Tag Archives: English

Geopolitics of Knowledge and Digital Humanities

Geopolítica del conocimiento y humanidades digitales

Original publication date: February 19, 2014

Paola Ricaurte. Tr. EN: Paola Ricaurte

Knowledge is not abstract and delocalized.
Walter Mignolo

Mignolo (2002, 2003, 2012, 2013) has repeatedly drawn attention to the need to locate academic knowledge in a position coherent with diversality. He insists on defending our own epistemic locus and developing the awareness of narrating ourselves from subalternity and not from the colonialism of power. I believe this discussion is crucial for knowledge production and digital humanities in our region.

Digital humanists in Latin America face the challenge posed by Mignolo. On the one hand, the need to abandon the universalist conception of knowledge, which also involves the challenge of narrating ourselves on our own terms: What are the dominant academic discourses in the field of digital humanities and where are we situated in them? What criteria define digital humanities in Mexico and Latin America? What are the mechanisms of legitimation of knowledge production in the field of digital humanities? Who defines and controls them and what is our position about it?

The practice of digital humanities in Latin America must begin with digital humanists not reproducing dominant epistemological frameworks, circuits of production and knowledge diffusion, institutions, referents, and objects of study. It’s not that we should necessarily part from the denial of origin, opposition or rupture, but any academic practice must defend basic conditions for autonomous thought, outside universality or single thought. Defining a locus of enunciation, as Mignolo insists, is a condition for a genuine intellectual exercise.

As a starting point, Mignolo (2003) raises a number of questions in this regard:

What are the problems and issues that require our attention?

What kind of knowledge/understanding is demanded by history, society and the intellectual genealogies we choose?

From what perspective (disciplinary, ethnic, generic, sexual , national , etc.) will we produce such knowledge or understanding? This question assumes, of course, that the disciplinary perspective is not neutral and is marked by color, gender, sexuality, nationality (i.e. the language in which you write and genealogies registered in that language).

For what purpose? Would we produce knowledge to “advance” or “reach the truth” or to influence social transformation and consequently, produced knowledge understanding will be related to problems and issues required by history, society and the intellectual genealogy we choose?

Therefore, it is essential for the digital humanities to ask the whats, the hows, and the whys of production, reproduction, conservation and circulation of knowledge. We urgently need, as Mignolo emphasized, “to invigorate critical reason in the Humanities”, especially in Latin America.


Mignolo, W. (2002). The geopolitics of knowledge and the colonial difference. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 101(1), 57-96.

Mignolo, W. (2003). Cultural Studies: Geopolitics of Knowledge and requirements / business needs. Revista Iberoamericana, Vol LXIX , No. 203 , 401-415 .

Mignolo, W. (2012). Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton University Press.

Mignolo, W. (2013). Geopolitics of Sensitivity and Knowledge. On (De)coloniality, Border Thinking and Epistemic Disobedience. Journal of Philosophy, 74 (2) , 7-23 .

Walsh, C. (2003). The Geopolitics of Knowledge and Coloniality of power. Interview with Walter Mignolo. Polis. Online Journal of the Bolivarian University of Chile, Volume 1, Issue 4. http://www.digeibir.gob.pe/sites/default/files/publicaciones/Entrevista_a_Mignolo_de_Walsh.pdf

Bibliotheca Mexicana: Virtue, Condemnation, Possibility

Bibliotheca mexicana: virtud, condena, posibilidad, originally published in La Gaceta del Fondo de cultura económica, No. 499, pp. 10-11

Original publication date: 06/2012

Ernesto Priani Saisó. Tr. EN: Glen Worthey

Abstract: The magnitude of a potential national digital library is such that it must seek a solid foundation — one which might impede the manifestation of that most Mexican of syndromes, the desire always to invent everything anew, from zero.  With a nod to history and a frank commitment to the digital humanities, this article calls for the definition of strategies of cooperation among the many projects that are currently turning books into bits.

In the first half of the XVIII century, Juan José de Eguiara y Eguren, a university professor and wise “new Spaniard,” began drafting a work which he called simply Bibliotheca mexicana.  Its purpose — nothing too modest — was to create “a history of those erudite men born in Boreal America, or elsewhere, who, either by virtue of their domicile or by their studies, have been rooted in this land, and have bequeathed to it some written thing in any language whatsoever.”  In this he was reacting against the affirmations of the dean of Alicante, a certain Manuel Martí, who had denied — like many European intellectuals of the time — the capacity of New World inhabitants to dedicate themselves to scholarship.

Eguiara’s was the first systematic effort to identify, unite, and preserve the memory of the people of New Spain together with their works: a strategy against oblivion and contempt that turned out to be too much for one man alone, and that ended in a truncated effort.  The manuscript, which is still preserved, does not even reach the middle of the alphabet — it stops at the letter J — and of that portion, the only part to see its way to the press (and with hardly more luck in our day) was that covering the references from A to C.

