Digital Archaeology vs Digital Humanities, or Why Labels are Important



In his foreword to the Digital Archaeology section of the Frontiers in Digital Humanities online journal, Andre Costopoulos writes that, “I want to stop talking about digital archaeology.  I want to continue doing archaeology digitally.”  In a series of provocative statements, Costopoulos suggests that conversations concerning the implications of new digital tools are somewhat obsolete as digitisation continues regardless.  He finishes by saying, “Forget the label.  We are building a digital archaeology by doing archaeology digitally.  This is what we do” (Costopoulos).  In his response to Costopoulos’ piece, Jeremy Huggett writes,

There’s no doubt that every archaeologist is a digital archaeologist, in the sense that everyone uses a computer to some extent at some point in their work….  However, not everyone is a digital archaeologist.

It is Huggett’s view that to avoid having conversations concerning the implications of new digital tools would be an “abrogation of responsibility” (Huggett, Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology).  At first glance, both contributions seem directly applicable to Digital Humanities and that is how they were read by many participants in a recent group discussion, myself included.  However, on closer reading the relationship between Digital Archaeology and Digital Humanities becomes tenuous.  Should we read the debates within Digital Archaeology as though are synonymous with those in Digital Humanities?



The answer to this question largely depends on how we define Digital Humanities and the relationships between Digital Humanities and independent humanities disciplines, including Digital Archaeology.  As Matthew Kirschenbaum points out, this is a question to which the multiplicity of answers now constitutes a genre (Kirschenbaum, 1).  For me, Digital Humanities is a transdisciplinary field of study, not a sub-field or sub-discipline and it is equally grounded in the theoretical, the methodological and the practical.  To my mind, such a definition attests to the applicability of digital technologies across the humanities whilst giving sufficient recognition to the fact that Digital Humanities constitutes an independent field of study.  I do not consider myself a Digital Humanities scholar because I apply digital tools to Medieval Irish material (or perhaps more accurately I intend to apply digital tools to Medieval Irish material).  If such work required a label, I would say that I am a Digital Medievalist.  What sets Digital Humanists apart from those who employ digital tools within their independent disciplines is that they have considered the wider institutional, cultural and political issues.

Perhaps more telling, however, are the attitudes of Digital Archaeologists and Digital Humanists themselves.  In 2012, Stuart Dunn wrote that the relationship between archaeology and Digital Humanities has been curiously lacking (Dunn).  In a paper, referencing Dunn’s work, Huggett writes that “digital humanists are not queuing up to access DA and digital archaeologists are not knocking on the door of DH” (Huggett, “Core or Periphery? Digital Humanities from an Archaeological Perspective”, 92).  In 2015, he highlighted the divergences in the developmental histories of the two fields and argued in favour of a “third wave” for Digital Archaeology which greatly differs from the “third wave” proposed for Digital Humanities (Huggett, “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology”, 89).  From a Digital Humanities perspective, Figure 1, originally published in 2002, maps the various methodological commons of Digital Humanities and archaeology is notably absent.



I am not suggesting that discourse within Digital Archaeology cannot be beneficial to Digital Humanities scholars, or vice versa.  There are undoubtedly many strong parallels between Digital Humanities and Digital Archaeology.  However, one should exercise caution when reading Digital Archaeology material and should not assume that Digital Archaeology is synonymous with Digital Humanities.  To paraphrase Huggett in his article cited in the above introduction: there’s no doubt that every archaeologist is a digital archaeologist, in the sense that everyone uses a computer to some extent at some point in their work.  However, not every Digital Archaeologist is a Digital Humanist.


Further Reading:

Costopoulos, Andre. “Digital Archaeology Is Here (and Has Been For a While).” Frontiers in Digital Humanities 3 (2016): 1-4. Web.

Dunn, Stuart. CAA1 – The Digital Humanities and Archaeology Venn Diagram. N.p., 206AD. Web.

Huggett, Jeremy. “Core or Periphery? Digital Humanities from an Archaeological Perspective.” Historical Social Research 37 (2012): 86-105. Web.

—. “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” Open Archaeology 1 (2015): 86–95. Web.

—. Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology. N.p., 2016. Web.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments.” ADE Bulletin 150 (2010): 1–7. Web.