In order to examine what Digital Humanities & Social Sciences really is, we have to break it down into pieces that we can analyze. The Humanities are the study humanity — of culture, language, and “the expressions of the human mind.” Social Sciences are more specific and methodical, often focusing more on real answers than expression and interpretation. These could be considered the main categories of Liberal Arts disciplines, as they contain within them politics, philosophy, economics, literature, history, religion, communication, anthropology, and other similar fields.
Digital Humanities is essentially putting those studies into a digital context in order to make them more relevant and compatible with the modern times. It aims to use unique digital tools that can’t be replicated by print or “real life” tools in order to analyze, preserve, distribute, or display artifacts related to the study of humanities (texts, photographs, etc.). The Social Sciences aspect of it relates to how we analyze these things — any social sciences field will use things like literature and historical documents, so they are a crucial part of which things should be studied and how they should be formatted or displayed. Computers and electronics are what enable our modern society to function and progress, and some parts of our society are in danger of being left behind. If we want to continue to study the humanities, we need to bring them into the modern age and make them more accessible.
One Digital Humanities project I chose to look at is called the “Photogrammer” from Yale University (whose DHSS projects can be found here). It is an interactive map showing where the most photographs were taken in between the years 1935 – 1945 in the United States. You can choose one year or a range of years, and the darkest spots on the map indicate the regions where the most photos were being taken. You can select any county on the map and see all of the photographs in that section, all of which were taken from the Library of Congress so the information is reliable. The project is mainly a historical tool, showing snapshots of life during the Great Depression and World War II in every region of the U.S. It could also be used to study photography, or by anyone who is just interested in seeing what life was like.
The website is very streamlined and user-friendly, and I think it certainly achieves its goal. It is a great example of how to take full advantage of digital formats that couldn’t be achieved by a book or regular map. Being able to interact with the map and really see the visual layout is something unique to digital formats. In print, something like this would have taken up an immense amount of physical space (which it did, in the Library of Congress) and it would have taken a long time to sort through and examine. Putting it in a digital format has made it more convenient and will save time and energy of anyone who wishes to use these records for things like education.
There are other, more technical, sections on the website as well, discussing the technicalities of the photographs and the history behind them. There are also captions on the photos describing the time and place which they were taken and who/what are in the images. This is a huge amount of information that we, as online users, can access in moments. This is just one example of how digital features can enhance and improve upon already existing areas of the humanities and social sciences.
Another successful Digital Humanities project is the Lebanese Virtual Museum of Modern Art, which puts modern art into both an online gallery and a virtual museum that you can “walk through,” with different rooms for different time periods. Lebanon does not have a physical museum of modern art, so this is a kind of digital alternative.
It is very successful as a place to showcase artwork, and even allows you to view it in “rooms” so you can have something closer to the real museum experience. This is an example of how cultures and art can be shared from across the globe, and how we don’t need huge, expensive art installations in order to enjoy art.
More projects can be viewed at http://dhcommons.org/projects, a site that works to connect people working on Digital Humanities projects so that they can achieve their goals and communicate with other in the field. This is a field that will hopefully only grow, since it is clear that our society is quickly progressing into the future of technology and other fields with need to change with the times to avoid becoming obsolete.