Of course, there were others who followed with this project: Mariano Beristáin, Joaquín García Icazbalceta, Vicente de Paul Andrade, José Toribio Medina.  But they too failed to arrive at completion.  The problem was not only the enormity of their objective, but also their constant returns to the beginning.  Each of one them began the enterprise with a new methodology, new goals, and new personal intentions, which made the history of the Bibliotheca mexicana an inexorable return to the point of departure.

It is difficult not to think of the destiny of these efforts as we discuss the idea of a Mexican Digital Library.  On the one hand, following in the spirit of Eguiara, technology opens the door to the construction of a great library of Mexican authors and their works; but on the other hand, we too are confronted with the task of doing so without repeating history, of imagining a collective work that might be able to reach conclusion.

In this article I will discuss in detail a few considerations that should be entertained in the conceiving of a Mexican Digital Library.  These include settling on solid methodological principles for work and collaboration by which a foundation for the potential library may be built.  Although a few antecedents already exist — including even one that carries the name “Mexican Digital Library” — we are still very far from being able to initiate a conversation in terms similar to those used by Robert Darnton in the text published in this issue of La Gaceta, in which he examines the viability of the United States’ National Digital Library project.  In Mexico we find ourselves at an earlier stage, where we should reflect on questions that are much more general, such as the goal and meaning of the library, the who and the how to undertake it, the spirit and the form of creating it, the methodology and the technology that should serve as its toolset.

To begin, it seems to me that we must make a few things perfectly clear: a National Digital Library is not an individual enterprise, and not even an enterprise of an individual institution.  It is a cultural project that is only conceivable in national terms, and which may come to constitute the epicenter of our cultural efforts of the coming decades.  One imagines that such a project — which is not reducible to a collection just of books, but also of many other cultural products — might require around it the uniting of a large number of institutions both large and small, of both public and private enterprises, belonging to all possible realms of culture and of technology.  And this implicates the development of work based on collaboration, the details of which I would like to explore.

Context and History
Since before the popularization of the Internet in the nineties, the digitization and indexing of all existing books were one of the declared aspirations of cyberculture.  As far back as distant 1971, at a time in which very few people thought that computers might possibly work even to preserve books, Project Gutenberg already had as its goal the use of computers to store, recover, and search the entire contents of a library.

It’s true that, at the beginning, the project was not conceived as a library, and the discussion about which books, and in which editions, should form part of the project was not a very relevant topic.  But the birth, in 1985, of efforts like the Perseus Project, which grew around a very rigorous collection of classics texts, made it evident that the relevance and the value of collections had to be one of the central concerns in the creation of digital libraries.

The discussion changed abruptly in 2004, when Google launched Google Print, which later would be transformed into Google Books.  The entrance of an enormous, private, Internet corporation into the world of digitization completely changed the implications of constructing a digital library.  From the beginning, questions arose as to what could be the interest of the company in undertaking the digitization of millions of books.  The mere possibility that this was a commercial project — as it partially is now — caused many to see it as a threat.

In fact, Google has digitized and made accessible an enormous quantity of books by means of a technology and a system that are proprietary to it.  This constitutes an appropriation of the digital image of millions of books which were, in the beginning, the property of publicly accessible libraries — a fact that has already been the occasion for a variety of claims on the part of both authors and publishers related to the serious problems of ownership and rights that are implicated.  Beyond the problems that this appropriation represents is the question of what, exactly, is Google Books.  We are not talking here about an actual library, since that is not its goal.  Its structure, logic, and architecture at times correspond more with those of a bookstore.  Moreover, there is the problem of the collection itself, and the culture that it represents, since we are talking about its placement in a position of cultural dominance on the Internet, given the importance and visibility that the Google book service has.

For European countries, but especially for France, Google Books represented a cultural threat that demanded to be countered with the construction of a large national digital library. For this reason, the National Library of France, with Gallica, its own digital library, boosted a project called Europeana, an access portal to the European digital libraries that was to serve as a means to create digital collection of European cultural patrimony.  Along these same lines is a project, initiated by UN and the United States Library of Congress, called the World Digital Library, with a model more museographical than bibliographical, which is growing in parallel.

It is in this context of defining rigorous bibliographical and academic requirements, as well as in response to the need to preserve and make available our national patrimony in the face of possible appropriation by private enterprise, that we must discuss the construction of a Mexican National Library.

