The Future of Digital Humanities, are libraries essential?

Digital Humanities (DH) has no official definition as a discipline, for it incorporates every element from the humanities faculty such as languages, history, literature, music, media, computer science, etc. (David M. Merry, 2019). This merger of the humanities and digitisation has arguably challenged the way in which students of these subjects interact with the texts of their courses, and how they would use the digital library; through digitisation these historical texts are more accessible to be read and used in research projects. Merry states this will “expand our understanding of human culture in a digital world”. To create this digital world, digital tools are crucial such as: data visualization, textual analysis, digital mapping, and creating digital corpora, such as text mining and data analysis projects (Varner, 2016). Which in turn means there has to be a team monitoring the behind the scenes of these databases and digital tools used to deliver immersive digital content. 

A project by Rita Lucarelli at Berkeley university highlights how DH can improve the learning experiences of students. By creating a digital platform, the students will be able to study in-depth an ancient Egyptian tomb, with users allowed to pan and zoom in and around the coffin in a 3D digital environment. With the ability to click on areas of text to highlight and read annotated translations of different parts of the tomb. This immersive, interactive platform allows for greater consideration of students in potentially using the library’s special collections for their own research in assignments. 

Another example is at Trinity College University Dublin, where computer science professor Owen Colan created Cultra, a tool which analyses historical material (e.g. the 1641 depositions). The tool will identify entities in the text such as locations, places, events, people, and dates, and extract this information to give online “Access Paths” to enquire further into specific parts of the text. Delivering high quality immersive content is the driving force behind these two projects, in engaging their students and users through different teaching methods. 

Now where does the library fit into all this?

Academic libraries are essential to the smooth running of these projects, with liaison such as the special collection librarians,  thus being able to help students and academic staff find what digital collections can be accessed for study and teaching purposes. (Stewart Varner, 2016). Stewart Varner exemplifies an idea that the library “is not only a storehouse for information but a connection point for all the parts of the research process.” (Varner, 2016, p. 208) Varner suggests that librarians can become collaborators of the research process directing and instructing students, with digital tools, towards the best routes to find resources applicable to them, and their projects. Also, Melissa Terras suggests librarians have become crucial to the smooth running of these digital infrastructures, in assisting with the databases, websites, and additional teaching material, to deliver the content successfully for users. With memory institutes, such as libraries, needing to transfer and deliver accessible “digital representation” of historical documents to improve user engagement with the digital special collections. (Terras, Hockey, and Ross, 2012) However, as Varner suggests to incorporate libraries into DH projects there has to be specialised training for librarians to effectively teach about the collections and digital tools they are promoting for students. (Varner, 2016)  For the benefits of DH’s students and academics there has to be clear communication with the library with specialised librarians willing to adapt to these new technological advancements to better deliver the historical humanities course content. Conversely this lack of integration with the library, DH as a discipline cannot deliver content smoothly and successfully to it’s users, who in turn will be unable to have the digital tools necessary for the DH curriculum.


Berry, David M. What are the digital humanities?, Feb 2019, Accessed: 23 November 2020

Lucarelli, Rita Images of Eternity in 3D. The visualization of ancient Egyptian coffins through photogrammetry, Digital Humanities at Berkeley,   Accessed: 26 Novemeber 2020

Robinson, Lyn, Are the Digital Humanities and Library & Information science the same thing?, June 2015, thelynxiblog Accessed: 25 November 2020

Terras, Melissa. “Digitization and Digital Resources in the Humanities.” in Digital Humanities in Practice, edited by Claire Warick, Facet Publishing, 2012

Varner, Stewart. “Library Instruction for Digital Humanities Pedagogy in Undergraduate Classes.” In Laying the Foundation: Digital Humanities in Academic Libraries, edited by White John W. and Gilbert Heather, 205-22. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2016. Accessed November 26, 2020. doi:10.2307/j.ctt163t7kq.14.

Digital Humanities Research Theme at Trinity, Trinity College Dublin, 2014, Accessed: 27 November 2020

3 replies on “The Future of Digital Humanities, are libraries essential?”

I like your post, it’s very good at giving an idea of the scope of what the digital humanities encompasses, and highlighting how the digital humanities are currently being used in academic environments. Your argument that libraries and digital humanities projects should collaborate more closely in order to benefit users is compelling, and you point out current roadblocks to achieving this in a concise way.


Your Blog is really well written and composed. I like how you incorporated examples of how digitalisation works in enabling students to access real life items they would otherwise not be able to study including all the multi-dimensional possibilities of the respective media.
I agree that the digital humanities and libraries should form a symbiosis so that each can further the other. Furthermore, libraries should be incorporate more in every thing. The time for compartmentalisation is past, we need to work together as much as possible and again the digital age has proven to be very helpful in this regard as well. Let’s hope for the future!


As someone that study Linguistic, I really enjoy reading your blog on DH and the creation of a digital platform where students will be able to study in-depth an ancient Egyptian tomb for instance with users allowed to pan and zoom in and around the coffin in a 3D digital environment. With the ability to click on areas of text to highlight and read annotated translations of different parts of the tomb. What amazing experience must that be for students of Archeology for instance. I am also thinking internationally from a linguistic point of view that this document could also be access worldwide by students who speaks different languages.
DH is an interesting field that will be very relevant to libraries.
That is a very interesting and informative blog and I was genuinely captivated by the topic.
Great blog!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s