Blog Post

Interdisciplining Digital Humanities, Boundary Work in an Emerging Field

I hope you are all enjoying the rest of your Summer while the Fall semester is just around the corner. I've created this post happy to announce Dr. Julie Thompson Klein's latest book Interdisciplining Digital Humanities; Boundary Work In An Emerging Field published by the University of Michigan Press.

I had a chance to interview Dr. Klein to ask not only about boundary work and how this work distinguishes itself from emerging literature, but also on how HASTAC scholars in specific can benefit from this newly published scholarship. 

Click here for details and the table of contents. The book is available in print, Kindle, ebook, and a free online preview version.

1)  What is the relationship between HASTAC and Digital Humanities?

HASTAC is one of many organizations engaged in Digital Humanities activities. The range is wide: from producing electronic texts and libraries to studying the cultural impact of new technologies and social media to developing new approaches to education. HASTAC has been a leader in fostering new ways of teaching and learning.

• The Digital Media and Learning competition has supported innovative uses of new tools and media in projects as varied as game studies, mobile phone apps, virtual worlds, social networks, and digital badging.

• The Futures of Learning initiative and Pedagogy Project is extending HASTAC’s commitment to new methods and strategies both inside and outside the classroom.

• Members of HASTAC have also been actively involved in promoting access, equality, and engagement in digital environments.

Most of all, HASTAC embodies two of the most prominent values in Digital Humanities–community and collaboration. These values are also prominent in the HASTAC Scholars project, exemplified by student-led forums that have explored a broad range of topics including publishing in the digital age, visualization, mapping, and democratizing knowledge.

2). Why is another book on Digital Humanities needed?

Good question, since the literature on Digital Humanities continues to grow.

• Matthew Gold’s edited collection Debates in Digital Humanities and David Berry’s Understanding Digital Humanities are valuable textbooks, along with the predecessor Blackwell’s Companion to Digital Humanities

• Gold’s forthcoming monograph, A Short Introduction to the Digital Humanities, will also give the general academic audience a short, cogent, and accessible picture of the field.

• Warwick, Terras, and Nyhan’s Digital Humanities in Practice is a practical guide to key topics for both academic and cultural heritage audiences, complete with bibliographies.

• And, Burdick and colleagues’ account of Digital_Humanities includes synthetic mappings, emerging methods and genres, case studies, and a short guide.

However, none of these and other excellent publications interrogates the widespread claim of that Digital Humanities is “interdisciplinary.” This book tests the claim by examining the boundary work of the field, sorting out definitions and patterns of practice over sixty-five plus years of work.

Your question, I’m glad to add, is also a good occasion to remind everyone reading this Q&A about the HASTAC Publication Prize, an advance contract for the University of Michigan Press series Digital Humanities@digitalculturebooks. Inquiries are welcome any time at

3). The subtitle says “Boundary Work in An Emerging Field.” What do you mean by “Boundary Work?”

Boundary work is a composite label for the claims, activities, and structures by which individuals and groups work directly and through institutions to create, maintain, break down, and reformulate between knowledge units. Researchers, educators, and designers in Digital Humanities cross boundaries of disciplines, interdisciplinary fields, and occupational professions every day:

• a scholar in literary studies may be designing a digital collection centered on a single author,

• an anthropologist or a historian creating a computer visualization of an ancient site,

• a music instructor mapping sound patterns in the canon of a composer while creating an electronic music curriculum,

• an artist mounting a multimodal installation while involving students in its production,

• a professor of Italian producing a digital archive for an entire historical period while directing a humanities lab,

• a scholar in women’s studies doing research on the relationship of the body and technology,

• and a librarian building an online Digital Humanities research guide for faculty and students.

Their arguments, actions, and the institional locations they build define, legitimate, and sustain their practices while crossing and sometimes reformulating older traditional boundaries of knowledge fields, technology, and humanities.

4). How can this book help HASTAC scholars interested in interdisciplinary work?

I hope all readers–HASTAC Scholars, faculty, professional staff, administrators, and representatives of scholarly organizations and funding agencies–will find the book helpful.

• Understanding the field’s contours will enable them to situate their own activities within the broad landscape of Digital Humanities theory and practice.

• It will also sharpen their understanding of what interdisciplinarity entails, informing their work with a more rigorous approach to definitions, models, and strategies.

Toward that end, the book includes the crucial topics of defining the field, institutionalizing and professionalizing it, as well as educating, collaborating, and rewarding. The last section is also former HASTAC Scholar Andy Engel’s guide to resources. It highlights primary sites, bibliographies and library guides, networks and professional organizations, and strategies for keeping up to date in the fast-paced world of Digital Humanities.

Autobiographical Note: Klein is Professor Emerita at Wayne State University, a member of the HASTAC Steering Committee’s Executive Board, and co-host of the 2010 HASTAC conference at the University of Michigan.



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