How to Explain Digital Humanities to Parents

Students and faculty define DH in plain language
Image by Priscilla du Preez.

The holiday season is among us, and the incoming questions are inevitable from curious friends and family:

  • "What are you studying again?" "What is Digital Humanities?"

If you're struggling to find the exact words, you're not alone. Defining Digital Humanities can be difficult to explain given its novelty and cross-disciplinary scope, and has been the subject of numerous books, articlesblog posts and online discussions

So, how would you explain Digital Humanities to your parents?

To help tackle this task for you, we asked a graduate student, an undergraduate student & a professor at McGill to explain, in terms that we can all grasp, what Digital Humanities is to them.

Joey Love, Undergraduate Student

"To me, Digital Humanities is all about using digital tools to study the Humanities in a more empirical way than ever before. The Humanities can often be subject to sweeping generalizations and sample bias, and I believe that digital tools can offer us a more analytical framework to help us understand the Humanities' biggest questions.

For example, a computer can 'read', or at least process, a million times more books than I ever could, and this allows us not just to find connections and relationships in literature that would otherwise be lost in a sea of data, but also to put more reliable quantitative values on our ideas."

Lidia Ponce de la Vega, Graduate Student

“With my mom, I usually tell her that Digital Humanities is doing the same thing that we are doing in the Humanities, but with the awareness, realization, and affordances that digital tools and environments give us. So, we can analyze digital things with digital tools. Making graphs, counting words, making connections and examining things online.”

Andrew Piper, Faculty 

“I use AI to understand how literature works. Why do people tell made-up stories? Why do different people tell different kinds of stories? How have these habits changed over long stretches of human history? We know that storytelling is essential for human beings. Computers can be really useful for answering these kinds of questions."

We hope these insights help you navigate the dinner table discussion, and we would love to hear how you explain DH to friends and family!

digital.humanities [at] (Write us an e-mail )
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