Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, from the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum

Last week I attended the Oxford Digital Humanities Summer School, where I was taking the course on linked data. As well as the course sessions there were plenary lectures, of which one of the most interesting was a provocative talk by Andrew Prescott, Professor of Digital Humanities at King’s College, London.

The thrust of Prescott’s argument was that at present, in the UK at least, the digital humanities are simply an ancillary service to academics. Further, digital humanities has served the most conservative and traditional parts of the humanities most assiduously. Prescott surveyed the most prominent digital humanities departments in the country and found a preponderance of “old-style humanities, dressed out in bright new clothes for the digital age.” His own institution he described as an XML factory producing material for academics.

Instead, Prescott went on, digital humanities should create its own intellectual discipline; it should develop its own methods, not model those of others. Digital humanities should get more involved with the born-digital; at present, according to Prescott, digital humanities is not actually much interested in what is happening on the internet.

Prescott has posted the full text of his talk, with links, on his blog, Digital Riffs. It’s well worth reading.

I think that many of the points in the talk are well made, but a question I was left with is simply: what are the digital humanities, then? What characterises a digital humanities scholar in a way which separates them from a humanities scholar in general? Prescott joked that he was a couple of years late completing his PhD in medieval history because he was so absorbed in learning to program. Did those twin interests alone make him a digital humanist? I’m curious about what Prescott’s separate intellectual discipline would look like.

If you have a view on this, please do leave a comment below.