Finding the Digital Humanities

Written by: Dean Rehberger

Primary Source: History Hacks

While popular retelling likes to place the origins of the “digital humanities” with John Unsworth and the entitling of the volume, A Companion to Digital Humanities, the term has earlier origins and DH first began appearing in 1998.  The term is often associated appropriately with one of the pioneers in digital projects, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

In November of 1998, in Technological Horizons In Education, an article “NEH Grants Promote Technology Integration” talks about a new set of NEH grants:

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded 20 “Schools for a New Millennium” grants totaling $622,000. The grants are part of a new NEH initiative to develop precollegiate models for me use of computer technology in day-to-day teaching.The initiative, which builds on the strengths of the agency’s Teaching with Technology initiative and EDSITEment Web site, will help schools integrate digital humanities resources — online and CD-ROM — into teaching and learning in a way that enriches the entire curriculum.

Ahh, remember the days of the CD-ROM.  In 1999, Larry Witham in the Washington Times, in an article curiously entitled “NEH gets Digital Direction, Steers Clear of Culture Wars: Largest funder of humanities looks to be on cutting edge” declares a new era of the “digital humanities”:

The National Endowment for the Humanities’ top panel took a break from approving grants here last week to watch two Hollywood versions of “Hamlet” get a high-tech, side-by-side analysis on a viewing screen.What the 20 NEH council members saw may one day be standard on high school computers, where students can use the Internet or a CD-ROM to study Shakespeare and avant-garde film criticism all at once.”None of this enterprise could have been accomplished without the sustained support of NEH,” Janet H. Murray, senior researcher in educational computing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in her presentation.The era of digital humanities has arrived. (http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-56767623.html)

This is not to leave John Unsworth out.  There is also a NINCH project that he helped to start that dates back to 1998 called the “International Database of Digital Humanities Projects” (http://www.ninch.org/projects/data/data.html).  It was certainly the The Companion to Digital Humanities that gave the term its everydayness, but I am interested in these earlier echoes and others before the turn of the century because they tell a more international story of the origins of DH that I hope to return to shortly.

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