Digital Humanities

Defining “Digital Humanities”

When we study humanities, we study “how people process and document the human experience” (“Digital Humanities,” Stanford Center for the Humanities). The humanities encompass a wide range of fields, such as literature, religion, art, music, history, language, and philosophy. Humanities scholarship helps us to understand and record our world, and encourages us to feel more connected to humans of the past and present. According to Shaw (2012), “The work of the humanities is to create the vessels that store our culture.” Digital humanities add an extra dimension to traditional humanities’ studies. In digital humanities, technology is used to document, process, and explain the human experience. Techniques such as 3-D mapping, digitization, visualization techniques, electronic literary analysis, and online publishing/archives are all common tools of digital humanities.

Like “digital citizenship,” no consensus exists as to what “digital humanities” actually means. According to Kirsch (2014), “The term can mean anything from media studies to electronic art, from data mining to edutech, from scholarly editing to anarchic blogging, while inviting code junkies, digital artists, standards wonks, transhumanists, game theorists, free culture advocates, archivists, librarians and edupunks under its capacious canvas.” Clearly, “digital humanities” encompasses a wide range of activities; these activities can primarily be divided into the minimalist approach or the maximalist approach. In the minimalist approach, technology is applied to traditional scholarly pursuits; for example, paper archives are exchanged for digital archives. The maximalist approach is much more extensive and “represents a paradigm shift in the way we think about culture itself, spurring a change not just in the medium of humanistic work but also in its very substance” (Shaw, 2012).

The Potential of Digital Humanities

By applying technology to the humanities, researchers and scholars are afforded new opportunities. Data collections and online archives allow scholars to interact with source materials in new ways and potentially reach new conclusions. In some ways, digital humanities can be imagined as a new robust form of data management (Shaw, 2012). Similarly, by interacting with data collections and online archives, new knowledge communities and connections among researchers can be formed.

For example, digital humanities researchers are mapping Civil War battlefields to better understand how topography and geography influenced victories and defeats. Researchers are creating databases of music to see how collaboration influenced jazz, and they are archiving texts/books to identify when specific scientific concepts first appeared (Cohen, 2010). By introducing digital tools into humanities scholarship, data becomes more accessible and interactive for researchers. As Shaw explains, the “digitization of archives and collections holds the promise of a grand conclusion: nothing less than the unification of the human cultural record online, representing, in theory, an unprecedented democratization of access to human knowledge” (Shaw, 2012).

Digital Humanities and Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship explores how we participate in community through technology; digital humanities seeks to use technology to document and process the human experience. In some ways, by maintaining a blog to meet the requirements of ED 654, we are documenting and processing our own human experience (which could loosely be considered an actual application of digital humanities). Similarly, one of the benefits of digital humanities is that it allows researchers to easily collaborate and contribute to each others’ data collections and research. For example, researchers are able to add to online archives and interact with the work of other researchers—even though they have never met. This creation of online knowledge communities bears a strong resemblance to the type of digital online community that is inherent to the concept of digital citizenship.

For Further Study on Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities. Stanford Humanities Center. Retrieved from

The Stanford Humanities Center maintains this informative website that Includes 8 short videos discussing practical applications of digital humanities. For example, one video explains a project that is documenting and mapping the development of post offices in the pioneer American West, because post offices reflect the spread of communities. Another short video explores an application called “Palladio,” which is an analytic tool / “historical viewfinder” that makes it easier for humanities scholars to upload data and produce different forms of data visualizations. Overall, the Stanford Humanities Center argue that digitization has changed how humanities scholars interact with information.

Kirsch, A. (2014, May 2). Technology is taking over English departments. New Republic. Retrieved from

This extensive article critiques the impact and value of digital humanities. The author claims that the move towards digital humanities reflects technological determinism, as, “right before our eyes, options are foreclosed and demands enforced; a future is constructed as though it were being discovered.” The author urges us to be cautious amidst the hype of digital humanities, argues that humanities scholars have an “intellectual responsibility” to not “embrace the momentum of the digital, the tech tsunami, but to resist it and critique it.”

Cohen, P. (2010, Nov. 16). Digital keys for unlocking the humanities’ riches. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Patricia Cohen argues that the next big trend in humanities will center on data and digitalization, but expresses fears that data-driven research may exclude some of the important nuances that are intrinsic to the study of humanities. She argues that humanities is about interpretation and questions of aesthetics and existence—none of which are necessarily quantifiable. The article discusses how “digital media are means and not ends,” but digitalization can lead to new discoveries. In some instances, large amounts of data would have prevented researchers from coming to specific conclusions, but, with digital tools, it becomes possible.

Digging into data resources. Digging Into Data Challenge. Retrieved from

This is the link to the website for the “Digging into Data Challenge,” which is an extensive project originally sponsored by the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. National Science Foundation, Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the U.K. Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc). As the project grew, sponsors and projects were added from Netherlands, Argentina, France, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, etc. This particular project addresses how “big data” influences the research environment for social sciences and humanities, and explores how new technologies can be used in research. The link to the “Digging into Data Resources” page is particularly useful for practitioners of digital humanities as it offers a list of major repositories of digital information and explains how to access the collections of data.

Kaplan, F. (2013, June). How to build an information time machine. TED Talk. Retrieved from

Researcher and engineer Frederic Kaplan explains how research can be enriched by adding a temporal dimension to visual representation. For example, he uses visualizations to create a “digital time machine” that helps his audience understand how Venice has changed over the last 1000 years. This example demonstrates digital humanities in action, and shows how data and visualizations can help us understand historical and geographic changes over time.

Shaw, J. (2012, May-June). The humanities, digitized. Harvard Magazine. Retrieved from

This in-depth article discusses the pedagogical and collaborative impact of digital humanities. In the classroom context, Shaw argues that visualizations are better than videos, since videos are inherently linear. He offers the example of a 23-foot wraparound screen that projects a 3-D virtual world of the Giza Plateau in the year 2566 B.C. He also explains how digital archives can encourage epistemic communities. As you work your way through an archive, you are not just encountering data, you are interacting with the work of fellow archivists, “so in a way, you’re becoming part of a community of archivists whom you may never meet in person, but with whom you’re collaborating.” He closes by arguing that “the changes afoot in the humanities are about expanding the compass, the quality, and the reach of scholarship.”

NPR (2014, April 9). New age: Leaving behind everything, or nothing at all. All Things Considered. Retrieved from

This NPR article briefly discusses the work of archivists at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities. Primarily, it introduces some of the practical problems that can result from the digitization of data. For example, as technology changes, digital data archives may consist of obsolete technology (like floppy disks). The software and information within digital archives can also start to decay. Consequently, digital archives present different challenges than paper archives. However, digital collections offer precise time stamps which can be useful in building bigger picture of someone’s life, an event, etc.

Mapping Social Sciences

I used MindMeister to create this map. I like the final products that I can create with MindMeister, but I had to restart my browser a few times because MindMeister kept freezing up while I was creating the map.

Technological Determinism

 What is technological determinism?

Simply stated, technological determinism is the belief that, “A society’s technology shapes—determines—its social and cultural institutions” (Kte’pi, 2011, p. 404). It is generally accepted that being in a certain environment will change us, because we will adapt to that specific environment. According to technological determinism, as new technologies are introduced, our environment changes and consequently society is re-shaped. Threads of technological determinism can be identified in the historical and contemporary rhetoric on technological trends: for example, people used to fear that if books and literacy were widespread, people’s memories would be ruined. Now, we fear that texting will ruin young people’s ability to actually have a conversation.

Different perspectives on technological determinism

Strict or “hard” technological determinists believe that technology is not organized around society; rather, technology dictates the direction and construction of society (Kte’pi, 2011, p. 405). According to hard determinists, humans are essentially “tool-making animals,” and technology is the main or only force behind social change (Sullivan, 2009, p. 511). Soft determinists posit that technology is only one important factor among many in social change, so this perspective gives humans more influence and agency over how technology will impact society (Kte’pi, 2011, p. 405). A third perspective, anti-technological determinism, claims that technology is “neutral,” and the effects of technology are primarily or completely a result of social context (Adler, 2008, p. 1537). In this perspective, social forces can shape the development or implementation of technology.

Technological determinism and ED 654

According to technological determinist Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 511). In other words, the technologies we use influence how we perceive situations and information. While still a contentious and fluid topic, digital citizenship explores how we should personally engage with technology. Consequently, in this class, we will look at how “the medium” influences “the message,” which is clearly a concern of technological determinists. Too, since technological determinism is a philosophy that discusses to what extent technology changes society, technological determinists would probably argue that the fact that we have a whole class about digital citizenship supports the validity of their philosophy. Technology drives social change; in fact, technology has changed citizenship and society so much that we now have an entire course on something we call “digital citizenship.”


Adler, P. S. (2008). Technological determinism. In International Encyclopedia of Organization Studies. (p. 1537-1539). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. Eds. Clegg, S. R. and Bailey, J.R.

Kte’pi, B. (2011). Technological determinism. In Green Technology: An A-to-Z Guide. (pp. 404-405). D. Mulvaney, Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Sullivan, L. E., Ed. (2009). Technological determinism. In The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. (p. 511). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

For Further Study on Technological Determinism

Kelly, K.  (2005, Feb.). What does technology want? TED Talk. Retrieved from

WIRED Executive Editor Kevin Kelly answers the question, “What does technology want?” in a 15-minute TED Talk. Kelly argues that technology is becoming more specialized and diverse as it develops, and it speeds up how we look for ideas. He also explains that it is difficult to get rid of technology once it has been introduced; it takes on a life of its own. In true technological determinist fashion, Kelly states that, “Our humanity is actually defined by technology. All the things that we think we really like about humanity is being driven by technology.”

BBC Radio 4.  (2015, Jan. 27). The medium is the message. Retrieved from

This short, informative YouTube video describes one of the slogans of technological determinism: “The medium is the message” (coined by Marshall McLuhan). According to this video, the “technology that transfers the message changes us and changes society, the individual, the family, work, leisure, and more.”