Advances and Problems
The projects that have begun in Mexico up to this point have been disparate in their quality, rigor, and relevance.  They have developed in an isolated manner, without seeking to bring together the political or strategic decisions that might, at some moment, have converged. There are many examples.  There are government projects, such as the Biblioteca Digital Mexicana [Mexican Digital Library], supported by Conaculta [the National Council for Culture and Arts], the Carso Group, the General National Archives, and INAH [the National Institute of Anthropology and History], which is following the specifications of the World Digital Library; or the Biblioteca Digital del Bicentenario [Digital Library of the Bicentennial], a collection of PDFs created for the centenary of the Revolution.  There are also university projects such as the Biblioteca Digital del Pensamiento Novohispano [Digital Library of Novohispanic Thought], sponsored by the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of UNAM or the Biblioteca Virtual de la Novela Corta [Virtual Library of the Short Novel] sponsored by the Philological Research Institute also of UNAM; likewise the large-scale special collections scanning projects undertaken by the University of Nuevo León, or that of the General Direction of Libraries of UNAM, which is not yet public, or that of the personal libraries of José Luis Martínez undertaken again by Conaculta.

Without going into details, the lack of coordination, the absence of a shared vision and a shared methodology, and above all the lack of an open conversation about how to organize a Mexican Digital Library, have limited the efforts, dispersed the resources, and impeded the confluence of projects for the creation of a unified library.

Against the Curse of Eguiara
A Mexican Digital Library cannot be the result of an individual effort, but only a collaboration among innumerable institutions.  The size of the effort, the necessity that this be undertaken with strict academic rigor, makes it necessary to establish a working methodology that might facilitate the joint work of distinct digitization and research groups, but that also might lay the foundations to make this library not only a bibliographical reference tool, but rather research center for humanities computing in the strictest sense.

What I am proposing here is that creating a Mexican Digital Library cannot but depart from the work of a network of distinct institutions and groups that have already begun, or will soon begin, projects in the digitization of our cultural patrimony.  This implies the creation of a consortium, or of an independent entity formed by participating institutions, whose sole function is to establish policies and work standards orientated toward collaboration.  The central concern is not necessarily so much the unification of these projects, as the possibility of integrating them in terms of their adoption of common policies for aggregation, use of metadata, indexing, etc.  In other words, to make them converge in a common platform, without this implying that they have to renounce their specific purposes for research, documentation, etc.  In some cases, certainly, this will require the abandoning of certain technologies such as PDF, given the difficulties they pose for indexing, as well as the fact of their relying on a platform that is the owned by a company, which in turn compromises the ownership of the digitized objects.  In other cases, this will mean only following a few common work standards that will make integration possible.

It would be expedient, of course, for these standards to be based on open technologies, ones that will not jeopardize the project with policies of software providers or of other enterprises, and as a consequence for them to adhere to a policy of open access, for both the technology and the content, not only because we are speaking of the patrimony of all Mexicans — a topic on which many institutions have so far maintained ambiguous positions, if not one of openly appropriating patrimony — but rather because open technologies and open content permit the free creation of new collections, or of new tools for the use of information contained in the library; and both of these objectives are extremely important to increase the value of the library, and to place it within a global project of digitizing the humanities.

A library of this type ought to be the sum of all the efforts, great and small, of all the digitization groups dispersed across the country.  It will therefore have to be a horizontal, decentralized project whose objectives must be defined by the very dynamics of these groups, and by the common needs of access and information use. Defined by the common task of making the patrimony of Mexico accessible, and enriching knowledge of it, and by the express interest not only of moving objects of our patrimony into the digital realm, but rather of developing knowledge by means of this act.  Only in this way, it seems to me, will we be saved from the curse of Eguiara.

Ernesto Priani Saisó, professor in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of UNAM, is a scholar, practitioner, and promoter of the digital humanities.  Between 2003 and 2008 he was in charge of the Revista Digital Universtaria; he also leads the Biblioteca Digital de Pensamiento Novohispano

Digital Humanities in Spanish?

¿Humanidades digitales en español?

Original publication date: 06/2010

Juan Luis Suárez Tr. EN: Élika Ortega

Before entering a brief discussion of what is and isn’t Digital Humanities, I’d like to highlight their importance—even when we don’t know what we are talking about—pointing out the three pillars which jointly, keep the building standing: technology, research, humanism. Digital technology constitutes the most important lever of the social changes that we have witnessed in the past couple of decades, and will continue to be so at least for a while. Technology has always been involved in major changes in economic and social structures, but the most important aspect of this digital technology is that it is, above all, a communications and cultural technology: the traditional realms of action of Humanism. The coming of the digital galaxy, on the Internet or any other medium (books, music, film, education, patrimony, archives…) implies a reorganization of cultural practices and requires new tools and concepts in order to understand them and be able to explain them to the society in which humanists work. This takes us to the second of our pillars: research. If technology has already impacted our lives by means of computers, smartphones, and social networks, research has not yet done it to the extent that it should. It would seem that there is a certain consensus in industrialized countries on how research is fundamental for economic development and, consequently, the possibility of keeping current levels of well being and social security. Is this research solely ‘scientific’ or does humanistic research have something to say about human progress in our societies too?

