Not defining the digital

It seems to be a popular thing, to attempt to define the digital humanities. It also seems like the natural first attempt for a blog that chronicles a personal study of it (if only to return here in time, lament at past ignorance and hope that no one ‘googles’ my name in the future).

Patrik Svenson mentions the liminal space that the digital humanities hold. To me, the digital humanities (if taken to be one large, heaving collective) are located in a liminal space that is on the margins of two, often conflicting, spheres of knowledge. These two fields, that of computer sciences and the ‘traditional’ study of the humanities are in themselves fractured and manifold in terms of approach. So this described ‘liminality’, this in-between space that the digital humanities occupies, bridges a perceived gap in knowledge between the traditional (and largely unchanging) field of the humanities and the technical skills and practices of the computer sciences, which have become so integral to all aspects of daily life and academic research.

It is these digital skills that define the digital humanities as an area of academic research that shows elements of self-reflexive behaviour where many others do not. DH as a field is aware that as western society’s ‘collective pool’ of knowledge alters and expands with time, so too must approaches to academic study. Dan Cohen, in his 2011 paper at Research Without Borders, discusses the increasingly globalised nature of DH as it stands today. He gives an example of an object that he posted to twitter, with limited amounts of  related information known about this object. Within moments, he tells us, his twitter followers were able to amass lengthy metadata relating to this object. This highlights the positive effects of a global and diverse DH community as connected via the web. This display of aggregate knowledge is obviously small in scale, yet highlights the possibilities of DH work with regards to time frames and possibilities, which seem near -infinite.

These endless possibilities are what draws me to digital humanities as a field. DH moves from the multidisciplinary through to the interdisciplinary, with many projects combining digital interests with cultural preservation, literary interrogation et cetera. This approach provides a scope for endlessly expansive learning, growth and cooperation that is not only vital to academia, but provides important links to industry and tenders international cooperation on every level.


Cohen, Dan. “Defining the Digital Humanities.” Paper at the Research Without Borders: Defining the Digital Humanities program at Columbia University on April 6, 2011.

Svenson, Patrik. ‘The Digital Humanities as a Humanities Project’. Art and Humanities in Higher Education. 11:1-2 (2011) 42-60. Online: via TCD library dbase.


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