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The Gates of Hell: History and Definition of Digital | Humanities | Computing

Edward Vanhoutte

Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature
University College London

The Digital Humanities are buzzing, booming, and clearly becoming big business worldwide. Curiously, there is no consensus about what Digital Humanities means, does or comprises and appreciations of the term range from Matt Kirschenbaum’s ‘tactical convenience’ to my ‘hipster qualification of the Humanities’. This ontological confusion, however, is not new. Since the late 1940’s, the application of computational tools and techniques in and for the humanities has mainly been the realm of practitioners and subject theorists who commonly approached the computer as a useful tool. Developing from warfare machine translation and cryptanalyis, computational linguistics managed to established itself as a discipline in its own right. On the other hand, all sorts of non-linguistic computational endeavours in the humanities advocated a methodological commons under the heading of ‘Humanities Computing’, whose theory and practice was often difficult to explain to non computing humanists. It is a misconception nowadays that the more common term ‘Digital Humanities’ solves this problem and replaces ‘Humanities Computing’. What Digital Humanities does well, is providing a big tent for all digital scholarship in the Humanities. What Digital Humanities does not do well is explaining which activities and theories it houses under its shelter.

This chapter was especially written for the book Defining Digital Humanities and is now available for free.
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Edward Vanhoutte, ‘The Gates of Hell. History and Definition of Digital | Humanities | Computing’. In Melissa Terras, Julianne Nyhan & Edward Vanhoutte (eds.) Defining Digital Humanities. A Reader. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, p. 119-156