Is Digital Humanities for me?
Are you a Humanities scholar interested in learning more about Digital Humanities (DH) or wondering whether DH is for you? If so, this page is for you!
What is Digital Humanities?
Digital Humanities is the discipline of applying computing or digital technologies and tools to the humanities subjects, as well as the analysis of this application and how the tools used are designed and work.
A DH project includes critical engagement of the digital techniques and application of these techniques from the start. DH projects should also ensure that the research disseminated is accessible and is preserved after the project is finished.
DH can enhance your project, open up possibilities for exciting new research, and help you to think about your research, and your discipline, in new ways. DH is inherently interdisciplinary in scope, enabling and encouraging collaboration across disciplines and facilitating new perspectives. It also encourages the consideration of best practice in your field, particularly when thinking about accessibility and preservation.
There are three main ways in which researchers might engage with Digital Humanities:
- Using digital tools for the analysis and interpretation of arts and humanities research questions
- To collect and preserve arts and humanities data for archiving and storage
- The application of traditional arts and humanities critique to digital technologies which are being used for research
I’m in a traditional Humanities discipline and don’t use digital methods; can I use DH for my research project?
Yes! You’re not alone if you assume that digital humanities techniques are not applicable to your own research, but they likely are; there are many ways in which DH methods might be used in a Humanities research project. For inspiration, and to help you think about how you could use DH techniques in your own project, see the examples of DH projects included later on this page. If you would like to discuss ways in which your work might be enhanced by digital techniques you can contact the Digital Humanities Academic Champion, Mara Oliva.
But do I have data?
Conversations about DH often include discussion of data, and how DH can be used to collect and preserve data. You may not think you have data, as humanities researchers often compile text or images rather than numbers, but any information you compile can be data. If you have collated information from primary sources, this is data. You may have already stored data in a repository.
Think about what other people can do with your data, and about making it accessible. Consider the data requirements and practicalities, such as where your data will be stored, how, how long for and how much it will cost, and make provisions for sustainable, long term storage of your data.
You can contact the Digital Humanities Hub for support, and rest assured that we are here to help! We know that thinking about data can be daunting for those in Humanities disciplines who aren’t used to considering data requirements. For guidance on managing, preserving and sharing research data, and information about University support and contacts, see our Humanities Data Management guide, or for more detail, the Research Data Management webpages.
How can DH benefit my research?
DH methods might enable you to:
- conduct research you couldn’t otherwise conduct
- analyse large amounts of data not otherwise manageable
- conduct some aspects of your research more quickly, making more time available and perhaps allowing you to increase the scope of your project
- make your research and data freely and widely accessible
DH also encourages:
- academic collaboration and interdisciplinarity
- new perspectives on your research area and new considerations about your research practices
To help you think about how DH techniques might be used in your own project, and how they might benefit your research, take a look at some examples of DH projects below.
Examples of existing DH projects
You can find examples of current University of Reading Digital Humanities projects on our Case Studies page, and below are some other examples of Digital Humanities projects. You may find these examples helpful in thinking about some of the ways in which DH techniques can be used, how you might use DH methods in your own research and how to make your results and data accessible.
- Interactive witchcraft map, The University of Edinburgh
An interactive website which shows the place of residence of 3,141 accused witches in Scotland, using data from the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database (1563 to 1736). Users can zoom in on a map to see the names and other information such as investigation date, gender and occupation where available, and can click through to the record for that person on the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database.
- Using facial recognition techniques to compare portraits associated with Shakespeare, John Rylands Research Institute and Library.
This project used forensic image recognition software to compare The Grafton Portrait (Portrait of an Unknown Man) with an engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droëshout, in order to confirm whether ‘The Grafton Portrait’ is in fact a likeness for Shakespeare as has been previously accepted.
- The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe, Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University, the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL) at University College London, and the Princeton University Library.
The Archaeology of Reading project has digitised thirty-six early printed books owned and annotated by John Dee and Gabriel Harvey, and transcribed and translated their annotations. This makes these books, which are now housed across various libraries in the UK, Europe and the United states, far more accessible to scholars who may not have the time or funding to consult the physical books in situ and to transcribe and translate the annotations themselves. The transcriptions are also searchable, further increasing the ability for analysis and comparison of these texts.
This multidisciplinary project applied imaging techniques to papyri found in Ancient Egyptian mummy case cartonnages (layers of papyri used in a technique similar to papier-mâché). The objective was to test the feasibility of non-destructive imaging of such multi-layered papyrus, with a view to understanding whether such techniques could be applied to other papyri in ancient artefacts for open research and analysis. The project ultimately showed that no current single imaging technique could detect both iron and carbon based inks within cartonnage, and that a multimodal imaging approach would be needed.
- Dynamic Dialects, University of Glasgow, Queen Margaret University Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, the University of Strathclyde, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Aberdeen.
An interactive online resource which contains a collection of video-based speech samples from world-wide accents of English. The videos contain synchronised audio, ultrasound-tongue-imaging video and video of the moving lips.
- Digitisation of Smyth’s 1845 ‘Panorama of London’, University of Exeter
An interactive map of the print of Smyth’s ‘Panorama of London’ held in The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum’s collection. Users can click on various points of the map to navigate across prominent scenes and buildings and to learn more about these sites.
What to do next
- Explore the rest of the Digital Humanities Hub online portal, which includes lots of resources and is continually updated.
- See our Tips for Starting Out with a DH Project. You should think about how you might apply DH to your project, and how to integrate the digital aspect into your research questions, from the start; this page provides some useful guidance.
- Contact the Digital Humanities Hub team for help. The team consist of staff from across the University who have expertise in various areas related to DH, and will co-ordinate our support based on your project’s stage of development. For general DH enquiries, if you are interested in applying DH to your work but don’t know where to start, or if you want to discuss ways in which your work might be enhanced by digital techniques, see the Contact page for details.
Note: Text of this page by Claire Collins, Senior Library Assistant (Research Engagement).