The Early History of Digital Humanities
With Heather Hill
Making of the Humanities V
Society for the History of Humanities
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
Oct 5–7, 2016
ABSTRACT The digital humanities present new possibilities for applying computational technology to humanistic inquiry, for better understanding the role of that technology in our world, and even for rethinking the nature of the humanities and what it means to be human. Many authors (Hockey 2004; Svensson, 2009, 2010, 2012; Kirschenbaum, 2010; Dalbello, 2011) date the emergence of this field to 1946 and Roberto Busa’s Index Thomisticus, an IBM-sponsored project encoding the works of Thomas Aquinas on punch cards for search, retrieval, and analysis. From there, the history is told in terms of text and linguistics, with the plot revolving around corpora of increasing size and susceptibility to machine analysis—until quite recently, when digital humanities is suddenly said to be a “big tent” (Pannapacker 2011a, b), encompassing everything from digital archives and databases to GIS, network analysis, new publishing formats, digital pedagogy, game design, and so on. How did this narrative come to be, and what counternarratives does it exclude or constrain? This paper presents an empirical perspective on the early history of digital humanities by tracing publications in two foundational journals in the field (Computers and the Humanities, established in 1966, and Literary and Linguistic Computing, established in 1986), focusing on the disciplines of their authors and of the works those authors cite. Analysis of this corpus—and its evolution—reveals points of similarity and convergence across the humanities and, tangentially, the social and applied sciences, painting a broader and more inclusive picture of the digital humanities than has been presented to date.
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