The Exploration Session ‘Digital Humanities’ (Dr Edmond Smith, U. of Kent) offered an overview of key methodologies in this rapidly developing field as well as vibrant discussions about the future. We did this through the conversations within the session, as well as using an online voting system, through which participants were invited to share their own interests in the subject. Most were new to field, so the session offered a basic introduction to network analysis and a hands-on demonstration, which showed how interpretive and visualisation tools can be used, how they work, and what the results look like. After the demonstration, asked how they might use digital humanities in the future, the answer was clear – an enthusiastic confirmation that network analysis was on their horizons.
In addition to practical guidance about utilising digital humanities methodologies, participants discussed the ways in which interdisciplinary ideas could shape the future of humanities research. As the online voting system showed us in a real-time charting of votes by those attending the session, among the group, 42% hoped to use digital humanities as a means of interpreting or presenting large data-sets while 58% saw the field as most useful for integrating new ways of thinking into humanities research. Ideas drawn from social sciences, economics, biology and even neuroscience were presented as avenues for collaboration and development. Questions were raised about the name of the discipline, how we might develop new means of valuing multi-format publications, and even the suggestion of allowing non-text based doctoral dissertations. Indeed, it was mooted that in 20 or 30 years it might be expected that all humanities scholars will be able to interpret networks and GIS mapping as easily as bar charts and spreadsheets today.