Lepore, J. (2008, May 12). On our own devices. The New Yorker. Retrieved from

This in-depth article written by a Harvard professor of history reviews a book by Maury Klein called The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America. According to Klein, technology is primarily what drove social change from the 19th to 20th century. Conversely, Lepore takes a “soft” determinist position, arguing that, while technology has enormous influence, it is not the only factor driving social change. Lepore concludes, “Technology can be sublime, but machines aren’t something that happens to us; they’re something we make…you can teach them manners before they get to be bigger than you.”

Curious Catherine. (2011, Feb. 6). Technological determinism—or not. Retrieved from

This blog post by a PhD student studying digital and social change asks some intriguing questions regarding technological determinism. Particularly, she encourages us to explore the “reverse.” She asks her readers to consider what would happen if a particular technology was removed.  What would be the lingering societal changes? Would we feel a need to replace the technology? Or, will the effect already be beyond the reach of the technology?

Davis, J. (2015, Feb. 16). Theorizing affordances. The Society Pages. Retrieved from

This author puts forward a soft determinist position, arguing that, while technology shapes society and the people who use those technologies, humans still have control over technology.  She also introduces the concept of “affordances,” which are the specifications of a certain technology that can guide the use of that technology. For example, she describes the difference between a rope vs. privacy fence—both afford the same message (“stay out”) but do so with a different tone. Technology can request, demand, allow, or encourage certain actions/things from us, and consequently influence social change in different ways.

Chomsky, N. (2014, May 2). Technological determinism. CSPAN. Retrieved from

This short CSPAN video features preeminent American scholar Noam Chomsky discussing the topic of technological determinism. Chomsky is critical of technological determinism, and cautions his audience to be skeptical whenever a view is put forth that makes them passive and resigned. He points out that the same technology that can liberate can also control, and so we cannot draw clear connections between technology and specific social changes.

Feller, G. (2015, Sept. 25). Future technology: a force for good or a source of fear?  Telegraph. Retrieved from

Cyber-security expert Colin Williams is interviewed in this UK article. Interestingly, Williams introduces the concept of “fear” into technological determinism. He argues that one of the reasons people fear technology and focus on its destructive potential is because they believe they cannot stop or control the social changes that come with new technologies. He encourages us to look for the enlightening and engaging potential of technology, rather than being “obsessed with the concept of subordination—that we might lose the ability to control these machines.”


 Public Web Presence

And a Brief Introduction…

I grew up in the cornfields of Illinois and did my undergrad in International Studies and Music in my hometown. After that, I worked for a year for the Illinois State Legislature as a researcher. I got married the summer of 2010 and moved with my husband up to Fairbanks right after that. We lived in Fairbanks for 10 months before he deployed to Afghanistan, and I put all of our stuff into storage and moved to Chicago for grad school. I got my M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago while my husband was deployed, moved back to Fairbanks for 3 months, moved to Georgia for 9 months, moved to Anchorage for 2 years, and now we have lived north of Baltimore, Maryland for the past 8 months. We’re moving again in July to Greenville, South Carolina. If you’re keeping track, that means my husband and I drove the Alaskan Highway to the East Coast (or the reverse of that) a total of three times. I developed a phobia of long road trips (just kidding, kind of) but I’m more or less over that now. I haven’t lived anywhere longer than 24 months in the last 6 years, but we should be in South Carolina for a full two years. That seems like a really long time for us, so we’re going to buy a house and really put down some roots!

Despite all these moves, I’ve been doing my best to maintain a career in higher education. I worked remotely for two separate companies developing college courses online. I taught political science and American government at a community college in Georgia for two semesters, and then I taught at UAA for five semesters. This past year, I’ve started UAF’s M.Ed. in Online Innovation and Design.

I am constantly starting new projects before I’ve finished old projects. I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest…so many ideas, but so little time and so many failures. I love decorating new houses every time we move and am looking forward to buying our first house so I can really dig in to home renovation projects. One of my favorite things to do is spend time in the kitchen—I like to experiment with recipes that use real and wholesome ingredients, and am thankful for a husband who’s willing to try pretty much anything I come up with. We live on the Chesapeake Bay, so I also spend a lot of time walking my dog by the water. I love farmer’s markets, sunshine, trying new things, and quiet nights at home. I hate rush hour traffic, when people are rude for no reason, and injustices both small and large. My favorite season is whatever season is coming up next, and so I love living in places that get to enjoy all four seasons equally.

A Couple of Lists

Things I cooked/ate this past week…

  • Cranberry almond granola
  • Sundried tomato and spinach quinoa salad
  • Lemon and dill halibut chowder
  • Grilled chicken and penne Caesar salad
  • Honey ginger lemonade
  • Dutch apple pancakes

Memorable travel experiences…

  • Seeing the DC cherry blossoms at peak bloom
  • Eating turkey and stuffing flavored potato chips on Thanksgiving Day in London
  • Watching a pod of orcas on an island off the coast of Washington state
  • Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Singing with a choir in St. Mark’s square in Venice, Italy
  • Taking a helicopter up to a glacier hike in Juneau
  • Whitewater rafting in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee
  • Snorkeling in Hanuama Bay, Hawaii

Photograph of the author and her husband at the Jefferson Memorial with a view of the DC cherry blossoms