Digital Humanities: Past and Present


Digital Humanities has existed in some form since the early days of the World Wide Web. Most projects have focused on creating and presenting information that can be read and digested by anyone with an Internet connection. The earliest websites were limited by the structure of the Web protocols at the time, and could only provide information via text and very basic imagery. See Progress of a People at the Library of Congress for an example. This was the first phase of DH work that used the Web as its way of disseminating information.

The second phase began as it became possible to provide richer imagery, as well as design websites that could be more fluid in its navigation. The aim for this phase is similar to the first, in that the sites were designed to present information. Here, people began to see direct translations of physical exhibits from museums in a digital form. Projects during this time were able to include more graphical information such as timelines (see Raid on Deerfield). Since the Web was able to utilize more imagery, more DH websites used imagery as the main thrust if their argument. One prime example of this was A More Perfect Union, which provided a wealth of imagery related to the Japanese Internment during World War Two.

The latest phase of DH work has seen a change in the aims for the projects. The current projects are aiming to get viewers directly involved with the material. Some sites, like the Bracero History Archive,  encourage people who have a personal experience with the material to type and submit their story to the team creating the site. A new type of project has also emerged: sites that ask the viewer to help the researcher transcribe documents. One example of this is Operation Field Diary, which asks visitors to help decode diaries, letters, and other documents found during World War One.

With each phase of work in Digital Humanities, new methods of interacting with the material has emerged. Whether its being able to provide visual examples of artifacts, or providing personal experiences, the current trend in DH is to get both researcher and visitor involved with the material. The best projects allow for the visitor to gain some new knowledge about the subject, but also provide an avenue for those visitors to become involved with the material.



%d bloggers like this: