Editor’s Choice: Defining Digital Social Sciences

As a member of a research team investigating the skills and competencies important to digital scholarship, I’ve become interested in what “digital scholarship” means in different disciplines, particularly the social sciences and humanities. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’m finding some significant points of intersection between digital humanities and digital social sciences. For example, the Digging into Data Challenge promotes innovative research using computational methods across the humanities and social sciences, funding projects in literature, political science, law, and other domains. CLIR’s 2012 report on the results of the first round of Digging into Data, One Culture: Computationally Intensive Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, recommends embracing interdisciplinarity and developing more inclusive models for collaboration. Reflecting this call for interdisciplinary collaboration, several digitally-oriented research centers explicitly encompass both the humanities and social sciences, including Northeastern’s NULab, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (I-CHASS), and Michigan State’s Matrix. What are we to make of the connections between humanities and social science research? And what does digital research in social sciences entail, anyway?

By developing a deeper awareness of how social scientists use computational methods to address research questions, humanists might gain new insights into how they can apply similar techniques to their work—and vice versa.

I ask these questions from the perspective of someone with a background in digital humanities interested in connections to (and differences from) digital social sciences. Of course, the social sciences and humanities have long been associated with each other, particularly fields such as history (classified as a social science, humanities, or both) and anthropology, owing to a common interest in culture, material objects, and interpretation. Indeed, interpretive social sciences are often brought under the broad umbrella of digital humanities. But the increasing significance of data-driven methods to the humanities as well as the social sciences seems to be sparking new connections, particularly between computational social science and computational humanities.

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This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Schneider based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: Ester Rincon Calero, James O'Sullivan, Dana Bublitz, Beth Secrist, Erin Bush, Amy Williams, Angela Galvan, Megan Blair, Michael Simeone, Aisha Clarke, Sayema Rawof, Sarah Canfield Fuller, Andrew Hyde, Laurie Allen. Souvenise St. Louis, and Kevin McQueeney