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A Companion to Digital Humanities
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A Companion to Digital Humanities

Editors : Susan Schreibman (University of Maryland), Ray Siemens (University of Victoria) and John Unsworth (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Pages : 611
ISBN : 1405103213
Publisher : Blackwell Publishing
Publication Date : November 10, 2004

Excerpts from the Introduction:

This collection marks a turning point in the field of digital humanities: for the first time, a wide range of theorists and practitioners, those who have been active in the field for decades, and those recently involved, disciplinary experts, computer scientists, and library and information studies specialists, have been brought together to consider digital humanities as a discipline in its own right, as well as to reflect on how it relates to areas of traditional humanities scholarship.

The editors intended this collection to serve as a historical record of the field, capturing a sense of the digital humanities as they have evolved over the past half century, and as they exist at the moment. Yet, if one looks at the issues that lie at the heart of nearly all contributions to this volume, one will see that these contributions reflect a relatively clear view of the future of the digital humanities. In addition to charting areas in which past advances have been made, and in which innovation is currently taking place, this volume reveals that digital humanities is addressing many of the most basic research paradigms and methods in the disciplines, to focus our attention on important questions to be asked and answered, in addition to important new ways of asking and answering that are enabled by our interaction with the computer.

What this collection also reveals is that there are central concerns among digital humanists which cross disciplinary boundaries. This is nowhere more evident than in the representation of knowledge-bearing artifacts. The process of such representation especially so when done with the attention to detail and the consistency demanded by the computing environment requires humanists to make explicit what they know about their material and to understand the ways in which that material exceeds or escapes representation. Ultimately, in computer-assisted analysis of large amounts of material that has been encoded and processed according to a rigorous, well thought-out system of knowledge representation, one is afforded opportunities for perceiving and analyzing patterns, conjunctions, connections, and absences that a human being, unaided by the computer, would not be likely to find.

The process that one goes through in order to develop, apply, and compute these knowledge representations is unlike anything that humanities scholars, outside of philosophy, have ever been required to do. This method, or perhaps we should call it a heuristic, discovers a new horizon for humanities scholarship, a paradigm as powerful as any that has arisen in any humanities discipline in the past and, indeed, maybe more powerful, because the rigor it requires will bring to our attention undocumented features of our own ideation. Coupled with enormous storage capacity and computational power, this heuristic presents us with patterns and connections in the human record that we would never otherwise have found or examined.

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