The Impact of Digital Resources on Scholarship in the Digital Humanities

The Impact of Digital Resources on Scholarship in the Digital Humanities

Kim Martin, Anabel Quan-Haase
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch648
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Even though digital humanities, or DH, is a current buzzword, the concept of humanities computing has been around since the 1960s when the journal Computers and the Humanities was launched. At that time, there had been at least a dozen conferences on humanities computing, two published proceedings, and several universities were considering offering programming courses for humanities students (Milic, 1966). Then, as now, scholars worried that the use of computers would over-mechanize the study of literature (Marche, 2012). However, Milic (1966) saw the possibilities of computation and knew that it was only the very beginning of a major change in humanities scholarship. Indeed, he was correct, for numerous DH conferences run annually, and DH journals and course offerings are growing at a rapid pace.

The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 defines the digital humanities not as a field, but as

[A]n array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which: a) print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and b) digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences. (Schnapp & Presner, 2009)

The purpose of the present article is to examine more closely the evolving field of the digital humanities. There is not yet a body of literature on the information needs and uses of digital humanists. We argue that the information behaviors of digital humanists are sufficiently different from that of traditional humanities scholars that they warrant careful attention by information science scholars. A definition of the humanities and a brief overview of the initial stages of DH provide the context for our article. The background section shows how difficult and complex it is to conceptualize DH as a single entity, and because of the evolving nature of this discipline, offers only a working definition. Even though multiple views on DH exist, in information science, definitions usually focus on what humanists do in comparison to scholars in other fields. In the main section of the article, we focus on the information science literature: we identify five traits that have characterized the work of traditional humanists and in particular their relation to information practices. The goal of this section is to examine what new practices have emerged in the humanities and what role electronic resources and digital tools play in them.



What constitutes the humanities is notoriously difficult to define. Though some of the oldest departments at universities traditionally fit under the humanities umbrella, this larger field of academia is too often defined by what it is not. The subjects included are not science, not social science (though history straddles the fence between the social sciences and the humanities) and not art (though the defining reasons for this separation are dwindling, and many schools have joined them to create a larger ‘school of arts and humanities’). Generally included amongst humanities subjects are the fields of literature, philosophy, linguistics, religion, music, and history. Although there are many available lists of departments and topics that fall under this heading, the few attempts to truly define what it is that unites these fields under the umbrella term “humanities” fall short of offering an actual definition. Some scholars look to the past to define the word “humanities” and follow that through to the present day (Goudsblom, 1990; Thompson Klein, 2005). Others look at what functions humanists perform in society (Kagan, 2009), while others, LIS (library and information science) scholars in particular, look specifically at what these scholars do as part of their research and teaching (Case, 1986; Warwick, Terras, Galina, Huntington, & Pappa, 2008; Wiberley & Jones, 2000).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Networks: The structures formed by individuals’ patterns of social interaction.

Digital Humanities (DH): Also called Humanities Computing, this is a field of research and teaching that combines humanities scholarship with the use of computing technology.

Humanities Computing: The use of computers in the humanities in the 1960s and pre-dates terms such as digital humanities.

Big Data: The term for collections of data that are too large and complex to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications.

Social media: Web 2.0 technologies, designed for social interaction. They usually include a user profile and a space for users to communicate with text, images, or video.

Digital Libraries: An information retrieval system in which collections are stored in digital formats (as opposed to print, microform, or other media) and accessible via computers.

Serendipity: Consists of encountering information, objects, ideas, or people without purposefully looking. For it to be considered serendipitous and not just chance, it needs to lead toward a fortuitous outcome and yield new insights.

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