As we mentioned last week in our article on "geospatial humanities," we have covered the use of new technology in the service of the humanities for some time here at ReadWriteWeb. Further, this trend is one that institutions are starting to pay serious attention to.

In the van you will find UCLA. The university has begun a Center for Digital Humanities that offers students an interdisciplinary minor in the use of new technology for non-technological study.

With a faculty drawn from 20 departments, five schools and three research institutes at the university, the program is designed to not just bring students up to speed on available technologies and give them the ability to anticipate future developments, but to use the tools in their specific areas of exploration. According to the program's website:

"Digital Humanities interprets the cultural and social impact of the new information age as well as creates and applies new technologies to answer cultural, social, and historical questions, both those traditionally conceived and those enabled by new technologies... It places project-based learning at the heart of the curriculum, with students working in collaborative teams to realize digital research projects with real-world applications. The Digital Humanities minor is intended to provide students with literacy in creating, interpreting, and applying the technologies of the digital world... Students use tools and methodologies such as three-dimensional visualization, data-mining, network analysis, and digital mapping to conceptualize and advance research projects. Students have the opportunity to make significant contributions to scholarship in fields ranging from archaeology and architecture to history and literature."

As Ram Dolon points out in his op-ed in the Daily Bruin, UCLA is making quite a name for itself in the area of digital humanities. "As a measure of our position in the field," he writes, "three of the five leading thinkers MIT Press asked to author the forthcoming book, Digital Humanities: Theory in Practice, are UCLA professors."

"Recent and ongoing projects in the digital humanities include an immersive, three-dimensional recreation of the Roman forum and the production of an authoritative online encyclopedia of Egyptology that overcomes the limitations of the more traditional book form."

Digital Humanities, as a discipline, is in its adolescence (if not infancy). Counter-intuitively, perhaps, it will only be fully grown when it is no longer regarded as separate. These are merely tools, after all, however they may revitalize the disciplines they are used in, and I think when they are integrated completely into the academic tool-set, they will disappear as a distinct area of study and people will look back with some humor at the notion of a degree in digital humanities. Given the pace of change, you might not think the time that far off. But I believe it will require a full generation to cycle through the groves of academe.

UCLA photo by Albert Hsu, Abu Simbel photo by Rafael