The well-meaning question “what is Digital Humanities?” is best answered these days not through an earnest attempt to define the term, but through memes, such as this personal favorite of Lena’s.

Pride and Prejudice in Voyant Tools
Text of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in textual analysis program Voyant Tools

To make the point even clearer, try reloading the website a few times. In short, there are even more definitions of Digital Humanities (DH) than there are DH projects. People don’t even agree on whether or not to capitalize it. 

That being said, there have been some valiant and helpful attempts to define DH over the past decade or so since the term first emerged to describe the corpus of work fitting into the category. One early and ongoing major player in the field, Digital Humanities Quarterly, defines it as “a diverse and still emerging field that encompasses the practice of humanities research in and through information technology, and the exploration of how the humanities may evolve through their engagement with technology, media, and computational methods.” More recently and much closer to home, the spring 2022 JHU Arts & Sciences Magazine issue has summarized it in the Black Beyond Data series as “the use of technology to expand knowledge in history, literature, philosophy, and related fields.” 

The common thread in these statements – and the many other definitions and memes that abound – is the understanding that technological approaches enhance the research quality and personal resonance of work undertaken in Humanities disciplines, both in academic and public projects. Dr. Miriam Posner, assistant professor of information studies and digital humanities at UCLA, publishes a blog with articles such as this one, “How did they make that?” highlighting examples of common types of DH applications and how people create them. The article is from 2013 and specific to what is offered at UCLA, but the general idea stands, which is that there are many ways to build a DH project and many people who can help. 

Here at the Sheridan Libraries, the Data Services department provides access to software and technical consultations on many DH projects from across JHU divisions. We provide support for making maps, for using and finding historic images, for data visualizations, and most importantly, for managing the reams and reams of data well and responsibly that come with creating a DH project. Get in contact with us if you have questions about how to get started, or just want to see some examples!