Sampo Viiri from the Finnish Institute blogs about the Institute’s upcoming survey on Digital Humanities.
Digital Humanities has been a buzzword of the humanities field in the last few years. By including digital methods, traditional humanistic research may ask genuinely new questions and transform the whole field of study. Digital Humanities (abbreviated DH) has even been labelled as a saviour to the field where tightening budgets and limited research funding leave scholars in desperate need to demonstrate their value to societies. It may increase the humanities’ value for societies and also involve mass participation by the public in projects traditionally done by lone scholars. The hype around Digital Humanities has led to a certain new interest towards humanities but also created some confusion when everybody may want to label their research as Digital Humanities simply to get research grants.
So what really is Digital Humanities? Articles and even whole books have been written on the definition and history of Digital Humanities. The simplest broad definition would be that Digital Humanities involves the use of digital tools in research, teaching, and scholarship in humanities disciplines. This is however not enough. Nowadays every humanities scholar uses computers in word processing, reading texts, finding references or communication. That still doesn’t qualify as Digital Humanities. “Digital humanities is what digital humanists do.” This quote describes perfectly the confusion and frustration in defining digital humanities.
One common thing about various Digital Humanities projects is building things. Whereas traditional humanities scholarship usually outputs a text, in Digital Humanities the output can be a database or some other piece of digital infrastructure. If you need to build things to be a Digital Humanist, do you also need to code? That is another question which has raised different opinions.
Also the ‘humanities’ part of the concept is controversial. Digital Humanities seeks to cross and redefine the borderlines among the humanities, the social sciences, the arts, and the natural sciences. DH projects are usually collaborational and in many cases also cross-disciplinary. By inventing new forms of inquiry, DH may expand the scope and quality of research and reach new audiences for humanities studies.
Digital Humanities have a history of many decades but the methods and objectives have changed a lot with the rapid technological progress in the last years. The internet itself is also constantly evolving, and the speed of computing increases and the prices decrease, opening new research possibilities. A decade ago Digital Humanities was still much about digital texts, nowadays sound, images and video have been more incorporated in the field.
The main objectives of the Finnish Institute’s survey are to find out:
- What kind of research has been done in the UK and Ireland on Digital Humanities and how is the discipline likely to evolve?
- What is the status quo in Finland and what kind of practices should be brought in from the UK?
- Focusing on the fields of history and the archives, we want to know how could study of social sciences be supported via methods of Digital Humanities?
- In more precise terms, what could the future archives be like and how can disciplines such as Digital Humanities facilitate innovative archival practices?
The Digital Humanities field is constantly on the move and there is a steady flow of blog posts and tweets. The hype around Digital Humanities is so strong that it’s important to adopt a critical view on the research projects. We try to collect some information what has been the societal impact of Digital Humanities projects and what have been the costs and benefits. By reviewing some of the challenges we can improve the quality of future projects, avoiding falling into some easy pitfalls.
This survey is based both on existing literature and web discussions about digital humanities, as well as interviews with professionals associated with the field. The interviews contribute the most contemporary material, which is really useful in the field of DH where a book published a few years ago may feel terribly outdated.
Researchers, the government, the GLAM sector and the broad public view the field from different standpoints. We aim at finding good projects for each one. The survey tries to answer some existing questions as well as poses new questions and inspires discussion.
Should you wish to take part in the survey or should you know an innovative DH project we ought to know about, please contact us @SampoViiri or email@example.com
 A very optimistic view can be found for example in the introduction of the handbook Digital_Humanities (2012). https://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/content/9780262018470_Open_Access_Edition.pdf
 Defining Digital Humanities. A Reader (2013). Terras, Melissa, Nyhan, Julianne & Vanhoutte, Edward (eds.) Farnham: Ashgate. Day of DH also asks this each year from new participants.
 Quote by Rafael Alvarado. Reprinted in Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012). http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/40.
 Gold, Matthew (2012). The Digital Humanities Moment. In Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012). http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/