News Update on Humanities: March 2021

Meet the humanities

An introduction needs to be made between the rich cultural knowledge of social studies and the natural sciences. [1]

The Digital Future is Now: A Call to Action for the Humanities

The digital humanities are at a critical moment in the transition from a specialty area to a full-fledged community with a common set of methods, sources of evidence, and infrastructure – all of which are necessary for achieving academic recognition. As budgets are slashed and marginal programs are eliminated in the current economic crisis, only the most articulate and productive will survive. Digital collections are proliferating, but most remain difficult to use, and digital scholarship remains a backwater in most humanities departments with respect to hiring, promotion, and teaching practices. Only the scholars themselves are in a position to move the field forward. Experiences of the sciences in their initiatives for cyberinfrastructure and eScience offer valuable lessons. Information- and data-intensive, distributed, collaborative, and multi-disciplinary research is now the norm in the sciences, while remaining experimental in the humanities. Discussed here are six factors for comparison, selected for their implications for the future of digital scholarship in the humanities: publication practices, data, research methods, collaboration, incentives, and learning. Drawing upon lessons gleaned from these comparisons, humanities scholars are “called to action” with five questions to address as a community: What are data? What are the infrastructure requirements? Where are the social studies of digital humanities? What is the humanities laboratory of the 21st century? What is the value proposition for digital humanities in an era of declining budgets? [2]

Introduction: Understanding the Digital Humanities

Across the university the way in which we pursue research is changing, and digital technology is playing a significant part in that change. Indeed, it is becoming more and more evident that research is increasingly being mediated through digital technology. Many argue that this mediation is slowly beginning to change what it means to undertake research, affecting both the epistemologies and ontologies that underlie a research programme (sometimes conceptualised as ‘close’ versus ‘distant’reading, see Moretti 2000???). Of course,this development is variable depending on disciplines and research agendas,with some more reliant on digital technology than others, but it is rare to find an academic today who has had no access to digital technology as part of their research activity. Library catalogues are now probably the minimum way in which an academic can access books and research articles without the use of a computer, but, with card indexes dying a slow and certain death (Baker 1996: 2001), there remain few outputs for the non-digital scholar to undertake research in the modern university. Email, Google searches and bibliographic databases are become increasingly crucial, as more of the world libraries are scanned and placed online. [3]

Humanities students and epistemological obstacles related to limits

The article presents a report on four 45 minute sessions with a group of 17 year old humanities students. These sessions were the first of a series organised with the aim of exploring the possibilities of elaborating didactical situations that would help the students overcome epistemological obstacles related to limits. Students’ attitudes pertinent to the development of the notion of limit, as well as changes of these attitudes, are described and analysed. [4]

Libcitations: A measure for comparative assessment of book publications in the humanities and social sciences

Bibliometric measures for evaluating research units in the book‐oriented humanities and social sciences are underdeveloped relative to those available for journal‐oriented science and technology. We therefore present a new measure designed for book‐oriented fields: the “libcitation count.” This is a count of the libraries holding a given book, as reported in a national or international union catalog. As librarians decide what to acquire for the audiences they serve, they jointly constitute an instrument for gauging the cultural impact of books. Their decisions are informed by knowledge not only of audiences but also of the book world (e.g., the reputations of authors and the prestige of publishers). From libcitation counts, measures can be derived for comparing research units. Here, we imagine a match‐up between the departments of history, philosophy, and political science at the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney in Australia. We chose the 12 books from each department that had the highest libcitation counts in the Libraries Australia union catalog during 2000 to 2006. We present each book’s raw libcitation count, its rank within its Library of Congress (LC) class, and its LC‐class normalized libcitation score. The latter is patterned on the item‐oriented field normalized citation score used in evaluative bibliometrics. Summary statistics based on these measures allow the departments to be compared for cultural impact. Our work has implications for programs such as Excellence in Research for Australia and the Research Assessment Exercise in the United Kingdom. It also has implications for data mining in OCLC’s WorldCat. [5]


[1] Hulme, M., 2011. Meet the humanities. Nature Climate Change1(4), pp.177-179.

[2] Borgman, C.L., 2010. The digital future is now: A call to action for the humanities. Digital humanities quarterly3(4).

[3] Berry, D.M., 2012. Introduction: Understanding the digital humanities. In Understanding digital humanities (pp. 1-20). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

[4] Sierpińska, A., 1987. Humanities students and epistemological obstacles related to limits. Educational studies in Mathematics18(4), pp.371-397.

[5] White, H.D., Boell, S.K., Yu, H., Davis, M., Wilson, C.S. and Cole, F.T., 2009. Libcitations: A measure for comparative assessment of book publications in the humanities and social sciences. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology60(6), pp.1083-1096.

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