Cultural Challenges of DH Reflecting on DH Waves

Keywords: history of DH, humanities of the digital, DH disciplinary intersections

The Digital Humanities community is growing at a steady pace, as reflected by the number and variety of contributions to the ADHO DH conference. This growth includes a wider participation of researchers from different disciplines (e.g. computer science) who are engaged in 1) reframing, re-adapting and re-using their methodologies within a Humanities agenda and 2) in bringing back to their disciplines new perspectives and methods from the Humanities.

The DH cross-disciplinary “melting pot” has pushed three main visions [1] (waves). A first wave, “digitized humanities”, focused on the digital conversion of sources. A second, “numerical humanities”, focused on algorithmic and statistical methods and large scale data-driven studies. Lastly, a third (parallel) wave, “humanities of the digital”, focused on computer-mediated interactions within society, which has the unfulfilled potential to be a synthesis of the two [1].

This contribution reflects on the cultural challenges associated with these visions of DH. The digitized humanities brought the challenge of defining digital formats and standards, e.g. TEI and CIDOC CRM, but also questions concerning how the selection of sources for digitization could create or exacerbate existing biases, addressed by gender and post-colonial studies [2,3]. The numerical humanities introduced the challenge of data integration and legacy systems, but also questions concerning the impact of computational methods in the Humanities agenda [4] and the value of legacy data [5].

Concerning the humanities of the digital, we outline the emerging questions arising from the relations between DH and the design of digital objects. Following Liu’s mapping of DH [6], we address the relations between DH and new media studies, with a focus on hypertext and e-literature. Lastly, considering exemplar works in other disciplines [7], we question the potential impact of DH on technical disciplines and therefore on the design of new digital objects.


  1. Roth, C. (2019) ‘Digital, digitized, and numerical humanities’, Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, 34(3), pp. 616–632. doi: 10.1093/llc/fqy057.
  2. Mandell, L. (2019) ‘Gender and Cultural Analytics: Finding or Making Stereotypes?’, in Gold, M. K. and Klein, L. F. (eds) Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019. 1st edn. Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press (Debates in the Digital Humanities, 5). 
  3. Global Outlook::Digital Humanities 
  4. Antonini, A. and Benatti, F. ‘*ing the Written Word: Digital Humanities Methods for Book History’. In press, SHARP 2020: Power of the Written Word Conference Abstracts. 
  5. Antonini, A., Benatti, F. and King, E. Restoration and Repurposing of DH Legacy Projects. In press, DH2020: carrefours/intersections. 
  6. Liu, A. (2015) ‘A Map of the Digital Humanities’. Available at: 
  7. Bardzell, J., Bardzell, S., Blythe, M. Critical Theory and Interaction Design. The MIT Press. 2019.