In an open-ended survey and subsequent virtual panel discussion Gibbs and Owen, authors of Building Better Digital Humanities Tools, posed questions to historians asking how digital resources have altered the ways in which they conduct their research. The historians who took part highlighted that ease of access, due to the extensive range of information available in the many databases on the web, has meant that their research can be conducted much quicker compared to ten or twenty years ago when various trips to the library had to be made. The historians also reported that search engines such as Google and other resources such as Google Books allow them to find key terms and distinctive quotations relevant to their research that they would otherwise spend days, if not weeks, manually searching for in the past (Gibbs and Owen,2012).
Leary, author of the article “Googling the Victorians”, suggests that for years scholarly discoveries had consisted of manuscripts that had previously gone unnoticed turning up in somebody’s attic or in the drawer of an old desk. The adventures undertaken by today’s scholars however, he states, are more likely to occur in front of a computer screen. There has been a profound shift in our relationship with texts in that our relationship with these texts is now “mediated by digital technology”. Like the historians surveyed by Gibbs and Owen, Victorianists are also utilising digital resources such as Google and Google Books in order to find key terms or to locate various characters in unbelievably vast amounts of text (Leary, 2005).
Google Books, launched in 2004, has scanned and archived approximately twelve million books encompassing many fields of research including history, literature and philosophy. Scholars have stated that digital humanities has and will continue to benefit from this digital resource as humanities researchers and computer scientists over the past few years have combined forces, allowing researchers to ask and answer questions that ten years ago would have been deemed inconceivable (Swift, 2010).
However, although there has been major investment in digital humanities tools in the past few years in order to move beyond Google and Google Books, most of these tools have remained unused. Owen and Gibbs highlight that in the 2005 Summit on Digital Tools at the University of Virginia it was found that roughly six percent of scholars use other digital resources or more complex digital tools when conducting their research and the remaining ninety four percent continue to rely on more readily available information (Gibbs and Owen, 2012).
Thus, it is apparent that digital humanities tools need to be created with ease of use in mind and to aid more traditional ways of researching information rather than trying to create new ways of exploring data. Gibbs and Owen also state that information needs to be easily accessible and visible to the researcher straight away as scholars are unwilling to remain on a site if they have to delve into vast amounts of data and dig deep to find what it is they are looking for (Gibbs and Owen, 2012).
It is clear that there is an extensive amount of information available online; however it is also clear that the digital humanities tools are not being utilised to the best of their ability. Thus, it is important that scholars are made aware of the existence of these tools and are also well-informed on how to use them.
Digital resources are changing digital humanities allowing scholars to analyse, visualise and think about what it is they are researching in a variety of new ways. Scholars now have the ability to engage more closely with the text and can accomplish more in a few weeks than previous scholars could have only dreamed of achieving in a few months or even years.
Gibbs, F. Owens, T. “Building Better Digital Humanities Tools: Toward broader audiences and user-centered designs”, Digital Humanities Quarterly. 2012. Web. 2 April 2013.
Leary, P. “Googling the Victorians”, Journal of Victorian Culture. 2005. Web. 2 April 2013.
Swift, M. “Google Books may advance humanities research, scholars say”, phys.org. 2010. Web. 1 April 2013.