New Horizons? Classics & Humanities in the Digital World.


Invisible Cities

Last night I watched the BBC’s hotly anticipated Invisible Cities, presented by Professor Michael Scott of the University of Warwick. I do enjoy a good documentary about the ancient world, but this was so much more than the usual run of the mill island-hop around Greece or amble around Rome. From the outset, Invisible Cities provided an in-depth exploration of aspects of life in the ancient past that really opened my eyes to how modern technology can provide us with new insights & innovative research techniques for studying the ancient world. 

As I watched the programme I decided that my next post for ClassicalFix would be about this great series, but not only that, I wanted to use Invisible Cities to explore some of the innovative methods that are now available to us as a result of the Digital Humanities. To do this I’m going to present this week’s blog post in two parts. Part one, (this post), provides a short introductory piece about Digital Humanities and it will serve as context for part 2 (which will follow), in which I will review the first episode of Invisible Cities with a focus on the outstanding application of digital technology that brought the ancient world to life throughout the programme.

Digital Humanities: An Overview

digital-humanitiesTo begin with, I have to admit that until very recently I only had a vague understanding of the concept of Digital Humanities. I’d heard the term being batted around, mainly on social media and I hold my hands up and say that I thought it nothing more than an abstract or perhaps even convoluted way in which academics simply applied basic IT systems to various Humanities subjects and gave it a fancy name. My thinking for example, to put it bluntly, was that because I use a word processing programme to write my Classics essays, that in effect makes me a Digital Classicist, does it not? No Tony, not quite! There is far much more to the field than my simplistic analogy, although the application of IT is a fundamental element of the discipline. That being said, locating an adequate definition of Digital Humanities was not straightforward. There is much debate surrounding the field and even those experts practicing it claim that it is continually changing and therefore struggle to provide a definitive framework. Additionally what I thought was a relatively new & perhaps niche area of academic work, is in fact a thriving discipline, one that according to the Digital Humanities page at the University of Oxford started back in the 1970’s. After a number of web searches I was surprised to find that aside from Wikipedia, only a handful of websites provided a firm definition. Even the website – Digital Humanities: Questions & Answers is ironically ambiguous. But, rather pleasingly, I found my definition on the Open University Digital Humanities Page, which defines it thus…

‘Digital Humanities is the critical study of how digital technologies and methods intersect with humanities scholarship and scholarly communication. It investigates the use of digital tools and software for interpretation and analysis of humanities research questions and how digital methodologies can be used to enhance disciplines such as Art History, Classical Studies, History, Literature, Music and many others. 

Digital Humanities allows scholars to approach old problems with new means, or to ask new questions that could not have been asked with the traditional means of humanistic enquiry. Whatever the approach chosen, Digital Humanities remains grounded in humanities research and interests’

The Open University, 2018, Online 

Additionally the University of Manchester states that…

‘Digital technologies are transforming research in the humanities. With one of the largest concentrations of humanities scholars in the UK, The University of Manchester is harnessing cutting-edge digital methodologies and tools to address new research challenges’.

The University of Manchester, 2018, Online

These short videos provide some further useful information about the history of Digital Humanities as well as some of the applications that this intriguing academic field has for current research.

If like me, you are new to the field of Digital Humanities I hope that you’ve taken something useful from this post. I also hope that you enjoy reading Part 2 when I put it up. In the meantime, if you have any comments, questions or feedback please feel free to leave them below!

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