Getting started in the digital humanities: a resource guide

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Editors’ Note: This is the first of four essays in a series on labor history, digital humanities, and public history. Authors who wrote essays for this series developed their work as part of a fall 2021 graduate labor history colloquium taught by Dr. Andrew Urban at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

In academia, developing skills in the digital humanities is often a self-taught journey. For those who are advanced in their skills, centers for digital humanities offer fellowships and workshops, but it can be more difficult to find resources for the beginner digital humanist. In this post, I have compiled resources from three digital centers so that others can skip the search and get started learning digital skills.

At some institutions, digital humanities programs are only available to enrolled students or employed staff, while others might take the form of on-site and in-person workshops and conferences. Scanning the homepage of any given center, one can quickly identify opportunities and resources for established digital scholars, but it might take a deeper search to find out how a center is encouraging engagement in the digital humanities by facilitating accessible introductory learning. Promoting remote and open-access learning initiatives is particularly important now because it ensures that this learning material is accessible to people regardless of physical location or institutional affiliation. In-person workshops like Digital Sandbox and THATcamp, which encourage exploring different digital tools, are harder to come across since the COVID-19 pandemic, further emphasizing the need for remote university-supported learning opportunities. In this post, I will highlight the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Indiana University-Bloomington as examples of institutions using their digital research centers to provide accessible beginner initiatives ranging from Microsoft Excel to topic modeling to organize and interpret data.

Image of Davis Library Research Hub at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill website that shows its Geographic Information Systems (GIS) help and resources. Options listed are: GIS Assistance (get help from a GIS expert). Spatial Data (find web sources for spatial data). GIS Software (get started with GIS software through tutorials, training and FAQs). Create a Shapefile (Use these step-by-step instructions to create a shapefile). Aerial Photos (find historic aerial photos for several North Carolina counties). Georeferenced Historical Maps (get access to historical maps that can be used in GIS software).

A screenshot showing a sampling of basic guides offered through UNC’s Davis Library Research Hub.


The Davis Library Research Hub at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill specializes in supporting digital data interpretation methods. Their online guides range from learning Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for connecting data with maps to a dedicated basics guide that teaches users how to use Microsoft Excel for data visualizations, among other tools. Knowing how to use spreadsheets to interpret data is a skill every historian and scholar should have in their toolkit; for example,  this scholar details how she used spreadsheets and Google Map Engine for a mapping project. In addition to the guides, the events calendar has synchronous remote workshops that are open to the public, with attendees learning from all over the world. Previous sessions have even been recorded and uploaded to their Youtube channel for asynchronous learning. Both the guides and the workshops offered through the Davis Library Research Hub are great starting points for a journey into the digital humanities.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities is another great source for online, accessible guides to basic digital humanities skills. The Center provides resources for new users to learn how to use basic text encoding, for example, or computer code communication, including a glossary of terms for when text encoding jargon needs decoding. Another important feature is the center’s guide Best Practices for Digital Humanities Projects. This guide lays out the standard methods used internationally for digital humanities projects, and it explains why those methods are preferable. Their resource page also includes introductory lectures on data visualizations and metadata—data about the data one has gathered—and how to make metadata useful for the digital humanist.


A screenshot of the University of Nebraska's Center for Digital Research in the Humanities that shows a glossary for digital vocabulary.

Need a quick definition? Check out the glossary of terms at UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, represented here in a screenshot.


The asynchronous workshops offered through Indiana University’s Institute for Digital Arts & Humanities (IDAH) are free to the public and accessible at any time. Attendees can guide themselves through an Intro to Digital Methods: Text, Network, and Mapping Analysis workshop using Civil War letters, while also contributing to a collaborative digital research project. If you are looking to include digital methods into your pedagogy, The Intersection of Digital Arts & Humanities and Teaching workshop provides how-to videos and teaching templates that can be incorporated into a classroom. For those looking to start a digital research project with the basic skills they have picked up with the aforementioned guides, the Digital Research Workshop can assist in developing a project plan and an assessment of which digital method or medium is best suited to the project. In addition to the asynchronous workshops, tutorials for Digital Presentation + Publication and Topic Modeling are also available. Topic modeling reveals how frequently concepts appear in documents, and digital presentation can help historians reach a wider audience—two vital methods for analyzing and disseminating research.


From Indiana University's Institute for Digital Arts & Humanities (IDAH). Screenshot of title screen of recorded lecture of "The Intersection of Digital Arts and Humanities and Teaching." Led by Vanessa Elias, the Digital Pedagogy Consulting Specialist with IDAH Co-Directors Kalani Craig and Michelle Dalmau.

Follow along with self-paced tutorials at IU’s Institute for Digital Humanities, represented here in a screenshot.


The initiatives from UNC-Chapel Hill Davis Library Research Hub, Nebraska’s Center for Digital Research in Humanities, and IU’s Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities Center make it possible and accessible to self-teach digital method literacy. This accessibility also means that scholars who have avoided learning digital methods no longer have an excuse not to learn—something that I am guilty of as well. While gathering resources for this article, I considered how to integrate digital methods into my own research, such as by mapping incidents of Black resistance on American military bases in the 1940s.

Knowing how to use at least one digital method will benefit any historian as these tools can help to reveal patterns in a research project. In his work on Jamaican slave revolts, for example, historian Vincent Brown used digital mapping to visualize the recorded movements of insurgents. Through these visualizations, Brown was able to observe the spatial boundaries and geographic power of the revolt and recognize the strategic coordination involved, similar to that seen in military operations. Brown argues, “Obviously, one need not be a digital historian or digital humanist to make significant use of digital application. One needs only historical questions and a willingness to pursue them by any available means.” The insights and conclusions from his digital pursuit would become the foundation for his book, the 2021 Frederick Douglass Book Prize winner, Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (2020).

Starting to learn digital methods can be daunting, especially when self-taught, but it is possible. These are three examples of digital centers that have made learning easier by providing access to university-sponsored beginner initiatives that are open to learners regardless of institutional affiliation or physical location. By providing these accessible resources, they are cultivating further engagement in the digital humanities.

~AJ Boyd is a Ph.D student in history at Rutgers University studying African Americans and the military.

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