Carnegie Mellon University



Welcome to Carnegie Mellon University’s 2024 four-day Digital Humanities (DH) Literacy Workshop, funded by the A.W. Mellon Foundation.

The goal of this course is to help you decide whether you want to pursue DH in more depth. Through lectures, hands-on breakouts, discussions, and assignments, by the end of the week, you’ll have a basic-but-broad understanding of what DH is and how people do it. You’ll also meet others in Pittsburgh with similar interests with whom you can study and learn, and local professors or librarians who you may eventually want to take classes from or work with. 

Everyone’s here to learn, including your instructors. DH is still new, and we’re figuring it out together.

Before the course begins you’ll need to register for the workshop by Friday, 3/31, and there is a short assignment to finish by Monday, 5/20. 

What is Digital Humanities?

It’s easier to say what digital humanities isn’t than to say what it is. DH definitely isn’t about inventing new medicines, discovering the origins of life, or developing new programming languages. It usually isn’t about teaching online courses (that’s Technology-Enhanced Learning’s job), nor usually about discovering social laws using machine learning (that’s in the realm of Computational Social Science). It’s probably not about publishing humanities research in a blog, and it’s only occasionally about designing creative museum exhibits.

3D printing and then creating a diorama of the stage setup from a 19th century magic act in order to learn something about historical performance techniques is considered DH, even though it barely involves computers. On the other hand, googling and reading a bunch of digitized pamphlets published by magicians in the 19th century, writing an article about it in Microsoft Word, and posting it online is not considered DH, even though everything’s done digitally.

Studying the ethics of social media often falls under the digital humanities, even when the research itself doesn’t involve the use of a computer, yet building ethical social media platforms generally isn’t considered DH (except when sometimes it is, as with the social media platform HASTAC, which predates both Facebook and MySpace).

This ambiguity stems in part from the peculiar history of DH, and in part from its institutional home. The phrase “Digital Humanities” was coined around 2003 between a group of literary scholars, librarians, and information scientists at the University of Virginia and the University of Victoria. 

You’d often see work including, but not limited to, stylometrics, text encoding, and cultural heritage.

  • Stylometrics is the quantitative study of authorial style, often used to discover the true author of an anonymous text.
  • Text encoding is the practice of interrogating and representing digitally the structural components of text; it’s the difference between taking a picture of a page of a book, and representing the exact state of the printing press before a page is ink-stamped onto a piece of paper.
  • Cultural heritage work often includes work by archaeologists and museum specialists employing observational instruments to understand a physical artefact; for example, performing infrared spectroscopy on a medieval manuscript to learn the chemical composition of ink on the page.

Since 2003, the definition of DH has widened considerably, taking under its umbrella all sorts of research communities that might sit between the word “digital” and the word “humanities”.

Certain branches of philosophy were heavily computational decades before DH ever existed, and many of those practitioners were here at CMU. This sort of work might include the creation of complex models of how people think, and then using computers to run these models as simulations to better understand, for example, how languages evolve.

Feminist and postcolonial digital humanities have recently become popular, and within those communities, researchers are studying how algorithms reinforce bias, how access to computers or digitized resources shapes the dialogues of the humanities, or how data visualizations can be more expressive and relevant by drawing on feminist theory. 

Critical Code Studies, another DH-aligned topic, reminds the world that more computer code is written every year than text from most of the world’s languages. Practitioners look at computer code more like a second language than a creative tool, exploring the cultural significance and effects of its usage.

Cultural analytics scholars tend to study broad trends in history by statistically analyzing the cultural and literary output of communities en masse, combing through thousands or even millions of texts with the help of machine learning. In other realms of literary DH, researchers turn their battery of computational tests onto single texts or works of art, using machines to facilitate new modes of cultural criticism.

These represent a few of the many facets of the digital humanities, which is as broad and as difficult to define as the humanities itself. Instead of a single disciplinary identity, what digital humanists often share is each other. They attend similar conferences, follow each other on social media, and cite each other in their work.

Attending the Workshop

Now that you know a bit more about DH, take a look at the schedule for details on attending the workshop; read through the participating link to learn more about what you have to do before, during, and after the workshop; and peruse the resources page to learn more.