Data to Digital Scholarship

When we think about market research, the economy, profit, sales it is easy for us to state what we mean by data. Most of us, if not all, visualise numbers when we think of data. However, data is so much more than merely numbers. How then do we define data in Humanities?

If we start at a very basic level, data related to Humanities could be figures on the number of copies of a particular book sold in a country in comparison to other countries. This data could be indicative to the acceptance of certain ideas in certain countries.

Data could also be a list of all the books written on the Woman Question in the 18th century. It could give us insights into who was writing these books; men or women?What kind of theories were being propagated about the woman question in the 18th century.

Combining the research that goes into collecting these data with digital tools or the digitisation of data helps us to widen the scope of our research.

Photo by Denise Janson Unsplash

This leads us to Digital scholarship, which includes visual humanities, like paintings, sculptures, maps of areas travelled in the course of a novel, three dimensional recreations of cities. It includes digital history, like data on when a book was first published, how did it come to be distributed, when was it first digitised, what kind of copyright licence was associated with its digitisation and much more. It incorporates new media like digital copies of manuscripts, X-rays of paintings, video narratives and ever evolving computational methods.

However, what do we seek to gain out of digital scholarship? What is the point of digitising paintings except for the fact that it provides greater access? What is the point of creating maps of cities in which authors placed their novels?

The answer to these questions is, it helps to derive more meaning from a piece of art or literature.

For instance a non-scholarly visitor to a museum might look at a painting and just appreciate the aesthetic quality of a painting. Now, if that painting has been digitised, the visitor might read information related to the painting while booking the tickets online. Assumptions right! But let us assume this will happen. Having read the information, when a visitor comes face to face with the actual painting there is a feeling of knowing and a previous association. It might encourage the viewer to look for more details in the painting, thus increasing interaction with the art work and interest in the art work.

Scholars and experts from different disciplines have to come together to make this possible. Firstly, there would be an art expert who would identify a painting of value, a art historian would be involved who would give information about the painter, the society of the time, then there would be the technical team that would consider how the painting should be digitised, how it should be presented on the web to make it interesting and accessible to a large number of people, a marketing team would be involved that would track visits to the website. Hence, creating digital scholarship is truly a collaborative exercise that aims to benefit people accessing it. However, it involves a process of continuous evolution-create, deliver, maintain and upgrade.

Works Cited:

“Introduction to Digital Humanities.” Harvard University. edX,


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