To answer this question, one need only look back 30 years and remember how scholarship used to be carried out. Finding books and articles meant looking through scores of print catalogs and bibliographies. Fledgling institutional digital catalogs existed, but hardly contained everything we needed.
In today’s connected world, a stunning variety of virtual, networked resources are available to researchers such as electronic books and document delivery, digitized archival collections, platforms for scholarly communication, data curation and web publishing, open data repositories, and even cloud and high performance computing. Not all humanists are using these resources, but increasing numbers are, and as a result, our scholarly work is taking on a diversity and creativity of new forms.
A term exists for this modern era of computational, data-rich, software-intensive humanities research: digital humanities. And while digital humanities have taken root and are flourishing in major universities around the world, they are very new in the Middle East.
It’s clear that digital humanities mean more than just the use of technology in teaching and research. The compatibility of traditional and digital methods has become more and more apparent in recent years, opening research to new scales of analysis and to new audiences. Far from promoting a hasty embrace of digital tools, digital humanities research casts a critical eye on the technologizing of research and provides new humanistic perspectives on technology, helping us imagine a future world in which we want to live.
Blending technology and humanities scholarship also raises important questions: How does digital technology lead to new kinds of knowledge production? How does embracing new research methods act as a unifying and enabling force within a university? How might digital humanities help researchers strengthen dialogue with the public and, in turn, create new, globally significant research questions?
Digital humanities are particularly suited to NYU Abu Dhabi’s distinctive identity as a research and liberal arts institution. Classes in digital humanities form part of the communicative and rhetorical craft that students must master in order to be critical actors in a knowledge-based society. Furthermore, they create new opportunities for undergraduate research.
Strong digital infrastructure, access to research computing and data services, in addition to its geographic location and highly multilingual faculty and student body, make NYU Abu Dhabi an ideal environment for digital humanities to flourish and contribute to a transformative, global conversation about the future of the humanities in our time.
David Wrisley is an associate professor of digital humanities at NYU Abu Dhabi.