John Walter

How do you Define DH?

Although I embrace the term digital humanities, I find the need to define digital humanities as something separate from or in addition to the humanities at large to be problematic. Even though the logic of print still shapes and governs aspects of what we do, both as humanists in the academy and our culture at large, electronic media have been shaping us and our culture for more than 100 years now and digital media for decades. The modern humanities, having their origins in the fifteenth century, were intimately tied to the new technology of the printing press: by the new ways of production, transmission, organization, visualization, and thinking that the printing press fostered. As humanists in the digital age, it should be a given for us to fully engage digital technologies and the new methods and apparatuses they foster. Simply put, there should be no need for us to identify ourselves as digital humanists.

But since we do need to do so, I define digital humanities not as doing the work of traditional humanities with digital technologies but as engaging the humanities with the tools available to us and by the logics they foster. We explore, we interpret, and we make. Most importantly, we understand that all technologies of representation and communication bring with them affordances and constraints, and to limit ourselves to the apparatus of one technology, of one technological age, is to limit what we and what the humanities can be.


Saint Louis University


I am a Fellow with the Walter J. Ong Center for Language, Media, and Culture at Saint Louis University. I’ve taught courses in new media composition, history of rhetoric, rhetorical theory, first-year composition, medieval literature, science fiction, Tolkien, and British literature at Creighton University, Saint Louis University, University of North Carolina—Wilmington, and Fontbonne University. I serve on the CCCC Committee for Computers in Composition and Communication and on the Editorial Board of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. And from July 2004—August 2007, I was the processing archivist of Saint Louis University’s Walter J. Ong Manuscript Collection.

I currently live in Washington, DC.