Second Wave Digital Humanities

Screenshot of the Pleiades Project's entry for Rome, a good example of second wave digital humanities.
Screenshot of the Pleiades Project’s entry for Rome, a good example of second wave digital humanities.

Having finished my PhD and now moving on to the next opportunity, I’m beginning to consider the wider academic world outside of my very small discipline.  Because of my future work on the Database of Religious History, the world of digital humanities has become more important in my thinking about my own work and engagement with the wider scholarly community.

Thanks to a talk I attended on the Pleiades Project and gearing up to work for the DRH project I began to think about the progression of digital humanities from a methodology concerned solely with the digitization of textual material for study, to a generative and collaborative way of working online.  I naively called this “Second Wave Digital Humanities” in my own internal narrative as I mused about what these projects look like and might accomplish.  Eventual googling led me to a significant amount of scholarship on this exact topic:

The first wave of digital humanities work was quantitative, mobilizing the search and retrieval powers of the database, automating corpus linguistics, stacking hypercards into critical arrays. The second wave is qualitative, interpretive, experiential, emotive, generative in character. (The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0)

In the above quote and other literature the term generative stands out to me as a significant part of what makes these types of projects markedly different from earlier work.  The idea that we are no longer merely presenting data in a new form (the digital part) but rather creating new data through collaborative process.  The collaborative project of both the Pleiades and the DRH with their open contribution systems of editors and content creators has profound implications the creation of academically canonical knowledge.  Opening the doors and letting people contribute using the systems already developed in large projects like Wikipedia are a crucial part of this development.  This is of course coupled with advances currently occurring the world of open-access publishing.

While reading about second wave digital humanities I also came across an article encouraging an exploration of what third wave digital humanities could look like.  The author, David Berry, posits a computational turn, i.e. that eventually digital humanities will change how we actually engage with scholarship and knowledge both at the individual as well as institutional and societal level.  He brings up the idea of streams of data which we now regularly interact with as fundamentally new forms of data not accounted for by the digitization efforts of the earlier digital humanities projects.  It’s all very exciting stuff, and something I’m only beginning to touch the surface of.


Even while reading these articles written less than five years ago I found dead links and expired webpages.  This is a persistent problem in all forms of digital media, one that curtails longer meaningful engagement with scholarship.

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