Humanism, the third pillar, was born out of the first cultural revolution in modern times, that of the printing press and the possibility of multiplying the production and distribution of books, and of expanding the dimensions of human communication. Humanism is a practice based on texts—of which, for as good as it may be, the book is but one format and not its end product—and the expansion of human communication beyond the limits imposed by the physical presence of interlocutors. The Humanities are the institutionalization of the possibilities open by the printing press revolution. If Humanism was born in the 15th century as a social movement whose objective was the institutionalization of contents specific to culture (Classical and Biblical tradition and, later on, contemporary literary traditions) in order to shape communities and political projects and its social reproduction through an education system, Digital Humanities in the 21st century can lead the debate on the specific contents that are to inform our culture, of the way in which we want to give our political communities the kind of human being that will—thanks to the presence of an education system—be responsible of these cultural communities’ life.

Similar to the way in which 15th century Humanism was born in the embrace of the printing press and book technologies and to the studia humanitatis, 21st century humanities must develop the digital technologies and social processes that will allow the updating of a cultural program so that they can continue to offer a model of exchange with the world at a human scale.

Is Spanish spoken in Digital Humanities?

The answer is NO. Or better said, not enough. Let us remember that the main debates around the digitization of culture have taken place as a reaction to Google Books (on the usefulness and limitations of Google’s project to humanistic research Dan Cohen’s blog post “Is Google Good for History?” can be read); and as a defense of a series of rather blurry ideas appealing to lofty principles, which to a great extent manifest the non-existence (or inefficacy) of government plans to develop an utterly digital culture. The problem seems to be that a reaction is not enough in a world where there are millions of smartphones, while culture and education continue to be considered institutional priorities. Can we do other than react defensively to what large multinationals do? If culture and its industries (education included) are one of the political axis of humanism and other political projects in Spanish, digitization offers for the first time in a long while a scenario in which culture—digital culture—could become one of the most important economic sectors and a pillar of research interest. Of course, this means to take the lead, research actively, develop digital training programs, formulate research projects socially and intellectually relevant, and communicate in a better way. That is, to create or adapt digital technologies to the Humanistic project.

In terms of the Digital Humanities, and important part of its slow advancement in the Hispanic world falls on us, the humanists. The humanists—who not only in Spain but in the whole Hispanic world are of the utmost quality—have been trained in a print world and figures of authority schema. The print world will not disappear but it does not hold primacy anymore, despite what might have seemed a campaign in Spanish media against electronic editions and new reading interfaces. Now it seems that this tendency, reactive too, has stopped and the publishing world is trying to catch up. The truth is that our priorities should be focused on reading and not so much on publishing. On the other hand, respect for authoritative figures is, in part, a false premise of modern day Humanism considering that early humanists used to recommend a critical engagement with their model and, in contrast to scholastics, a transmission of classical culture not through inviolable rules, but as contextual adaptation of classical examples. Thus, the migration to the digital world would be another way to test the cultural strength of that foundational principle: to imitate the Classics according to the context of a given cultural or human need that must be dealt with. Is Humanism any good in the 21st century? Yes, of course, just as much as when it was born but only if it is digital in all the formation of humanists, their tools, and their objects of study.

The other issue delaying the humanists’ adoption of the digital has to do with the relevance of research in our everyday activities. For a long time the transmission of classical sources had been a humanist’s main task and this has become a mission in itself. It’s not that I’m against that; on the contrary, the updating and availability of what are considered the sources of the political community is fundamental to guarantee its cultural transmission. Nevertheless we must take a step further and carry out a mental workout before starting any kind of humanistic research: What problem are we trying to solve? And for whom is that problem important? What I mean is for whom it is important above all in social and cultural terms, not just in economic terms—although that is important too. As in pretty much everything related to social and economic development, the capacity to influence and participate in the emerging global community of digital humanists is linked to being present in the research world that is giving shape to said community. In that sense, research implies developing digital tools necessary to carry out the tasks proper to each of the humanistic disciplines in the digital age.

There are two mistakes in the common notion of digital culture. On the one hand, it is still assumed that doing something in the analog world (for example a critical edition of a Classic) and then pouring it in digital format on the Internet is a significant step. That was an important step ten years ago, not now. On the other hand, the most developed tendency up to now is the digitization of existing collections. This is fundamental for the preservation and accessibility of culture in a digital world, but not decisive. I say that it is fundamental because the development of this kind of projects will allow us to learn how to be digital humanists, and will open the door to humanistic research that will change our understanding of history and culture. But it’s not decisive—unless it is not done—, because Google has been doing it for years and creating the technology and shaping the social habits used now by researchers. Thus, aside from making culture available and accessible digitally, it is necessary to create the technology to do it and invent the work protocols that will lead to the birth of communities of practice that include librarians, archivists, researchers, entrepreneurs, and users. We have to do this, and quickly, to start taking advantage of the great computing power at our hands and analyze in a different way “the great amount of past” on which we can now do research—which we are not currently using to solve relevant problems.

