Re: Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?

16 05 2010

Tom Scheinfeldt @foundhistory posed a couple of thought-provoking questions re: the direction and purpose of digital humanities (DH). In his blog post, Where’s the Beef? Scheinfeldt responds to Rob Nelson’s THATCamp proposal and asks two fundamental questions for digital humanists: (1) “What questions does digital humanities answer that can’t be answered without it? (2) What humanities arguments does digital humanities make?”  In other words, is DH more than content curation i.e. editorial projects and how/when must the discipline move beyond exhibition into the realm of “real scholarship” and answer questions?

Scheinfeldt’s answer is both yes and no. He makes wonderful use of historical analogy to demonstrate the legitimacy and importance of curation/exhibition as a precursor to advanced scholastic output. He, believes that like all disciplines, DH asks questions some large,  but many small. In addition, DH needs the benefit of time to grow into its full scholastic potential/acceptance. That I do not doubt, however, I think that the heart of the matter is not one of what questions DH answers or when it will answer them, but rather what the definition, form and function of “scholarship” is.

What is scholarship? Do you take the view that scholarship encompasses the form of print monograph production that advances knowledge within the discipline or does scholarship cast an outward view, form be damned, and advance, integrate, apply, and/or transform knowledge more broadly i.e. Public History? Obviously, DH would fall into the latter view and that is my position of scholarship. My view of scholarship is put simply but I think fairly.  A more nuanced debate of what scholarship is can be investigated @ Redefining Historical Scholarship @ AHA. DH affords an opportunity to kill the sacred cow.

Even the most simplistic curation/exhibition DH project implicitly if not explicitly asks questions, makes arguments, and advances knowledge. DH curation and exhibition projects require as much research, synthesis, and analysis as does producing any other traditional form of scholarship. Maybe not as much text, but just as much intellectual investment. At minimum, arguments are implied about authority, objectivity and authenticity of evidence. Or is that being too much of a postmodernist? Is this not scholarship?

In lieu of text, DH encourages varying degrees of data/information visualization. This may be the true genius of DH and where the beef is. Is visualization a new form of literacy? How can one learn to “read” visualization?

In addition to rethinking scholarship, DH must come to terms with its position as  either a new discipline, the “New Public History” or a tool/methodology.



1 04 2010

The AddressingHistory project will create an online tool which will enable a broad spectrum of users, both within and outwith academia (particularly local history groups and genealogists), to combine data from digitised historical Scottish Post Office Directories with contemporaneous historical maps.

The AddressingHistory project will be delivered by EDINA in partnership with the National Library of Scotland using materials already digitised under ongoing NLS programmes.

Crowd-sourcing through the AddressingHistory tool will, it is envisioned, lead to a fully geo-coded version of the digitised directories thus providing significant added-value to the general public, local historians and specialist researchers across multiple disciplines.

The project will focus on three eras of Edinburgh mapping and Post Office Directories (1784-5; 1865; 1905-6) however the technologies demonstrated will be scalable to the full collection of digitised materials which include 400 directories and associated maps covering the whole of Scotland.

Project Deliverables

  • The Web 2.0 enabled AddressingHistory tool which will contribute to crowd sourcing through the georeferencing of historical addresses.
  • Increased community awareness and engagement with the digitised maps and Post Office directories at the core of this project.
  • An API onto the crowd-sourced data.
  • A sustainable exit strategy for the data created by users for AddressingHistory.
  • Final report

EDINA Contacts

Stuart MacDonald




National Library of Scotland

Shameless Self-Promotion e.g. I’m Excited!!!!

25 03 2010

Accepted 2 THATCamp Saturday May 22 and Sunday May 23 at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Looking forward to discussing ideas in digital access, curation and collection development.

Human Rights Digital Initiatives

19 03 2010

UT Libraries Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education (SFI) discuss opportunities for collaboration  as well as best practices for digital preservation and metadata exchange. Goal is to offer the opportunity for convergence, particularly in the realm of descriptive practices aimed at facilitating discovery and access across collections. Read More Here.

Digital Humanities @ THATCamp

15 03 2010

THATCamp is a user-generated “unconference” on digital humanities organized and hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, May 22–23, 2010. Learn More.

THATCamp 2009 & 2008