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Digital humanities: humanities research in the digital age
Digital humanities: humanities research in the digital age

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4.1 Bridging the digital divides

The abundance of the digital world has not distributed access and benefits to this data. It has created a new digital divide: a separation between the haves and have nots within the digital world. Pippa Norris identifies three levels of digital divide: the global differences in internet access between high and low income countries; the social chasm between informationally rich and poor; and at the level of individual and collective participation, a ‘democratic divide that signifies the difference between those who do, and do not, use the panoply of digital resources to engage, mobilize and participate in public life’ (Norris, 2010, p. 4).

Building capacity to understand and master the tools to manipulate data, the capital raw material of the digital world, can help us bridge the existing divides. In particular, democratising the skills to collect, wrangle, analyse and critically interpret digital data can be an emancipatory act: it equips data subjects with the tools to reclaim their digital footprints.

Bridging the Digital Methods divide

There is a wide variety of digital data sources matched by an equal profusion of data retrieval and wrangling tools. But must digital methods be born-digital or can they result from the digitisation of previously existing approaches? Richard Rogers draws a clear divide between ‘digital methods’, ‘a research practice that learns from the methods of online devices, repurposes them, and seeks to ground claims about cultural change and societal conditions in web data’, and ‘virtual methods’, which consist of old methods ported into the new medium and applied, for example, in internet-based research (Rogers, 2015, p. 19). This divide might have made sense in the past, but now feels antiquated. The online and the offline are experienced as a continuum rather than separate spheres. Research methods, digital or otherwise, should reflect this reality rather than (re)creating yet another divide.