The Rise of the PhD in Digital Humanities

Damon Young
July 26, 2010
Image of a graduation hat and diploma.

England may have fared poorly in the World Cup but it is leading the way in the development of innovative, interdisciplinary doctoral programs in Digital Humanities.

The first dedicated PhD program in Digital Humanities started at King’s College London in 2005. That program is offered through the Center for Computing in the Humanities, though students also work with advisors from other departments. The program is designed to foster research into “the implications and consequences of digital methods for any field or combination of fields in the humanities or beyond.” Students currently in the program are working on a variety of projects including a study of political language in Victorian electoral politics (using computer-assisted corpus-based linguistic methods), a prosopographical study of the Portuguese Court in the 16th century, a study of the semiotics of verbal vs. graphical representation in maps (using computer-based semantic modeling), and a study of the distribution of grammatical sentence patterns in Elizabethan dramatic texts. We can see how the combination of digital technologies with traditional objects of humanities study yields new kinds of research questions, but not all the projects apply new methods to traditional objects; some also consider, for example, "the use of new media in city and public space."

Additionally, University College London has recently announced a fellowship program for its own PhD in Digital Humanities.

In the US, Georgia Tech offers a PhD in Digital Media, but most research in digital humanities takes place, it seems, in English departments. Some of them are listed on Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s blog here. In a previous lab blog, we reported on the Stanford Literature Lab, which uses the vast Google Library Project archive to explore new methods -- including what Professor Franco Moretti calls “distant reading” -- for approaching literary history.

It would seem on this evidence that there is a particular openness towards new computational methodologies in the disciplines of English Literature and Linguistics. What remains to be seen is whether or not other humanities fields, like Philosophy and Religion, will also find themselves transformed by new digital technologies.