What is Digital Scholarship?

‘Scholarship’ is the collective attainments of experts working within a particular field of academic study, especially but not exclusively in the humanities. ‘Digital scholarship’ takes place when digital technology is used to enhance the materials or methods available to scholars.

Expand All

The distinction may seem merely semantic, but there are several reasons for choosing the former term. First of all, although Digital Scholarship @ Oxford may be located in the Humanities Division, it is not restricted to the Humanities. It aims to collaborate with and to learn from disciplines throughout all four Divisions of the University as well as all of its library and museum collections. As such, it represents a sister institution to the Oxford Internet Institute (in Social Science) and the Oxford e-Research Centre (in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division). ‘Digital Scholarship’ captures that fluidity better than ‘the Digital Humanities’.

Second, although the Humanities are a set of academic disciplines, digital scholarship, as practiced in Oxford, is not: it is a set of methods and technologies potentially applicable to any academic field. The simultaneously launched MSc in Digital Scholarship is expressly designed, not to establish a new discipline, but to equip students for innovative work in existing disciplines.

Third, ‘the Digital Humanities’ may seem to imply the existence of a set of disciplines over against the traditional Humanities. In some settings, an aggressive promotion of advanced digital methods has bred antagonism between practitioners of traditional and digital methods. Digital Scholarship @ Oxford will aim to avoid this outcome by serving the gradual transformation of academic practice from within established disciplines rather than demanding transformation from without.

In Oxford, scholarship typically comes first, and digital technology serves scholarship. This is different in character from research programmes which start with innovative digital tools and methods and attempt to find humanistic use cases for them.

Second, some of Oxford’s most distinctive flagship projects are grounded in the unusual strengths of Oxford’s own collections. The unique combination of outstanding university collections, a built-in academic community, high quality IT innovation, and the world’s largest university press provides the firm foundation for a distinctive contribution.

Third, DiSc has been founded in response to the unresolved problems facing next-generation initiatives in digital scholarship. The bespoke, stand-alone projects produced by the first generations of work in this field are proving painfully difficult to sustain. Building each project from the ground up also wastes precious resources and puts a ceiling on aspiration. The dense cluster of DS projects in Oxford will therefore be used to experiment with multiple levels of convergence, ideally allowing each project to build on and to be sustained by work going on in cognate areas.

Digital scholarship exists in many forms. Prominent examples include:


However, digital scholarship exists at all levels and scales, and can be as simple as tabulating and analysing research data using spreadsheets. 


Every academic today uses digital technology to access, process, and present materials for teaching, learning, and research. So, in the broadest sense, we are all digital scholars now, and there are infinite grades of further involvement between basic competence and world-class expertise. This is one of the main reasons why a new hub for developing digital tools and methods and facilitating their uptake is needed. It is certainly not necessary to identify oneself primarily as a ‘digital scholar’ or ‘digital humanist’ to participate in DiSc: all members of the University community are welcome. In fact, most advanced practitioners of digital scholarship in Oxford continue to identify primarily with their traditional ‘home disciplines’.