A Digital Humanities Manifesto

What does the coming digital revolution of the past decade mean? How have academic institutions responded to the digital? How far will Thailand 4.0 go? These questions are directly answered by this manifesto, but the manifesto does offer a grounded account of the much referenced ‘Digital’. The manifesto leaves the reader unsure of definite answers. But one thing is for sure: ‘Interdisciplinarity/transdisciplinarity/multidisciplinarity are empty words unless they imply changes in language, practice, method, and output.’

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[The content of the manifesto represents the view of the authors and does not claim to represent the views of UCLA, the UCLA Humanities, Division, and the Digital Humanities at UCLA.]

Digital humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated.

Like all media revolutions, the first wave of the digital revolution looked backwards as it moved forward. It replicated a world where print was primary and visuality was secondary, while vastly accelerating search and retrieval. Now it must look forwards intoan immediate future in which the medium specific features of the digital become its core.

The first wave was quantitative, mobilizing the vertiginous search and retrieval powers of the database. The second wave is qualitative, interpretive, experiential, even emotive. It immerses the digital toolkit within what represents the very core strength of the Humanities: complexity.

Interdisciplinarity/transdisciplinarity/multidisciplinarity are empty words unless they imply changes in language, practice, method, and output.

The digital is the realm of the open: open source, open resources, open doors. Anything that attempts to close this space should be recognized for what it is: the enemy.

Yes, there is something utopian at the core of digital humanities: The open, the unfixed, the contingent, the infinite, the expansive, the no place.

Copyright and IP standards must, accordingly, be freed from the stranglehold of Capital. Pirate and pervert Disney materials on such a massive scale that Disney will have to sue… your entire neighborhood, school, or country. Practice digital anarchy by creatively undermining copyright and mashing up media.

The multi-purposing and multiple channeling of humanistic knowledge: no channel excludes the other. This is an abundance based economy, not one based upon scarcity. It values the COPY more highly than ORIGINALS and restores to the word COPY its original meaning of abundance: COPIA = COPIOUSNESS = THE OVERFLOWING BOUNTY OF THE INFORMATION AGE.

Large-scale complexity: need for teamwork as new model for the production and reproduction of humanistic knowledge. Teams sometimes fail because they take risks. This is the heart of digital humanities: Risk-taking, collaboration, and experimentation.

Co-creation is one of the founding features of the digital turn in the human sciences, because of the greater complexity. But this collaborative turn doesn’t exclude … perhaps there is a space of hermetic works of the mad individual.

Among the highest aims of scholarship: entertainment; entertainment as scholarship: a scandal that is now no longer a scandal. To speak to an audience.

Process is the new god; not product. Anything that stands in the way of the perpetual mash-up and remix stands in the way of the digital revolution.

Dedefinition of the contours of the research community once enclosed by university walls. The field of knowledge and expertise far exceeds these confines. There is no containing it within these walls. The challenge: to construct models of knowledge creation/sharing that confront this increasingly distributed reality.

Wiki-nomics is the new social, cultural, and economic reality. Technologies and content are mass produced, mass authored, and mass administered. Social media produce culture.

Big Humanities: whereas the revolution of the post-WWII era has consisted in the proliferation of every smaller and more rigorous areas of expertise and subexpertise, and the consequent emergence of private languages, the Digital humanities revolution is about integration: the building of bigger pictures out of the tesserae of expert knowledge. It is not about the emergence of a new general culture, Renaissance humanism/humanities, or universal literacy, but, on the contrary, promotes collaboration across domains of expertise.

At the edges of digital humanities, entertainment meets the highest standards of scholarship in ways that forge a new trans-university audience for humanistic knowledge.

Beware of the false fellow travelers: they will wave the banners of change with continuity on their agenda.

Beware of the great diminishers: they will reduce anything in digital humanities and preface our work with "just" (it's just a tool; it's just an archive; it's just pedagogy). They have never built software, parsed code, created a database, or designed a user interface. They just write articles and books.

Digital humanities promote a flattening of the relationship between masters and disciples. A dedefinition of the roles of professor and student, expert and non-expert.

Digital humanities represents the woven together practice of research: a triangulation of arts practice, commentary/critique, and outreach, merging scholarly inquiry, pedagogy, publication and practice.


Many humanities disciplines were founded on and through the medium of print (the study of literature, history; translation); the rest valorize the printed word for the generation and dissemination of knowledge of their field. What does it mean to study "literature" or "history" when print is no longer the normative medium in which literary or historical artifacts are produced, let alone analyzed? What does it mean, more generally, for humanistic knowledge?

Digital Humanities is the last blow. In the 70s and 80s, women's studies, LGBTQ studies, ethnic studies, and cultural studies opened up the humanities to address issues of social, political, and cultural disenfranchisement and possibilities for re-enfranchisement. The Humanities was no longer the domain of the proverbial "old white man." Now, digital humanities deconstructs the very materiality, methods, and media of humanistic inquiry and practices. But we must continue to ask: Where did humanities disciplines come from, in response to what kind of needs, with what sort of explanatory power? How did its practices, truth-making strategies, knowledge products, media forms, and ways of evaluating utterances get naturalized??

The Humanities are contingent formations that have become stabilized and made culturally redundant at the university: As if we have always had The Department of X, which has produced knowledge about X, and therefore we can’t possibly imagine anything otherwise. Let X = literature departments (German, English, Spanish, Slavic, etc), Art History, Musicology, History, Philosophy, Classics, etc. Traditional Humanities is balkanized by nation, language, method, and media. Digital Humanities is about convergence: Not only between humanities disciplines and media forms, but also between the arts, sciences, and technologies.

How about a thought exercise in which we imagine different constellations (not just disciplinary constellations, but also other configurations of producing knowledge that can be team- and project-based, collaborative, open-ended, globally-oriented, engaging for new audiences and institutions).

Here are some new departments for the Humanities Division:

Department of Print Media Studies: Replacing literature departments, the purpose of this department is to study the materiality of texts, constructions of authorship, linguistic forms, the history of the book and book publication, antecedents to and descendents of print, as well as the relationships and tensions between print culture and digital culture.

Department of Discourse Analyses: The purpose of this department is to study the history of the triangulation of knowledge/discourse/power, paying particular attention to discursive structures, knowledge making, and the specific media forms in which knowledge is produced, disseminated, encountered, and valued.

Department of Comparative Media Studies: The purpose of this department is to study sonic, visual, tactile, and immersive media through a comparative framework. This department replaces the division of humanities departments by media form (departments of art history, musicology, film, etc).

Department of Digital Cultural Mapping: The purpose of this department is to examine the junctions between space/time, information, and culture. It brings geographic analyses together with historical methods, visual analysis, and the presentation of knowledge. It also examines the cultural and social impact of digital mapping technologies and the significance of these mapping technologies for understanding cultural phenomena.

Department of Cultural Analytics: The purpose of this department is to bring quantitative analyses from the math and sciences together with large-scale, complex social and cultural datasets.

We encourage you to come up with your own departments!

We must ask: Why do disciplines/departments in the humanities (vs. the sciences) not die? Why do we try to resuscitate and sustain disciplines? Here are some reasons (there are more): Cognitive Conservatism, Institutional Inertia, the fear of risk-taking, the tenure and promotion system which encourages repetition of truthful utterances within a discipline rather than innovation and risk taking, the dogged determination to "replace" faculty with the same...

Can we imagine more flexible, nimble, contingent disciplinary formations, in which faculty and students work on "knowledge problematics" not in rigid disciplines and departments, in which knowledge is produced and disseminated in ways that are multivalent, truly interdisciplinary, and conspicuously cognizant of their contingency?