Beginnings of a definition
Humanities Computing is more than mere technical support in several regards. For instance, a unit or department such as, , or will typically include individuals both from a computing/programming background, and traditional humanities scholars who happen to have experience or expertise in digital media; but also a new breed of specialists who cut their teeth on the methodologies specific to electronic publication and the fundamental changes that computing techniques are bringing to modern humanities scholarship.
Humanities Computing is not Technical Support
Rather than merely supporting the academics in classics departments as they publish their research, for example, humanities computing specialists are interdisciplinary academic researchers in their own right, working and publishing both in the traditional discipline(s) and in the realm of computer science, recognising that computers do more than "speed up" the work of humanities research, providing a new angle of approach and at times changing the very paradigms we work with. A technical support unit can supply you with software-specific help or training, but humanities computing specialists also have the experience of project design and implementation which will be essential from the earliest stages of any successful research project with a digital component.
An Interdisciplinary Discipline
As a result of this multiplicity of approaches and specialists, Humanities Computing can be considered a highly interdisciplinary discipline, which involves experts in both research and teaching; in all of the traditional arts and humanities disciplines (historians, linguists, students of literature, art, and music of many cultures, for example); specialists in electronic publication and computational analysis, in project design and visualisation, in data archiving and retrieval.
Iterative Research Process
When specialists from a humanities computing unit collaborate with scholars from a traditional humanities background, the learning process and knowledge transfer is not unidirectional. Nor is the division of labour exclusively intellectual content from one side and technical expertise from the other. The process of digitising an academic research project itself casts a new light on the subject matter, even making new kinds of data available or radically changing the nature of the research itself. Insights may be gained by all participants and shared with the project as a whole ina process of iterative feedback. It is fair to say that traditional academics who has once participated in this kind of project are now in a real sense humanities computing scholars themselves.
Standards and Durable Solutions
Because of the interactive and academic nature of digital scholarship, humanities computing specialists are particularly concerned withand with generic, durable solutions to academic needs of the community. Rather than relying on a proprietary tool, for example, or writing a specialised programme for a particular task in a single project, we would draw on the existing body of expertise on the topic, on tools that have been made freely available and customisable, to build solutions that can be repurposed and in turn shared with the open source community.
If you want more detailed answer(s) to this question, some discussion can be found here:
- Willard McCarty, Humanities computing Preliminary draft entry for The Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science (2003)
- John Unsworth, What is Humanities Computing and What is not?, Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie 2 (2002)
- Lou Burnard, Is Humanities Computing an Academic Discipline?, IATH seminar (1999)
- Centre for Digital Humanities Innovation brief (CDHI, Malaspina University, BC)