Blog Post

Is DH treated as a methodology or a field?

I've recently been thinking about the digital humanities, and specifically digital history, and have begun wondering whether it is generally treated as a field or as a methodology.  

That is: when I list my academic interests, I typically list several fields of study such as early modern Britain, the European Reformation(s), the history of the book...and digital history/humanities.  Yet I also USE digital history/digital humanities to study topics in other fields.  As a result, I've been trying to piece together some ideas about this seeming crossover, and I wondered whether any of you might be able to point me to work that addresses this question, or have ideas about it yourselves.  Thanks in advance!



It's both--like theory was back in the 1980s and 1990s. Some applied it; others studied it.



I appreciate your mentioning theory--I think this is a helpful comparison, and there are probably several connections to be drawn (or perhaps that scholars have already drawn) in that regard.  

I think your response about what DH "is" is interesting, too...I had been coming at the question in terms of how DH is treated/viewed within the humanities, but asking questions about the nature of DH itself may also be helpful.  Thanks!


Hi Amy,

I've been thinking about your question over the last few days. For me personally, I have it listed on my CV both as a field of interest (exploring many sorts of DH and the theory behind it), as well as as useable research (using Omeka for linking connections between science and science fiction) and teaching activities (i.e., the project I'm developing that allows students to interrogate primary sources and learn the questions historians ask of primary sources).

As for reading materials, have you checked out Miriam Posner's work and CV at UCLA? She's become one of the top DH historians I follow. She collaborated on The Programming Historian website which is a phenomenal resources for the practical issues of DH.



Thanks for your thoughts and the good references!  I plan to keep giving this some thought; perhaps it will show back up in another blog post later this year.


Thanks for the heads up about the Programming Historian.  I've been following Miriam on Twitter for a while now.  The website is quite helpful for historians interested in the DH.


I follow Matt Kirschenbaum, who says that "DH is a means and not an end."

That is to say, I believe that the use of the digital humanities should be in service of the humanities and the pursuit of knowledge more broadly -- I think that we learn a lot through the application of technology and the learning how to use it, but that for DH to have its most impact, it has to be applied transformatively, and to have some kind of impact other than a pretty visualization or a cool map, in the end.

I'm not belittling these things -- I think that a lot of the work out there results in stunning visualizations and that's really great -- but I'm hoping that the field can continue to grow, so that we don't teach classes on DH in a few years -- we teach H classes that include digital methodological tools as a matter of course.


I have followed this blog discussion with interest, and offer now a couple of cents worth myself.

I joined GlaxoWellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) as R&D Strategy Director on the same day as Professor Allen D. Roses was appointed Head of Genetics at GlaxoWellcome, in late 1997.

Ancient History?

Allen's job was to take the science of genetics and to seed it into the process and structure of pharmaceutical R&D at Glaxo. A very diferent job from running a pathbreaking research group which pioneered an understanding of APOE in the development of Alzheimers, where he had previously been employed.

Allen had, and has, a passion for applying his theoretical and applied knowledge of Alzheimer genetics to the discovery of novel drugs, which might ameliorate or cure the disease.

I share Allen's interest in the application of APOE science (my father-in-law has recently died, suffering from the indignities of Alzheimers).

I regard Digital Humanities as an enabling technology, with analogies to the application of genetics to the pharmaceutical industry back in the late 1990s. The impact of the application was, and is, unpredictable.

But I passionately believe, that digital techniques of many types, and the collaborative processes required to make these digital techniques productive, will change the way we talk and write about history.

Yours, the idealist,

Colin Greenstreet, co-founder and co-director, MarineLives