Technological challenges and opportunities for the humanities 

By Michael Donnay, Digital Projects Officer

Science fiction writers love to imagine a future where people have radically different relationships to their books. In some fictional worlds, an implanted chip in your brain provides access to a wealth of information while in others books are closely controlled. These stories allow us to imagine different possibilities, but science fiction writers are not the only people thinking about the future of text. Researchers in the digital humanities have also been examining possible futures that both embrace and question changes in information technology over the past few decades. Alongside their colleagues in the social and computational sciences, humanities scholars are thinking about what research and publishing will look like in the twenty-first century.

Perhaps the biggest shift in the object of humanities research has been the widespread advent of social media. Twitter and Instagram posts have now taken their place among letters, newspapers, and other physical documents in the range of sources that researchers need to be comfortable with. In her piece on approaches to social media, Naomi Wells highlights some of the challenges that social media presents. The ability for users to transition between text and visual forms – and the unique blending of the two that platforms like TikTok allow – will require researchers to be comfortable working across media. Wells argues that the critical and interpretive work of the humanities is essential to our understanding of contemporary culture online.






















The long read

Academic books of the future

By Professor Jane Winters, Director of the Digital Humanities Research Hub  

Humanities researchers disseminate their work in a wide range of venues and formats, depending on an ever-shifting combination of factors. These include disciplinary norms, the demands of particular career stages and assessment cycles, intended audience, personal preference, and other (sometimes overlapping) considerations. Digital Humanities pushes the publishing boundaries further than many disciplines, as a research project might result in the production of code, software, datasets, data visualisations and complex databases as well as the more familiar journal articles, book chapters and monographs. There is experimentation across the humanities, but it lies at the heart of Digital Humanities and strongly influences its publishing patterns and requirements.

But books retain enormous influence in Digital Humanities, just as they do for researchers in history or English studies. Digital Humanities researchers publish textbooks, short- and long-form monographs, edited collections of essays, handbooks, readers, and any number of other book-type objects. These are most commonly available in print and digital formats, with the requirements of print generally shaping structure and function. Where is the experimentation heralded by digital technologies, and the web in particular; where might it lead; and is experimentation with academic books even what authors and readers want?

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The Talking Humanities blog is curated by the School of Advanced Study, University of London.