Digital Humanities in a Global Context

Digital humanities is not a new field, but it is gaining more and more popularity in recent years. It is an exciting subject area that is constantly evolving and regenerating into whatever form it needs to take for its specific needs. Perhaps this is why the definition of Digital Humanities is often unclear because no two people will have the same of what actually defines DigitalHumanities. Here in Ireland, the discipline of Literary Studies is the main subsection of DH with History projects also dominating the Irish field. (‘The Emergence of the Digital Humanities in Ireland // Articles // Breac // University of Notre-Dame’ n.d.) DH can be a part of many different scholarly fields. This had led to negative arguments in the field in terms of representation on the world stage. In fact, the subject of ‘DH in a Global Context’ is a highly spoken about subject area filled with valid arguments and points of interest, this is what I aim to cover this assignment while focusing on the negative sides of the debate and howit branches into other aspects of not only Digital Humanities but also ComputerScience.

         Fiormonte’s quote leads us back to my original statement that DH is not only a diverse field of study but a field that is commonly taught in the English language to English speaking people. However, this does not reflect the view that DH scholars have on Digital Humanities themselves.  As defined by Gil and Ortegsa, “DH is a migratory community. Known and largely valued by its collaborative culture and commitment to openness, DH as a community now faces that task and challenge of bridging this growing diversity.”(Alex Gil and Élika Ortegsa 2016) One such organisation that is working towards making Digital Humanities more diverse is Global Outlook:: Digital Humanities or GO:: DH which is a special interest group of the Alliance of Digital Humanities which was founded back in s The groups primarily aim is to “break down barriers that hinder communication and collaboration among researchers and students of the digital arts, humanities and cultural heritage sections across political, economic and regional boundaries.” (‘Global Outlook:: Digital Humanities’ n.d.) The organisation’s main theory is that there is more to the world of Digital Humanities that what is called the ‘expert North’ and the ‘apprentice south’ which is commonly seen as how the scholarly world of Digital Humanities is seen. This is a simplified ideal which is highlighted in Melissa Terra’s blog post Quantifying Digital Humanities where it is stated that within the 114 Digital Humanities Centre’s around the world; the United States has a total of forty-four Digital Humanities Centre’s, making it the DH capital of the world,  compared to places like Australia having merely seven centres and New Zealand having one regardless of the size of the country (Melissa 2012). Terras also points out that there is potential growth in the field in areas such as ‘Latin America, the Arab World, Africa and Australia.” For scholar Frédéric Clavert , Terras’ findings did not echo what he knew of the DH world. As he wrote in his blog post, The Digital Humanities multicultural revolution did not happen yet, his experience with French-speaking Digital Humanities was both a positive one and a popular one. While referencing THATCamp Paris, Clavert wrote, “We expected 30 people, we had 80 places (in case). In the end, we had to refuse people…more recently, the DH French-speaking distribution list was opening, more than 500 people got registered in a few weeks.” (Clavert n.d.)

            Before discussing the divide that exists in Digital Humanities, it is important are filled that such a separation can be traced to the origins of DH, covering internet usage. There has always been an invisible and unspoken how it the Western World and the Eastern World, in terms of internet use oravailability, whether we care to admit it or not. In the piece, The Global Digital Divide – Within andBetween Countries, the authors highlighted this; “However, there is alack of increase between lower income countries compared to America. We seethat the US is dominant in terms of internet users in the world as well asKorea who is dominating the broadband connections.” (Chen and Wellman 2004) It is also important to the majority of the users on the internet are English speaking, which automatically discriminates non-English speaking users. In the articles section entitled The Diffusion of the Internet inInternational Context; it is stated that “The diffusion of the Internet (and its accompanying digital divides) has occurred at the intersection of both international and within-country differences in socioeconomic, technological and linguistic factors. High costs, English language dominance, the lack of relevant content, and the lack of technological support are barriers for disadvantaged communities using computers and the Internet. For instance, while about one-half of the world’sInternet users are native English speakers, about three-quarters of all websites are in English.” This brings up a valid point in that a divide could not only take place in different regions of the world but also in differentregions in countries and cities depending on economic factors. Many cities aremulti-cultural but also have lower income regions which may not have access tonew technology or reliable broadband. This is of course no surprise to anyone,especially after the vast majority of the population are still recovering fromthe last Economic Recession that effected many industries. Fiormonte suggeststhat ” DH is monolingual regardless of the country and/or workinginstitution/affiliation of authors…it is not just that digital scholarship isbeing written in English but that English language sources are primarily theones being cited.” (Fiormonte 2015)

