The boundaries of DH

I’m rather thinking aloud here. I was asked to define Digital Humanities when I registered and yet I realise that I don’t know whether some of the work I’ve done in the past would qualify as Digital Humanities or not.

To begin with a hypothetical example based on a real project. I developed and maintained for some years a site on behalf of the Children’s Society Hidden Lives Revealed. It documented with case studies and other materials the work that the Society did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in particular the homes which the Society ran. There is a Web page for each home with information about it. An interesting exercise would be to take some of the larger, long-running homes and map them and where the children who lived in them came from. Did this change over the lifetime of the homes? How far on average were children moved from their previous home? Were some parts of the country over- or under-supplied with homes? And so on.

Another example is the research I did at the Cambridge Group for the History of Population, using data from the 1891-1921 Censuses. This was quantitative analysis of such matters as occupational data and household structure, using SAS.

Both of these projects are historical, but the research I’ve described seems to me to be sliding into social science. When I later supported research on recent Censuses, the kind of questions we asked at the Cambridge Group (had one been allowed to look at contemporary data in the same amount of detail) would definitely have come under the banner of social science.

Actually DH of this kind has been quietly going on at places such as the Cambridge Group for a long time. Perhaps I could rephrase my initial question as where exactly are the boundaries of the humanities? And one development in recent years is taking large-scale quantitative methods and using them in places they haven’t been found in the past.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *