Where to start with Digital Humanities

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 904, pp. 203-4 – Prisciani grammatica (https://www.e-codices.ch/en/list/one/csg/0904)

June marks the end of the IRC and AHRC funded research network A Digital Framework for the Medieval Gaelic World series of four workshops. These were moved online to cope with the pandemic and as a result were more accessible to students and researchers from further afield. The workshops were a great opportunity to learn from digital specialists and projects both from Celtic Studies and other academic disciplines but also from libraries and technical experts. One key issue raised in all the sessions was training and as an undergraduate student this is very much where my own interest in digital humanities (DH) is currently.

Digital Humanities can cover a wide range of outputs from resources such as digitised manuscripts like on Irish Script on Screen and electronic versions of texts such as those on the CELT repository. But digital humanities is about more than just creating resources. It covers more research orientated projects for example databases such as the newly launched CorPH database which includes linguistic analysis of the texts or projects that use network analysis such as the MACMORRIS project.

So using this as an excuse I thought I would share some online (free!) learning resources that will get you started with the creative side of DH work! Most of these resources are not focussed on Celtic studies but cover techniques that we can use in our own research and to create resources.

First here are some more general resources, some introductions to digital humanities and important best practice guides for digital projects: 

Here are two general introductory courses:

FAIR data is a set of principles for how we should create and work with data  - the purpose is to make things findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.

If you are looking for something fairly simple to start with, I would recommend XML. XML is a markup language that allows us to create human and machine readable text-based data. It works by enclosing text/data in series of tags that convey information about the text. For example you might tag all names or dates and include a standardized form of them within the tag (this is called an attribute). These tags can then be used together with other programming languages to create a digital version of the text, or to convert it into other formats such as a database. It is a preservation format, meaning data should be retrievable in the long term and machine readable so both humans and computers can understand it. It is also interoperable, meaning it can work across software and platforms, and it is not owned by a company so anyone can use it. 

You can then use other XML based technologies to convert your encoded text into other formats such as html for web browsers or into a database. You can invent any tags you want but I would suggest using the tags provided by the Text Encoding Initiative as they are very flexible and its always a good idea to follow standards and best practice even if you don’t think your first project will go beyond your own hard drive.

an example of an encoded text using xml and a script editor

XML is the x in .docx word files but to mark up your own text or data you only need the free text editor that comes pre-installed on most computers. There are also free script editors like atom or free trials of other paid software that will display your work in multiple colours, so it is easier to see where your tags are.

These two short courses on DARIAH teach are a good place to start.

Text encoding and the Text Encoding Initiative

Digital Scholarly Editions: Manuscripts, Texts and TEI Encoding

If you are more interested in databases this course created by Stanford on edx.org explains how to use XML as the starting point for databases:

Databases: Semistructured Data

Freya Smith (she/her), University of Glasgow


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