There’s a running joke in digital humanities circles about the repeated calls to define the field, made all the more funny—or painful—by the difficulty involved in doing so. Every DH practitioner has been called upon at some point to explain to someone—a dean, a colleague, a family member—what exactly this “digital humanities” thing is. In fact, the question is so pervasive that Jason Heppler built whatisdigitalhumanities.com, a website that randomly serves up one of 817 definitions produced by participants in the “Day of DH” events between 2009 and 2014. It’s worth hitting reload a few times to get a sense of the range of ideas out there.
You’ll come across my own definition of “digital humanities” in this text, for what it’s worth. I want to suggest, however, that the point of formulating these definitions may be less arriving at an answer than it is sketching out the contours of the possibility space that opens up when digital technologies and humanities-oriented questions are brought into contact. This is what Making Sense of Digital Humanities enables: a rich, multi-voiced, multi-modal dialogue about what the digital and the humanities can together become.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Making Sense of Digital Humanities is its status, as Julian Chambliss and Ellen Moll note in their introduction, as a “living archive”, a text that can continue to develop as its possibility space grows. I hope that the instructors and students who engage with this text will use it not just to explore what digital humanities is today, but what it could be in the future—and that the results of their explorations will become part of this collective project of sense-making across the field.