The Digital Future is Now: A Call to Action for the Humanities

This paper is based upon the Keynote lecture given at Digital Humanities 2009 in Maryland, USA, by Professor Christine Borgman (link).


The digital humanities are at a critical moment in transitioning from a speciality area to a full-fledged community with a standard set of methods, sources of evidence, and infrastructure necessary for achieving academic recognition. Only the most articulate and productive will survive as budgets are slashed, and marginal programs are eliminated in the current economic
crisis. Digital collections are increasing, but most still need to be made easier to use, and digital scholarship remains a backwater in most humanities departments concerning hiring, promotion, and teaching practices. Only the scholars themselves are in a position to move the field forward. Experiences of the sciences in their initiatives for cyberinfrastructure and eScience offer valuable lessons. Information- and data-intensive, distributed, collaborative, and multi-disciplinary research is now the norm in the sciences while remaining experimental in the humanities. Here are six factors for comparison, selected for their implications for the future of digital scholarship in the humanities: publication practices, data, research methods, collaboration, incentives, and learning. Drawing upon lessons from these comparisons, humanities scholars are called to action with five questions to address as a community: What are data? What are the infrastructure requirements? Where are the social studies of digital humanities? What is the humanities laboratory of the 21st century? What is the value proposition for digital humanities in an era of declining budgets? (original link to paper).



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