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Supporting Digital Humanities: The Basics
March/April 2017 Issue

Software and tutorials

Both aspiring and more expert digital humanists will have questions about software, but, in many cases, they do not want training so much as they want help locating software appropriate for their work. The Digital Research Tools (DiRT) Directory ( is the perfect starting point for such queries, since it organizes software by the tasks needed (“Clean up data” or “Convert files”). The directory also allows you to filter by cost (which is very useful for those who are looking for free options), operating system, and other criteria.

Here’s another idea: Consider doing a census of software use on your campus. What tools are your faculty using to manage citations, create webpages, generate plain text from image files or PDFs (using a process called Optical Character Recognition, or OCR), or manage large amounts of files? In the course of asking about resources used, you may find people who are willing to share their expertise to train other faculty or students; you may also discover people who were not aware that their library cared about such matters and who desire your assistance. (Assessment can also be a form of outreach.)

For those who may want help with software or digital humanities approaches, there are some good options for tutorials online. The best single site is The Programming Historian (, which offers peer-reviewed tutorials on an ever-expanding list of topics. You can learn basic programming skills, how to work with data using the command line or software such as OpenRefine, approaches to text analysis, and mapping.

A few other tutorials have been collected at the Tutorials, Guidelines, and Best Practices page of dh+lib ( You can also find innumerable tutorials online, though you’ll run into the problem of how to sort through to find the best. Sometimes limiting your web search to .edu domains can help (Palladio tutorial site:edu), especially to find digital humanities library guides that may have recommended options.

Humanists with data

Fundamentally, digital humanities researchers—from the undergraduate student trying to complete an assignment to research faculty working on their next article or monograph—are humanities data researchers. They need to find data or create their own; they need to prepare their data for analysis; they need to identify the appropriate tools for analyzing their data; and then they need to communicate their findings to their scholarly community. Ideally, they are also describing and preserving their data for reuse.

Librarians have been very focused on parts of this digital humanities lifecycle without stepping back and recognizing the whole. I think that taking this broader view helps us see all of the ways in which librarians can participate, as supporters or as collaborators, in digital humanities work happening on our campuses. This broader view also helps to see how digital humanities researchers have information needs (and information-seeking behaviors) that are not exotic or completely novel. As with any of the researchers we encounter in (or out of) our libraries, we need to listen to what they need, ask good questions, and do our best to use our skills to help them.

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John Russell is the associate director of the Center for Humanities and Information at the Pennsylvania State University Libraries.


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