Is digital technology transforming the humanities?

Challenges lie ahead for all academics as digital technologies bring innovative ways of working and spreading research findings to the wider world.

Dr Leif Isaksen has joined the Faculty of Humanities at Southampton as Lecturer in Digital Humanities. He is working across the disciplines to highlight potential opportunities, bring people together and support initiatives.

“Digital technology is a broad concept, stretching from blogs and twitter to complex computational structures,” he says. “To succeed, you need a certain willingness to experiment and to explore the unknown with a digital perspective.” But Leif is aware not everyone will be an enthusiast “The Internet has been part of our lives now for around 20 years. While most academics have some degree of familiarity with computers, we recognise they may need specialist knowledge to make their ideas come to life; collaboration could provide the answer.”

A Philosophy graduate from Cambridge, Leif worked as a computer programmer before taking a master’s in Archaeological Computing at Southampton and a job at Oxford Archaeology. He then studied for a PhD in Computer Science at Southampton; he is now an enthusiast for bringing people and technologies together.

Much work is already underway at Southampton. Professor John McGavin’s project to create a searchable database of London theatres before 1642 uses interactive digital technologies to bring academic research to a wider audience. Multi-disciplinary work is also showing promise. David Owen Norris, Professor of Keyboard links with researchers in Health Sciences to show how motion capture cameras can track how a musician plays the piano.

“This is a growing field. Up until the early 2000s, humanities computing was a small specialist community, a niche discipline. Now, people expect to see and interact with research findings online; openness and access are real issues we must consider,” he adds.

The Faculty of Humanities is already well-represented on the University’s Strategic Research Group on the Digital Economy with several projects already in the pipeline.