Interestingly, it is widely accepted that Ibero American countries such as Argentina, Chile, Cuba, and Spain train highly skilled programmers that have nothing to envy the rest of the world. Nevertheless, the problem is not about envy or feelings about what they do, very well, in other countries, but on the global capacity of any of our Spanish speaking countries to satisfy a demand for “digitizers” required in the new economies and societies. I speak of “digitizers” and not just programmers because the problem goes beyond the technical, and encompasses any one who is responsible, publicly or privately, in the spheres of education, patrimony, communication, and humanistic research. Programming aside, which is a matter of knowledge and independence when carrying out intellectual activities, does any of these agents know what is needed, digitally speaking to solve problems of cataloging, identification, analysis, transmission, and manipulation of such objects? Is there a digital ecosystem in which multidisciplinary work groups including researchers, technicians, digital humanists, and entrepreneurs come up with the guidelines to update their institutions? Is there a definitive “digital requirement” in the funding of research projects in the humanities similar to those found in, for example, internationalization and staff training, so that among the expected results, it would be necessary to offer digital tool skills that other researchers, professors, and students may incorporate into their work routines?

And the future?

It seems that the future, at least the economic future, lies in Asia, and unfortunately Asia is not the epicenter of the Hispanic world. Spanish, however, has a possibility to say something in the world of Digital Humanities thanks to its presence in the US. The confluence of education, research and Hispanic population in the US, which also leads to the emergence of a market of Spanish media and culture, opens the possibility for our immediate participation in the discourse of Digital Humanities. This practical discourse must aim at Trans-Atlantic collaborations in humanistic research, with the digital component at its basis, and a level of development comparable in terms of scientific alliances already in place between Spanish speaking and North American groups. The effort is even bigger because Hispanists in North American land do no yet have a substantial presence in the Digital Humanities centers popping up in universities across the US, even when great pioneering projects are undergoing.

In the Ibero American world, even though there are very interesting digital research projects, I don’t think (I might be wrong) there is yet any university center expressly devoted to Digital Humanities. How would those projects be? I will draw on existing projects as concrete examples of what can be done. Of course, these are pioneer projects and as such have traced the first steps of a road that seems endless. Thus, learning from them is fundamental in order to avoid issues already encountered along the way by others.

The first example is the bibliographical management tool—that can be used for many other things too—Zotero. It was developed in 2006 at the Center for History and New media at George Mason University. It is available for free and its development was funded by both private foundations and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). I’m interested in highlighting the fact that it is a tool—in its 2.0 version—whose objective is to solve one of the basic problems any researcher encounters, but it does so with the potential of the new technologies in its conception, its design and its ease of use. Zotero is an extension of the Firefox browser to collect, manage, cite, and share bibliographical resources of any kind. Its creators are historians that know what humanists need and, even though there is no direct link with North American Hispanism, Zotero’s success (having been downloaded millions of times) has meant that its interface is available in Spanish and that the number of users in the Spanish speaking world amounts to tens of thousands.

Other pioneering projects in Digital Humanities is the Cervantes Project directed since 1995 by Eduardo Urbina at the University of Texas A&M. The project has published online the international bibliography on Cervantes, his collected works equipped with tools fit for digital research, and an image database on the author and his work. This project began thanks to the support of the National Science Foundations, the NEH, and later on the University of Castilla la Mancha and Banco Santander.

From the University of Brigham Young, in Utah, Mark Davis leads the project Corpus del Español, a repository with over one hundred million Spanish words belonging to more than 20,000 texts from 1200 until the 20th century, and which has also been funded by the NEH. The Corpus interface is organized to facilitate linguistic searches by word, phrases, lemmas, words in context, and recently, semantic, synonymic queries. It also allows some natural language processing—an aspect of further and further importance in humanistic research if we consider the millions of digitized texts now available.

In terms of digitization of content, the Hispanic community in the US is proving especially active when it comes to preserving their simultaneously Hispanic and North American identity through the creation of projects such as Bracero History Archive. This project, also located at the Center for History and New media at George Mason University is too a collaboration with the Smithsonian Museum of American History, The Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas El Paso, and NEH. Its objective is to collect, archive, and spread the oral histories and the artifacts from the Bracero Program—a 1942-1964 US government program that invited Mexican workers and has, thus, had a considerable impact in the memories and experiences of Mexicans in the US. One of the most important aspects of the Bracero History Archive is that it incorporates several tools that facilitates its use in schools and user interactivity in the web 2.0.

Lastly, although it is bad taste to talk about what one does, I will mention the Hispanic Baroque Project. Anchored at the University of Western Ontario, the project has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The Hispanic Baroque is looking into the patterns of formation and expansion of culture during the first globalization between the 16th and 18th centuries. It also looks at the relationship between new media and Neobaroque aesthetics in 21st century globalization from a multidisciplinary perspective informed by both scientists and humanists from a variety of countries. Taking the paradigm of complex systems as the theoretical basis for the study of the emergence and expansion of the Baroque led us, automatically, to the development of computational tools—from art databases to multi-agent simulations to topic maps, among others. These approaches have allowed us to analyze and visualize large amounts of data and digitized texts coming from different sources and formats. Furthermore, Canada Foundation for Innovation has just granted the resources to build the CulturePlex Lab, where we will study cultural complexity and develop Digital Humanities software. In the next few years, the CulturePlex will focus its research in the creation of tools for visualization, digital content and cultural objects cataloging, and natural language processing in historic and literary documents.

All of these projects are characterized by a series of features that draw attention to the changing work habits that the humanities community has been incorporating in order to benefit from the potential of the Digital Humanities: large problems requiring team work; development of tools fit for the matter at hand (that can later on be adapted to other problems and projects); extramural and inter institutional collaboration; multidisciplinary research teams that include humanists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and curators to name but a few; sustainable projects; and projects relevant to the community they should be serving.

What, then, should be some of the guiding lines for the advancement of Digital Humanities linked to preservation and spread of Spanish as a language of global reach, connected to culture, and close to the world of science and technology? The list below is in no way exhaustive, but it aims at drawing the basic profile of a Digital Humanities program contributing to achieving the objectives outlined:

  • Digitization and opening of public institutions’ online libraries, archives, and art collections by means of API’s or other web services.
  • Online Spanish language teaching, and development of language acquisition tools.
  • The creation of a basic platform to manage Digital Humanities research adaptable to the needs of each individual project and includes bibliographic, social media, and content visualization tools.
  • The extension of basic training in the Digital Humanities in all humanistic university degrees with an emphasis on practical and technical content.
  • The opening online of all the data from all government departments, except those affecting national security.
  • The development of graduate specializations and programs in Digital Humanities drawing from information studies, literary textual processing, linguistics and history, patrimonial digital cataloging and preservation, and accessible cultural information visualization.
  • Encouraging Digital Humanities research with an emphasis on the creation of technology and tools, and the massive distribution of results through commercialization or the free availability for education and research sectors.

The objective is, doubtless, to create a digital ecosystem for the culture around Spanish language that will anchor 21st century humanism, and to guarantee the presence of Spanish in the linguistic creation of the future thanks to its connection to technology. It must also contribute to the well being of our societies by means of commercial or free applications—the product of world-class research. Everything is there, waiting for the humanist community to come together and for the governments to play their part in fostering the strategic moves that ensure the economic and social future of our Spanish speaking communities.

What Are The Digital Humanities?

¿Qué son las humanidades digitales? 

Original publication date: 01/07/2011

Isabel Galina Tr. EN: Tim Thompson

© Coordinación de Acervos Digitales. Dirección General de Cómputo y de Coordinación de Acervos Digitales. Dirección General de Cómputo y de Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación – UNAM. Full or partial reproduction of this article is authorized, so long as the original source is cited with its URL.


Italy, 1949: Father Roberto Busa had set out to create a concordance of the complete works of Saint Thomas Aquinas and related authors.[1] The very size of the corpus made for a monumental task. Busa had heard of a new machine called a “computer”; thinking that it might be able to aid him in his endeavor, he contacted IBM in the United States to ask for help. The text of the complete works was transferred to punch cards and a program was written to produce the concordance. A truck was needed simply to transport the punch cards (Hockey, 2004).

The first volumes of the Index Thomasticus were published in 1974, containing over 11 million words of medieval Latin. The origin of the digital humanities can be traced back to this grand project, in which computation was applied to humanistic inquiry for the first time.

The term “digital humanities” represents a new interdisciplinary field, one concerned with the impact of computers and technology on the work of researchers in the humanities. Synonyms include “digital resources for the humanities,” “humanities computing,” “digital and cultural informatics,” and “humanities informatics.” This new field has become increasingly important in the international academic arena, and it offers exciting possibilities for both research and instruction in the humanities.

Broadly speaking, the goals of the digital humanities include:

  1. Creating databases of digital resources relevant to the humanities. This includes capturing, structuring, documenting, preserving, and disseminating the data at hand.
  2. Developing methodologies that make it possible to derive new content from this data.
  3. Generating research and knowledge to advance humanistic inquiry.

As an academic field, digital humanities encompasses many disciplines and is closely tied to areas such as library science, information science, and computer science.

Establishing the field

There are several indicators one can point as signs of consolidation in a new field of study: specialized associations, organizations, and centers; academic curricula, conferences; journals and monographs. The digital humanities field continues to mature, and a significant international community of digital humanists has emerged. Some of the major initiatives include:

Organizations and professional associations

  • Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (AHDO) (http://adho.org/), which brings together the following organizations:
  • Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH) (http://www.ach.org/)
  • Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing (ALLC) (http://eadh.org/)
  • SDH/SEMI (Society for Digital Humanities/Société pour l’étude des médias interactifs). (http://www.sdh-semi.org/)
  • Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH) (http://aa-dh.org/)

Specialized centers

In 1963 the Centre for Literary and Linguistic Computing was founded at the University of Cambridge. However, most of the field’s now numerous digital humanities centers did not come into their own until two decades later.

  • Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh/index.aspx)
  • UCL (University College London), Centre for Digital Humanities (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dh/)
  • Humanities Computing and Media Centre, University of Victoria (http://hcmc.uvic.ca/)

A complete list of centers is available via centerNet (international network of digital humanities centers) (http://digitalhumanities.org/centernet/).

Graduate programs

Selected examples:

  • Digital Humanities, King’s College London (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/depts/cch/pg/madh/)
  • Digital Culture and Society, King’s College London (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh/study/pgt/madcs/index.aspx)
  • Digital Humanities, University College London (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dh/courses/mamsc)
  • Digital Humanities and Culture, Trinity College (http://www.tcd.ie/English/postgraduate/digital-humanities/)


The major conference is Digital Humanities (DH), sponsored by the ADHO. This year, it will be held in Lausanne, Switzerland (http://dh2014.org/).

The conference has been held annually since 1990. For the conference archive, see http://www.digitalhumanities.org/conference.


The major DH journals is Literary and Linguistic Computing, published by Oxford University Press (http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/).

Others include:

  • Digital Studies / Le champ numérique (http://www.digitalstudies.org/), published by SDH/SEMI
  • DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly (http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/)

To date, the majority of digital humanities initiatives have been centered in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and, to a lesser degree, Australia and Japan. One of the foremost challenges facing DH today is the need for internationalization and greater participation from and integration of digital humanists from other parts of the world (Galina y Priani, 2011).

Digital humanities in Mexico

In Mexico the impact of computation on academic work, despite its importance, has been a relatively neglected area. There is an urgent need to remedy this situation and advance the digital humanities as a recognized and high-priority area of research. In September 2010 a group of academics met to discuss ways to support and further the field on an institutional level. A total of four DH workshops were held.

The workshops addressed issues such as recognition, financing, copyright, promotion, capacity building, infrastructure, and isolation, among many others. Our goals were to promote and strengthen inquiry in humanities computing, with particular emphasis on research and education in Spanish-speaking countries. To this end, we have created the Digital Humanities Network (RedHD). RedHD supports objectives such as communication among digital humanists in the region, the development of documentation and best practices, and the promotion of DH projects and related events, as well the advancement and recognition of the field in general. It also promotes regional projects and initiatives on an international level. Updates and outcomes from RedHD are available at http://humanidadesdigitales.net/.


One of the primary objectives of RedHD is the dissemination of DH projects. By way of illustration, here are three standout examples of projects that have been developed at the Universidade Nacional Autónoma de Méxio (UNAM). This engaging and innovative work demonstrates the importance and impact of teaching and research in the humanities.

El Corpus Histórico del Español en México (http://www.coprus.unam.mx/chem/) is a project of UNAM’s Linguistic Engineering Group (Grupo de Ingeniería Lingüística–GIL). This resource has two primary features:

  • It offers a broad and growing collection of diachronic documents representing a range of textual genres.
  • It includes a set of tools for exploring and analyzing this corpus.

It also constitutes a valuable resource for linguistic research and the development of natural language processing tools. This project was sponsored by UNAM’s Dirección General de Asuntos del Personal Académico (DGAPA) and by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT).

The online record of the 1910 trial of Francisco I. Madero (www.iisue.unam.mx/ahunam/madero), which includes 11 notebooks, 1,116 documents (the majority not previously published), and 850 folios. This collection provides a detailed account of this important historical event. Addition resources in the collection include:

  • Document transcriptions and corresponding catalog records.
  • The Law of Amnesty and the Federal Code of Criminal Procedure of the era (appendix).
  • An extensive photographic collection.

This project was developed by the Instituto de Investigaciones sobre la Universidad y la Educación and the Archivo Histórico de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (IISUE-AHUNAM).

The Digital Library of Novohispanic Thought (http://www.bdpn.unam.mx/) is a collection of digital editions of diplomatic transcriptions of books having to do with the debate about the nature of comets during the second half of the seventeenth century. It also comprises a set of digital research tools, including:

  • Automated indexing of terms, references, names, and dates, marked up in the text.
  • An annotation tool for collaborative philology and interpretation.
  • A suite of resources utilizing the indexes to provide information about people, works cited, the meaning of old Spanish words and of technical, medical, astronomical, and astrological terms.

This is a project of UNAM’s School of Philosophy and Letters, funded by DGAPA and CONACyT.


In keeping with the increasing complexity and sophistication of the technological tools at our disposal, it is imperative that we investigate, explore, and embrace the implications that they can have for humanistic inquiry. The sciences are generally taken to have made better use of information and computing systems than the humanities; indeed, computation has been a key element for the development of scientific research in recent decades. Today, virtually all primary data in the sciences is produced digitally—or if not originally in digital format, it has since been transferred to digital media. Today there are numerous scientific databases, and tools have been developed for the visualization, modeling, and mining of scientific research data.[2] This work was allowed researchers to carry out innovative studies and establish new fields of scientific inquiry.

The primary sources of the humanities are vast and heterogeneous. As a result, the use of digital formats can have considerable research impact, opening new perspectives on knowledge. Digital formats can aid in the development of novel tools to make use of the resources used in humanities research. In and of themselves, they constitute a new and engaging field of inquiry within the humanities as a whole.

* I would like to thank Patricia Muñetón for her contributions to this article.


References and recommended reading

Borgman, C. “The Digital Future Is Now: A Call to Action for the Humanities.” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly, http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/4/000077/000077.html

Hockey, S. (2004) “The History of Humanities Computing” in A Companion to Digital Humanities, http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/

Galina, I., & Priani, E. (2011). “Is there anybody out there? Discovering new DH practitioners in other countries,” DH 2011, June 2011, Stanford University, http://dh2011abstracts.stanford. edu/xtf/view?docId=tei/ab-124.xml;query=;brand=default

Friedlander, A. “Asking Questions and Building a Research Agenda for Digital Scholarship,” http:// www.clir.org/activities/digitalscholar2/friedlander.pdf

Russell, J., & Ruíz, I., 2005. “La relevancia del texto digital en la investigación lingüística y literatura del Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas de la UNAM.” Investigación Bibliotecológica, 19(39), http://www.journals.unam.mx/index.php/ibi/article/view/4079.

[1] Concordances are particularly common in the field of linguistics. They provide a list of all the words in a text, their frequency, and the context in which they appear. Prior to the advent of computers, complete concordances were rare because of the time and effort taken to produce them.

[2] An interesting example at UNAM has been the digitization of the Biology Collections of the Institute of Biology, led by the Biodiversity Informatics Unit (UNIBIO). See http://www.unibio.unam.mx/.

RedHD en traducción


En este sitio vamos a compilar las entradas individuales de los miembros de RedHD que participan en #trDH a lo largo de DayofDH. Así colectivamente queremos invitar a otros a acercarse al trabajo que la Red ha estado haciendo en los últimos años.

Una selección inicial incluye artículos cortos y entradas del blog de la RedHD publicados entre 2010 y ahora. De acuerdo con nuestras propias capacidades lingüísticas algunas traducciones se harán al inglés, otras al francés y al alemán.

Reportar errores en los comentarios.


On this site we will be compiling the individual posts from RedHD members participating in #trDH during DayofDH. Thus, collectively we want to invite everyone to approach the work RedHD has been doing in the last few years.

An initial selection includes short articles and RedHD blog posts published between 2010 and now. Because of our own linguistic capacities, some texts will be translated into English, others into French and German.

Report errors in the comments section.


Sur ce site, nous allons cataloguer les postes individuels des membres de RedHD qui vont participer à # trDH pendant Day of DH. Ainsi, nous voulons inviter chacun à aborder le travail de RedHD qui a été fait au cours des dernières années.

La sélection comprend de courts articles et blog de RedHD publiés entre 2010 jusqu’à présent. À cause de nos propres restrictions linguistiques, certains textes seront traduits en anglais, d’autres en français et en allemand.

Reportez des erreurs dans la section des commentaires.


Neste site, vamos compilar as entradas individuails dos membros da RedHD que participan no #trDH durante tudo o DayofDH. Então, nós coletivamente queremos convidar outras pessoas para abordar o trbaajho que a Rede está fazendo durante os últimos anos.

Uma seleção inicial inclui artigos curtos e entradas de blog RedHD publicados entre 2010 e agora. De acordo con as nossas própias competências linguísticas, algumas traduções serão a Inglês, eoutras a Francês e Alemão.

Reportar erros nos comentários.


Auf dieser Seite würden wir kompilieren die individuellen Blog-Eintragen der Mitglieder des RedHD die beteiligt an das #trDH während das DayofDH. Gemeinschaftlich wollen wir anderen einladen um sich nähern mit der Arbeit des RedHD, die durch den letzten Jahren hat gemacht.

Eine initiale Auswahl beinhaltet kleinen artikeln und Blog-Eintragen des RedHD, die hast von 2010 bis Heute veröffentlicht geworden. Mit unsere eigenen sprachlichen Fähigkeiten, einige Übersetzungen zu Englisch, Französich und Deutsch gemacht werden.

Melden Fehler in der Kommentaren.

*Traductoras: Ana María, Nandita, Natalia, Élika