            Whatever the side you choose to look on, these findings lead us back to the primary issue that Digital Humanities has which is “The majority of DH scholars are from English speaking countries even though the field prides itself on being both ‘dynamic and innovative’. (Galina Russell 2014) Russell also discussedTerras’ graphic pointing out that the results of the data shows that the  ‘strong USA/UK bias can be product of two things: a reflection on the fact that there are, indeed, more DH scholars andDH production from these parts of the world and, secondly, that DHparticipation from other regions, although smaller, is underrepresented in the mainstream discussion. The questions then are why are these data not available and how could they be included.’  As Gold writes in his introduction to ‘Debates in the DH’, this is ‘a field in the midst of growing pains as its adherents expand from a small circle of like-minded scholars to a more heterogeneous set of practitioners who sometimes ask more disruptive questions.’(Gold 2012) Higgins has a more negative o­­­utlookon this issue, although he acknowledges the positives of the field in his article Cultural Politics, Critique and the Digital Humanities, he also states; ‘My concern is that when everyone is DH finally builds his/her One Collaborative Widget to Rule Them All, the dust will settle around Mordor and it’ll still be mostly a bunch of white academics at relatively wealthy universities talking about open access and probably around a rather nice table with a few unlocked iPads on it.” (‘Cultural Politics, Critique and the DigitalHumanities’ 2010)

Although this critique is a harsh one, it is never the less true as we have seen how DH can be considered an academic area of privilege with scholars using only the best technology to prove their points. However, there are scholars using open source technology and less expensive technology to work on their studies. In 2015, Padmini Pay Murray said, “Your DH is not my DH– and that is a good thing.” In our modern society, we are expected to be the same as everyone, that there is one way of doing things, one way to see things, but this is not the case. In fact, Digital Humanities is a prime example of this, even if there is no concrete definition of it. “Among the challenges of negotiating difference in the global digital humanities is how digital humanities is defined at both local and global levels. Debates over the role of tools within its practices demonstrates competing for local needs subtending the global. “(Risam,n.d.) Perhaps that is where the issue truly lies, if we had an actual definition then these debates would not surface and thus DH scholars would have more time to focus on other areas of study rather than arguing over a definition for digital humanities.            

With or without a definition for Digital Humanities, Global Context is still an issue for many DH scholars and one I’m sure will not erase itself anytime soon. What the scholars, mentioned above, give is a balanced argument as to why the Global Context is so important in DH as an area of study. But what will be important for the scholars of the future is to be mindful of this divide and to encourage more studies in ‘up and coming’ centres in the SouthernHemisphere, as well as trying to delete the notion of centres in the Southern Hemisphere somehow being less successful than there Northern counterparts.  As we look at social media more and more every day we are alerted to the fact that the Earth is getting smaller but becoming larger with connections. It can be instantaneous for someone to contact a colleague halfway around the world. However, we take this for granted, many countries do not have this capability which is why their DH centre is perhaps not as world-renowned as its more privileged counterparts. And that is what DH is a Global Context boils down to; privilege. We hear a lot about this in the media, the idea of White Privilege, Male Privileged to name a few. I am one of these privileged people; I have had a computer since the age of 9, access to the internet at a similar age which has meant that I have more knowledge about technology then perhaps a woman, the same age as me in a less privileged situation. It was said that the beginning that ‘DH is constantly evolving”, but how long will it take for Digital Humanities to take its final form? A form which shows DH in all its glorious diversity with multi-faceted, multi-cultural projects that means that when people ask “What is Digital Humanities?”, we won’t be scrambling for an answer, it will simply come naturally to us and it will apply to all of us; regardless of what privileges we may or may not have had in the past. Because no matter where you are in the world, DH is the future and its time we prepared for it so that we can help to create the next generation of DH students to not make the same errors that we have experienced in the past.


Alex Gil, and Élika Ortega. 2016. ‘Global Outlooks in Digital Humanities: Multilingual Practices and Minimal Computing.’ In Doing Digital Humanities: Practice, Training, Research, 22–34. New York: Routledge.

Chen, Wenhong, and Barry Wellman. 2004. ‘THE GLOBAL DIGITAL DIVIDE – WITHIN AND BETWEEN COUNTRIES’, no. 7: 8.

Clavert, Frédéric. n.d. ‘The Digital Humanities multicultural revolution did not happen yet’. Billet. L’histoire contemporaine à l’ère numérique (blog). Accessed 4 October 2018.

‘Cultural Politics, Critique and the Digital Humanities’. 2010. Tanner Higgin – Blog and Portfolio (blog). 25 May 2010.

Fiormonte, Domenico. 2015. ‘Towards monocultural (digital) Humanities?’ Text. Infolet. 12 July 2015.

Galina Russell, I. 2014. ‘Geographical and Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Humanities’. Literary and Linguistic Computing 29 (3): 307–16.

‘Global Outlook:: Digital Humanities’. n.d. Global Outlook:: Digital Humanities. Accessed 15 October 2018.

Gold, Matthew K. 2012. Debates in the Digital Humanities. U of Minnesota Press.

Melissa. 2012. ‘Melissa Terras’ Blog: Infographic: Quantifying Digital Humanities’. Melissa Terras’ Blog (blog). 20 January 2012.

Risam, Roopika. n.d. ‘Navigating the Global Digital Humanities: Insights from/ Black Feminism’, 11.

‘The Emergence of the Digital Humanities in Ireland // Articles // Breac // University of Notre Dame’. n.d. Accessed 16 October 2018.