What are Digital Scholarship and Digital Humanities?

To develop a complete mind: Study the science of art; Study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.

Leonardo da Vinci

There shall be love between the poet and the man of demonstrable science. In the beauty of poems are henceforth the tuft and final applause of science.

Walt Whitman

Digital Scholarship (DS) and Digital Humanities (DH) create opportunities to blur the lines and make connections between the sciences, arts, and humanities through the use of digital methods, concepts, and tools. They are a way faculty, librarians, and students can engage with new areas of scholarship and engage with traditional scholarship in innovative ways.

DS and DH Defined

DS is the deeply considered and critical use of digital methods and tools to conduct and present research. DH falls under the umbrella of DS and incorporates humanities-specific practices and methodologies. DS and DH methods include data visualization, GIS mapping, and text analysis, among others, and projects widely range in complexity from simple digital timelines to large-scale databases. For DS and DH examples, check out these award-winning projects Freedom’s Ring, Poppy Field, Prison Pandemic, and Atlante Clavino, and view some of the work that has been done at BC.

DH has Jesuit Roots

Roberto Busa, S.J. at Yale University, 1956

Father Roberto Busa, S.J. (1913-2011) was one of the earliest digital humanities pioneers. In his 1946 doctoral dissertation, Busa announced the need for a machine-generated Thomas Aquinas concordance. Why machine-generated? Because Aquinas’ works contain over 9 million words. Cross-referencing those works, not to mention connecting them with the many texts Aquinas references, would take many lifetimes. In 1949, Busa began working on the concordance, known as the Index Thomisticus, and by 1951, he had a proof of concept machine that used punchcards, though the project took thirty years to complete. Today, it exists online. The Index Thomisticus was a monumental undertaking not just because of what it took to create it but also because of what inspired it. Father Busa noticed Aquinas’ unique use of a particular word that he wanted to explore. The word was “in.”

Busa demonstrated that computing power could help us understand text in new and powerful ways. As personal computers became more common in the 1980s and 1990s, more scholars used the tool to produce digital edited editions of text. As more of those digital archives and editions came online, scholars could use the digital text to conduct new forms of analysis. On the macro-scale, scholars could identify trends across larger bodies of text than ever before. On the micro-scale, they could trace the smallest details across multiple sources with a finer-toothed comb than they had ever imagined. Sharing these results required more than traditional journal articles: visualizations of data output and interactive dashboards online helped convey new findings. From this point, scholars began working with other sources of information beyond text, including images, video, audio, and geospatial data, which is where we find ourselves today. With the advent of AI and other emerging technologies, the question is, where will we find ourselves tomorrow?

Learn More

If you would like to learn more about DS and DH, visit our Digital Scholarship Handbook. (The DS Methods Overview section might be especially helpful.) To begin learning digital skills, check out DS Learn, which has several tutorials on topics ranging from 3D modeling to data visualization to digital exhibit creation. And, as always, contact us, the Digital Scholarship Group, with questions or to discuss project ideas.