The Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities: a Roundtable Discussion

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Susan Schreibman

    University of Maryland, College Park

  2. 2. Ray Siemens

    University of Victoria

  3. 3. John Unsworth

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  4. 4. Martha Nell Smith

    University of Maryland, College Park

  5. 5. Geoffrey Rockwell

    McMaster University

  6. 6. Abby Smith

    Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)

  7. 7. Claire Warwick

    University College London

  8. 8. Perry Willett

    University of Michigan

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

This session will reflect on the recently published Blackwell
Companion to Digital Humanities by six of its
contributors and its three editors. This collection marks a turning
point in the field of digital humanities: for the first time, a wide
range of theorists and practitioners, those who have been active
in the field for decades, and those recently involved, disciplinary
experts, computer scientists, and library and information studies
specialists, have been brought together to consider digital
humanities as a discipline in its own right, as well as to reflect
on how it relates to areas of traditional humanities scholarship.
The participants for this panel discussion reflect the broad range
of themes and disciplinary areas of interest that the 38 chapters
of the Companion address. Rockwell's chapter "New Media"
(co-authored with Andrew Mactavish) is part of the History
section, which considers the field from disciplinary
perspectives. Perry Willett's chapter, "Perspectives and
Communities", and Willard McCarty's chapter entitled
"Modelling", represent the second section, 'Principles', which
includes chapters on databases, text encoding, and communities.
Martha Nell Smith, writing about "Electronic Scholarly
Editing", and Claire Warwick, writing on "Print Scholarship
and Digital Resources", are part of the Companion's third
section, entitled 'Applications', which covers a wide range of
cross-disciplinary perspectives on how computer-mediation
has changed our approach from fields as diverse as authorship
studies, robotic poetics, and speculative computing. Abby
Smith's chapter on "Preservation", is from the Companion's
last section entitled 'Production, Dissemination, Archiving',
which covers a broad range of practical issues (including project
design, conversion of primary sources, text tools, and
The panel will open with a discussion of the collection's origins
in the research carried out over the past half a century on
textually-focused computing in the humanities. It will, however,
quickly move on to how broadly the field now defines itself,
which is evident from even the most cursory glance at the
Companion's table of contents. The field remains deeply
interested in text. But as advances in technology have made it
first possible, then trivial to capture, manipulate, and process
other media, the field has redefined itself to embrace the full
range of multimedia. Especially over the last decade with the
advent of the World-Wide Web, digital humanities has
broadened its reach. At the same time, it has remained in touch
with the goals that have animated it from the outset: using
information technology to illuminate the human record, and
bringing an understanding of the human record to bear on the
development and use of information technology. In it is in these
areas that the chapters by Willett and McCarty are especially
The first eleven chapters of the Companion address the field
from disciplinary perspectives. Although the breadth of fields
covered is wide, what is revealed is how computing has cut
across disciplines to provide not only tools, but also
methodological focal points. What the editors discovered when
doing final editing of the volume is that there exists a common
focus across disciplines on preserving physical artifacts whether
these have been left to us by chance (ruin, and other debris of
human activity), or that which has been near-impossible to
capture in its intended form (music, performance, and event).
Yet many disciplines have gone beyond simply wishing to
preserve these artifacts, to re-representing and manipulating
them so that their hidden properties and traits can be revealed.
Moreover, digital humanities now also concerns itself with the
creation of new artifacts which are born digital and require
rigorous study and understanding in their own right.
What was also revealed in editing the volume was the
widespread notion that there is a clear and direct relationship between the interpretive strategies that humanists employ and
the tools that facilitate exploration of original artifacts based
on those interpretive strategies. More simply put, those working
in the digital humanities have long held the view that application
is as important as theory. This point is clearly demonstrated in
the chapters by Martha Nell Smith and Clare Warwick. Thus
exemplary tasks traditionally associated with humanities
computing hold the digital representation of archival materials
on par with analysis or critical inquiry, as well as theories of
analysis or critical inquiry originating in the study of those
materials. The field also places great importance on the means
of disseminating the results of these activities as well as the
realization that strategies for preserving digital objects must be
built into the design process at the very earliest stages of project
design, as evidenced by Abby Smith's contribution.
The panel will close with a discussion of how the Companion
serves as a historical record of the field, capturing a sense of
the digital humanities as they have evolved over the past
half-century, and as they exist at the moment. Yet, if one looks
at the issues that lie at the heart of nearly all contributions to
this volume, one will see that the taken as a whole, this
collection reflects a relatively clear view of the future of the
digital humanities, which the panel will also consider. Lastly,
the panel will address how digital humanities is addressing
many of the most basic research paradigms and methods in the
disciplines, to focus our attention on important questions to be
asked and answered, in addition to important new ways of
asking and answering that are enabled by our interaction with
the computer.
Hockey, Susan. Electronic Texts in the Humanities. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2000.
McCarty, Willard. What is Humanities Computing? Toward
a Definition of the Field. Accessed 2005-03-09. <http://
Schreibman, Susan. "Computer-mediated Discourse: Reception
Theory and Versioning." Computers and the Humanities 36.3
(2002): 283-293.
Schreibman, Susan, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth. A
Companion to Digital Humanities. Oxford: Blackwell's, 2004.
Siemens, R.G. "'A New Computer-Assisted Literary Criticism?'
An introduction to A New Computer-Assisted Literary
Criticism?" [A special issue of] Computers and the Humanities
36.3 (2002): 259-267.
Unsworth, John. Inaugural E-humanities Lecture at the National
Endowment for the Humanities, April 3, 2001. Accessed
2005-03-21. <

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None