Amongst Digital Humanists

coverMy book Amongst Digital Humanists: An Ethnographic Study of Digital Knowledge Production (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) brings an ethnographic account of the changing landscape of humanities scholarship as it affects individual scholars, academic fields and institutions, and argues for a pluralistic vision of digital knowledge production in the humanities.

Based on fieldwork conducted at twenty-three academic and funding institutions in the US and Europe and on interviews with researchers, students, librarians, web developers, policy makers, and funders, this study shows how digital technologies transform the ways humanists envision, carry out, communicate, and organize their work and approach their objects of inquiry.

At last, a thorough field study that does not approach the digital humanities as a sole entity, but puts the practices of humanities researchers central. This comprehensive, multifaceted ethnography of the expectations, successes, but also failures of all sorts of actors using digital methods in humanities research should not only be read by (digital) humanists or collaborating computer scientists. Policy makers of universities and funding organizations could also benefit from this empirical exploration of how digital humanists work in practice. —Charles van den Heuvel, Chair, Digital Methods and Historical Disciplines, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This ethnography of 258 digital humanities practitioners – seen as individual scholars doing ‘boundary work,’ and as participants in disciplinary and organizational evolution – moves us decisively beyond the ‘who’s in/who’s out’ misunderstandings of the past several years. Antonijević’s insightful study demonstrates that, when it comes to new modes of knowledge production in the humanities, we’re all in.Bethany Nowviskie, Research Associate, Professor, Digital Humanities, University of Virginia, USA

Finally someone is paying attention to what people really are doing when they say they are doing digital humanities. Antonijević brings empirical depth and analytic clarity to a field often characterized either by overblown claims of radical transformation or deep skepticism about the possibilities of digital technologies. This book is essential reading for those engaged with digital humanities—as researchers, hardware and software developers, university administrators, librarians and archivists, and funders.Sally Wyatt, Programme Leader, eHumanities Group, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Netherlands



1. Digital Humanities as Theory and Practice

2. Workflows of Digital Scholars

3. Disciplinary (Re)Orientations

4. Organizational Patterns

5. Beyond Expectations


Chapter I sets out context for understanding the theoretical and methodological framework of the key concepts and arguments presented in the book. This chapter opens with a brief chronology of digital humanities, outlining the early days of humanities computing, and identifying the most relevant debates and controversies challenging digital humanities today. The chapter then turns to casting an ethnographic look on digital humanities, proposing the methodological and epistemological transition from examination of digital humanities to the analysis of digital humanists.

IMG_2307Chapter II analyzes how individual scholars across disciplines engage with digital technologies in their research workflows. It examines practices, needs, and challenges of scholars’ interaction with digital tools and methods at different stages of the research lifecycle. The chapter harvests a comparative multidisciplinary perspective of my study, illuminating specificities of humanists’ practices in the context of digital scholarship.

Somebody shows me a sentence and the translation, and I don’t know if I was the original translator of it or him [the collaborator]. I could go and find out exactly who did what because the documents have a history, but I prefer not to. [Associate Professor of Comparative Literature]

Chapter III traces four components of scholarly transformation and capacity building concerning humanists’ engagement with digital technologies: research capacity; knowledge capacity; value capacity; and technical capacity. The chapter examines how these aspects of capacity building interrelate with disciplinary objects and methods of inquiry, evaluation of scholarly results, collaborative work, and the design of digital research tools.

If humanists are not involved in the development of digital research tools, then humanistic values—which have to do with the privileging of inquiry based on ambiguity and tolerance of uncertainty and uncertain outcomes—will be pushed to the side. It’s not why do the humanities matter, but how do humanities matter that we need to put forward. [Professor of Bibliography and Library Studies]

Chapter IV, the third and final empirical section of the book, explores the practices and challenges of (re)organizing humanities’ academic activities, research units, services and administrative hierarchies with respect to digital scholarship. Specifically, it considers a set of organizational practices related to digital humanities centers; alternative academic tracks for ‘hybrid’ scholars; organizational support for technologically-intensive research; infrastructural and financial sustainability of digital infrastructures and related issues.

From an administrative point of view, or theoretical point of view, how are we thinking about people’s time and labor? It’s going to be maybe the issue that we should engage with in some way, because our internal inherited systems of classifying employees are not well suited. [Director of a Digital Humanities Center]

In conclusion, Chapter V juxtaposes the empirical findings and theoretical approaches discussed in the previous four chapters through analytical frameworks of boundary work and socio-technical expectations. The chapter proposes an analytical delineation between digital humanities and digital scholarship in the humanities as a prologue to rethinking a set of disciplinary, educational, funding, and organizational questions regarding humanities transition towards digital scholarship, and it argues for the pluralistic future of digital knowledge production in the humanities.

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