Daniel Wojahn is a DPhil Candidate in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at the University of Oxford and was awarded a bursary to attend the Digital Humanities Oxford Summer School in 2023, on the Humanities Data strand. To find out more about this year's bursaries see here. To join the mailing list and learn about the next summer school sign up here.
What are digital humanities? There are many edited volumes, introductory literature and events such as the DHOxSS, all of which seem to agree that it means scholarly and computer-assisted engagement with different areas of the humanities. But what then distinguishes the researcher who writes essays on a laptop, annotates PDFs, and uses databases to find relevant research literature from a digital humanities scholar? I have set out to answer this and other questions at the DHOxSS23.
But perhaps a brief word about myself: my name is Daniel Wojahn, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford in Tibetan & Himalayan Studies, and I am researching the development of legislation in Tibet during the 13th-14th centuries. My research presents two major challenges: First, the time frame is defined by Tibet's relationship with the Mongol Empire and the subsequent Yuan dynasty, a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures and languages. Moreover, Tibetans themselves did not have much to say about ideas such as legislation or governance. Therefore, it is necessary to search a large number of Tibetan sources such as religious histories, biographies and chronicles, but also to include Chinese and Mongolian sources. In addition, it would be useful to have some knowledge of Russian, Persian, Georgian and Latin to compare events in other regions of the Mongol Empire with those in Tibet and possibly fill in gaps in Tibetan sources with assumptions from other regions. As you can see, this is a (potentially) huge amount of work for a single dissertation. This is where the digital humanities come in, offering the possibility of qualitative analysis based on quantitative data. To this end, I chose the Humanities Data workshop strand.
The course text promised a comprehensive overview of various software, methods and tools that help humanities scholars enter this sometimes dazzling, often complex world. The programme was complemented by keynote lectures and other events, most of which were very practice-oriented and offered specific solutions for concrete use cases.
The focus was more on public engagement and visual presentation of research results than on the methods or processes for which the workshops were intended.
During the five days of Humanities Data, we received a rich package of hands-on presentations, introductions to common technologies and their specific terminologies, as well as numerous Google Drive links for self-study exercises that were designed to provide ongoing engagement with the material learned during the summer school. For example, I learned about an engaging tool called OpenRefine (https://openrefine.org), which not only allows me to organise the many spreadsheets I have created for my research but has also facilitated the in-depth exploration of this data and led to valuable insights for my analyses. Other sessions focused more on how and through which platforms research data can be prepared for the interested public and published beyond the traditional framework of journal articles or monographs. My favourite was digital storytelling using maps (https://storymaps.com) and integrating available digitised objects, images, or texts (https://storiiies.cogapp.com).
So, am I now also a digital humanist? I cannot really say after the DHOxSS23, but I have gained many new skills and ideas that I have already integrated into my research and will continue to integrate in the future. What I take away for myself as a historian of pre-modern Tibetan history is the ability to tell complex stories in a non-linear way and ultimately to make (and perhaps should make) more (digital) connections with other researchers and interested people, not only to escape our own “academic bubble” but also to advance and establish new dialogues.