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Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities is an evolving mode of scholarship that exists in the modern media-rich environment. Its practitioners write about digital technology and/or use it create new knowledge, often collaboratively. Given their work in and about new media, Digital Humanities researchers frequently challenge established ideas of genre, evaluation and peer review, and open access.

New Genres

Digital Humanities practitioners often create works using digital tools and platforms, resulting in scholarship that doesn’t neatly fit established genre categories. Projects like UCLA’s Hypercities, for example, which is a digital maps mash-up, simply could not be published as a traditional article or monograph.

Further examples of Digital Humanities projects can be found at the following sites:

In each case, these projects push the boundaries of traditional scholarly genres, often using their own custom-built technical platforms to achieve their research goals.

Evaluating Digital Scholarship

The academy is grappling with questions of how best to evaluate these new types of works, particularly with regard to tenure and promotion. As the MLA points out, “Academic work in digital media must be evaluated in the light of […] rapidly changing technological, institutional, and professional contexts, and departments should recognize that many traditional notions of scholarship, teaching, and service are being redefined.”

New kinds of scholarship need new institutional processes to facilitate their creation, dissemination, evaluation, and preservation. At each of these stages, domain experts are necessary to ensure that the technical infrastructure is sound, to provide knowledgeable and fair review, and to utilize reliable long-term preservation strategies.

Peer Review and Open Access

Digital Humanities scholars challenge received notions and traditional models of peer review and often distribute their work through open access.

  • PressForward’s Journal of Digital Humanities is “an experiment in sourcing and distributing scholarly communication on the open web” and is freely available online. In selecting and showcasing open access materials after they have already appeared and been read online, JDH subverts traditional submission and distribution timelines for serial publications. The journal functions in a sense as a filter, collecting the most compelling work in the field, as already determined by its community of readers.
  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book, Planned Obsolescence (2009), “was openly peer reviewed at MediaCommons Press […] [and] the draft version remains available online for open discussion.” This monograph invites open review both pre- and post-publication and thus explicitly positions itself as an ever-evolving, never “completed” work.
  • Digital Humanities monographs such as Digital_Humanities (Peter Lunenfeld et al, 2012) and Software Takes Command (Lev Manovich, 2013) are available to purchase in print or to read for free online. These texts not only make arguments about new media, but also participate in a new mode of book publication that emphasizes access as much as sales.

Institutional Support for Digital Humanities Projects

Many academic libraries are reevaluating their approach to providing services to the campus community in light of Digital Humanities activities.

  • Ithaka’s NEH funded Sustaining the Digital Humanities research project (2012-2014) seeks to understand the needs of faculty, staff and students doing new media work  so that the library and other campus institutions can more effectively support them.

These developments also point to a need for scholarly publishers to rethink their business models and distribution mechanisms. Questions around multimedia/electronic formats, data publication, and open access, to name a few, require creative new approaches.

U.C. Campus Resources for Digital Humanities

Many UC campuses have flourishing Digital Humanities centers and activities. Learn more.



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