Library Technology Reports, July-August 2005 | Go to article overview


Only the curious will learn and only the resolute overcome the obstacles to learning. The quest quotient has always excited me more than the intelligence quotient.--Eugene S. Wilson (1)

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.--George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) (2)

There is only one admirable form of the imagination: the imagination that is so intense that it creates a new reality, that it makes things happen.--Sean O'Faolain (1900-1991) (3)

How are the "humanities" defined? A fairly general dictionary definition would be: "branches of learning (such as philosophy or languages) that investigate human constructs and concerns, as opposed to natural processes." (4)

More specifically, humanities involve the process of evaluation and inquiry into ideals, values, and other esoteric concepts that shape our lives and experiences. This is in contrast to the sciences, where observation and documentation of facts, hypotheses, and experiments related to the physical and natural universe are emphasized.

Digital humanities (and the related terms "e-humanities" and "humanities computing") arose out of the early computing machine environment immediately after World War II in the 1940s. Dr. Roberto A. Busa, generally, is considered the "father" of digital humanities. (5)

The history of humanities computing and digital humanities is one centered on text: its presentation, coding, and manipulation. Technological advances, the appearance of the World Wide Web, and new directions in technology have moved digital humanities into the full range of multimedia. But at the basic level, it's important to remember that humanities scholarship still strongly deems that application is just as important as theory. In other words, the interpretation of archival materials and the tools to facilitate interpretation of those materials are equally important.

The challenge for those involved in the digital humanities has been blending both technology and traditional scholarship methods into a new paradigm for the profession. This new paradigm has been expressed uniquely in a number of essays and publications, of which a few will be summarized here.

Digital Humanities Paradigm Resources

The most important print publication thus far is A Companion to Digital Humanities. (6) This very important resource provides an excellent summary of the history of humanities computing7 and is divided into sections:

* Part I examines the field from a disciplinary perspective, with chapters on archaeology, art history, classics, history, lexicography, linguistics, literary studies, music, multimedia, performing arts, and philosophy and religion.

* Part II discusses the field from a principles perspective, with chapters on computers, classification, databases, text markup, text encoding, electronic texts, and modeling.

* Part III then expands into applications, with discussions on authorship studies, analysis of linguistic corpora, electronic scholarly editing, textual analysis, thematic research collections, digital resources, digital media and film, literary cognitive stylistics, multivariant narratives, speculative computing, and robotic poetics.

* Part IV focuses on various topics related to the production, dissemination, and archiving of digital content, with essays on sustainability, primary source conversion, tools, usability and aesthetics, professionalism, digital libraries, and preservation.

Overall, this book is an essential reference and guide for anyone exploring the digital humanities in its current state.

Another source of information, particularly related to the concept of e-humanities, is the e-Humanities Research Report, which was composed by the Australian e-Humanities Research Network.

Besides providing a definition of what e-humanities is, the report divides e-humanities research into two distinct but related categories: arenas of individual or teams of scholars working with digital technologies and integrating them into their research and teaching, and exploration of specific research questions and exploring the new technologies to help answer those questions. …

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