As previously discussed, although there is no singular, agreed-upon definition of Digital Humanities within the literature, there are key themes that most scholars touch upon in their writing on the subject. As noted in the introduction to this project, Kathleen Fitzpatrick offers the following working definition of the Digital Humanities: “a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities” (Fitzpatrick 2012). Key to her definition is the idea of harnessing technology for humanities inquiry, which is the basic principle at the core of Digital Humanities research and teaching techniques. Building on this idea, scholar Luke Waltzer (2012) sees the Digital Humanities as creating the opportunity for openness, community, and collaboration within humanities academic work. In these definitions, Digital Humanities are not seen as their own, separate academic discipline. Instead, as argued by Erik Shell (2014), given the interdisciplinary nature of the field, the Digital Humanities cannot be and should not be marked as their own unique field. As highlighted by these scholars’ respective definitions, the Digital Humanities are more often viewed as a set of techniques or approaches that can be applied to any field of study within the Humanities rather than a singular discipline with its own lines of inquiry. The interviewees from McMaster spoke to the ideas brought up in the literature and offered new creative insights.
Wendy d’Angelo’s opening remark reflects the variation in definitions seen within the literature itself. In saying that the question is “loaded,” she highlights the complexities that might attach to each definition, and the critical implications of there being no singular definition. Similarly, Victor Kuperman’s analogy comparing Digital Humanities to a “toolkit” echoes Fitzpatrick’s argument that scholars use DH techniques as a part of their traditional humanities inquiry. Additionally, Christina Baade’s description of the Digital Humanities as a “bringing together” also aligns with the literature. These parallels between participant responses and a variety of themes within published literature demonstrate the complexity of the term, and highlight the multiple, equally important components of the definition that circulate.
Like Kuperman and Baade, David Ogborn also mentions in his definition the technological developments made in recent history. However, where Kuperman and Baade use this history to inform a contemporary understanding of Digital Humanities, Ogborn uses this history to argue that Digital Humanities is in fact a “historical term”. Acknowledging how his experiences with the digital inform his definition, he argues that what he “[sees] both immediately around [him] and at a bit more of a distance, are disciplines that have embraced computational possibilities in all kinds of creative ways, even when, and often when, they do not refer to that activity as digital humanities”. Ogborn’s definition of the Digital Humanities contrasts definitions commonly seen in the literature, instead questioning the term’s necessity given the integration of technology into Humanities practices. His discussion of the work that scholars might not refer to as Digital Humanities, but which is still computational in nature, both furthers his argument and emphasizes the variance in understanding of the Digital Humanities.
When asked to define the Digital Humanities, the survey participants’ answers differed widely from one another. Some survey participants gave similar answers to those shared in the videos, acknowledging the variance within the possible definitions that exist and describing the Digital Humanities as using digital technology to “further” humanities research. For example, one participant described DH as “A branch of humanities research that is substantially aided by computational tools or is only possible through the use of computational tools”. Another participant focused on increased accessibility, writing, “The use of on-line resources to further the distribution or access of information relating to the humanities disciplines”. Others approached the definition from a teaching-specific perspective, describing it as applying digital technology to teaching and to the presentation of information in Humanities courses. Lastly, some individuals expressed very negative perspectives on the term “Digital Humanities,” with one describing the term as an “empty phrase”. In many of these examples, the verbs used in describing the Digital Humanities are passive. Descriptions using words such as “use,” or “aid” indicate a relationship with DH tools where there is little engagement with the tool beyond its basic functions. Instead of positioning DH as the primary focus of the definition, participants saw DH as a means to a greater objective, thus reiterating (indirectly) the argument that DH is frequently understood to involve the use of technology to explore questions and goals traditional to the Humanities.
As demonstrated by these responses, the Digital Humanities can encompass a wide range of different work. For the most part, participants in this study positioned the Digital Humanities as a methodology that not only aligns with traditional lines of Humanities inquiry but also acknowledges and embraces the computational possibilities that have emerged through new technological advances. While this suggests some growing lines of consensus, the diversity of response should not be overlooked. On one end of the spectrum, some survey participants remained dubious and highly sceptical of the Digital Humanities, suggesting it was a term of very little substance. On the other, Ogborn claimed that digital tools and practices have been so thoroughly integrated into Humanities practice that the term is no longer necessary. Both perspectives cast doubt on the need for the term; where the former sees DH as ‘nothing’, however, the latter sees it as ‘everything’—so standard and common it no longer needs to be differentiated from other forms of Humanities work.