Notes from the Field

  • The Short Guide
  • by Jeffrey Schnapp
  • February 6, 2013

What Defines the Digital Humanities Now?

The Short Guide is an open excerpt from Digital_Humanities, by Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, Jeffrey Schnapp, MIT Press, 2012.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-nonComercial-ShareAlike license, available at or by mail from Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain view, California, 94041, USA. 


Questions & Answers I
Digital Humanities Fundamentals

What defines the Digital Humanities now?

The computational era has been underway since World War II, but after the advent of personal computing, the World Wide Web, mobile communication, and social media, the digital revolution entered a new phase, giving rise to a vastly expanded, globalized public sphere and to transformed possibilities for knowledge creation and dissemination.

Building on the first generation of computational humanities work, more recent Digital Humanities activity seeks to revitalize liberal arts traditions in the electronically inflected language of the 21st century: a language in which, uprooted from its long-standing paper support, text is increasingly wedded to still and moving images as well as to sound, and supports have become increasingly mobile, open, and extensible.

And the notion of the primacy of text itself is being challenged. Whereas the initial waves of computational humanities concentrated on everything from word frequency studies and textual analysis (classification systems, mark-up, encoding) to hypertext editing and textual database construction, contemporary Digital Humanities marks a move beyond a privileging of the textual, emphasizing graphical methods of knowledge production and organization, design as an integral component of research, transmedia crisscrossings, and an expanded concept of the sensorium of humanistic knowledge. It is also characterized by an intensified focus on the building of transferrable tools, environments, and platforms for collaborative scholarly work and by an emphasis upon curation as a defining feature of scholarly practice.


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