers at this link.