Tools for Digital Humanities

A Non-Technical Tech Report

Digital humanities work necessarily involves the use of a variety of software (and hardware). The following are some brief notes on where those tools might come from, and their advantages.

Made Just for Us

First we have the wealth of software options that have been developed with humanities computing in mind. Here I include such tools as TAPoR, searchable electronic editions of texts and even simple visualizations like Wordle. These tools offer specific (pre-determined) research possibilities for scholars. They vary widely in quality and ease of use, but, taking TAPoR as an example, are often very easy to pick up and apply with a minimum of effort on the part of an individual scholar. The disadvantage of these sorts of tools is that one must adhere to the possible uses intended by the developers.

Tools for Building Tools

Next we have software development tools. In this box I included items that have a very general functionality which may be used to develop one's own tools. Databases, HTML coding and applications like Adobe's Flash fit into this category. Depending on the complexity of the tool, the scholar may be faced with a significant time investment before he or she can begin to produce useful material, for example the time needed to learn a programming language such as Actionscript 3, used to produce functionality for Flash. The advantage is that these tool-building tools are very adaptable. Scholars may design and develop tools that are very specific to their individual needs. Programmable tools can also be used to produce a finished product that will be more generally useful; once the work is done, the humanities programmer will have produced a tool that fits into the first box.

What are They Using?

The third type of tool that is useful to digital humanities scholars is one which has been designed for use in another field. These tools can range from those designed for use by another discipline in the humanities (outside the scholar's own) to those intended for ostensibly incompatible fields. or example, Sandra L. Arlinghaus in the Geographical Review, recommends working with mathematicians and engineers to further knowledge in her field (467). In conversation with a geological engineer I have begun to see how the statistical analysis tools and algorithms he uses might be applied TAPoR-like to analyze texts. This is a simplistic example, as TAPoR is already developed, but by allowing free reign to your imagination it is possible to find concordance in what may be perceived as fields distant from the study of literature. Then we can steal their tools. Also the engineer has what amounts to a working tricorder!

References

Arlinghaus, Sandra Lach. "Maps ex Machina." Geographical Review, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Oct., 1994), pp. 465-468. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/215760>