The Digital Humanities

Digital information technology has begun to transform scholarly work across the academy. Computer simulations, data-mining, and other technology-intensive practices are no longer the exclusive province of the sciences, but today inform and inspire work by historians, literary critics, philosophers and artists. The phrase “digital humanities” has become the umbrella term for this type of scholarly work, including the investigation of the information technologies that make it possible and the examination of new types of publication, collaboration, and interdisciplinary exploration that are resulting from them.

No longer a novelty, scholarship in and about the digital humanities has now reached sufficient mass to attract direct scholarly attention by both participants and skeptics. A growing number of publications provides resources to would-be digital humanists, criticism of the work that is being done under the banner of the digital humanities, and the humanistic analysis of the broader cultural trends of which the digital academy is a part.1 The National Endowment for the Humanities has opened an Office of Digital Humanities2 to coordinate the Endowment’s support for these new types of research. Faculty lines for scholars with expertise in the digital humanities are currently being posted at colleges and universities.3 The results of digital scholarship have even attracted the attention of the popular media4 and those with a commercial interest in supporting these digital trends.5

The emergence of Digital Humanities as an important field is also evident within the State University of New York, at individual SUNY institutions as well as system-wide. The Digital Humanities Initiative at SUNY Buffalo (DHIB), founded in 2008, “serves[s] as an intellectual hub for scholars involved in innovative research and instruction at the intersection of the humanities, computing, and other emerging digital technologies.”6 The DHIB aims to lead in digital humanities research “at the national and international level.” It enables campus-based initiatives in digital humanities, provides funding and grant writing support, and engages students as well as faculty in a variety of ways as it focuses on “sharing information and cuttingedge research across disciplines” in the field.

At SUNY Geneseo, the Digital Humanities Wiki provides “a space for exploring all aspects of the intersection between humanistic study and digital environments.”7 Faculty are engaged in significant digital humanities work, such as Department of English chairman Paul Schacht’s Digital Thoreau project, which centers on a “digital text of Walden encoded according to the standards of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and enriched by scholarly annotations, links, images, and social tools that enable users to create conversations around the text.”8 Schacht and fellow department members Caroline Woidat, Rob Doggett, and Gillian Paku were recognized by the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education with a Community Contribution Award in October 2010 for a collaborative project, “English Majors Practicing Criticism: A Digital Approach.” This project “uses digital technology to help build a sense of community, common purpose, and shared identity” among students in different sections of a required introductory English course.9

In 2010, SUNY’s Center for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) received a grant from the NEH Office of Digital Humanities to host an Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities; the award supports a “three-year institute for 60 humanities
scholars and staff that includes a three-day workshop, online discussion, and a capstone conference developing international team-taught courses in the humanities.”10 In addition to 29 international institutions and 16 private American universities, SUNY campuses taking part in this three-year program include Brockport, Buffalo State College, Corning Community College, Cortland, Empire State College, Geneseo, and Purchase. The COIL institute helps faculty and staff develop and implement humanities courses in “globally networked learning environments.”11

The SUNYConnect Library Initiative brings together the “SUNY Provost’s Office of Library and Information Services and the libraries of the SUNY campuses to share collections and services across the SUNY system…allow[ing] universal access to over 18 million volumes and thousands of electronic resources and digital images.”12 SUNY libraries are collaborating on projects such as the SUNY Digital Repository, which houses approximately “30,000 items from 18 SUNY institutions.” These digital archives include collections such as the SUNY College at Brockport Writers’ Forum reading series and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Fletcher Steele Manuscript Collection. Colleges and universities system-wide are moving ahead with adding electronic texts of graduate theses and dissertations, as well as faculty scholarship.13 Thus, SUNY libraries provide an infrastructure that supports and facilitates digital humanities scholarship and research.

1 For example, see Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth (eds.) A Companion to Digital Humanities (2008: Wiley-Blackwell); Matthew K. Gold, Debates in the Digital Humanities, (2012: University of Minnesota
Press); Marilyn Deegan, Lorna Hughes, Andrew Prescott, and Harold Short (eds.), Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities (series), (2008-2012: Ashgate Publishing). Additionally, Digital Humanities Now is set to begin
publication of a peer-reviewed, open access Journal of Digital Humanities ( this month.
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