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Digital Humanities: Digital reference works

An introduction to digital humanities

What are digital reference works?

Digital reference works are forms of authoritative and knowledgeable information that are available online which people can refer to when they want to know about a particular topic. They provide a greater ability to update reference content as well as allowing people to collaborate, discover new knowledge, and make this knowledge available.

Types of digital reference works

  • Wikis
    • Wikis are websites about topics worked on by a community of contributors.
  • Encyclopedias
    • Encyclopedias are texts containing summarised information on specific topic areas.
  • Indexes
    • Indexes are traditionally alphabetical listings of keywords that appear in a text with location details so that you can find where they occur throughout the text. In a database, an index is a data structure for one or more columns of data that makes searching and accessing data faster.
  • Blogs
    • A blog is an online journal, log, or series of accounts written by one or more people sharing their views on a topic.
  • Dictionaries
    • A dictionary is a listing of words and their definitions.
  • Catalogues
    • A catalogue is a listing of items in a collection and/or classification system with details relating to their availability, location and/or other relevant details.

Tools and techniques used in creating, maintaining and using digital reference works


  • Media Wiki
    • Media Wiki is a free, open source software for making Wiki pages.
    • Used by Distributed Proofreaders, who do crowdsourced transcription and proofreading.
    • Used by Discourse DB, which uses wiki technology to create a database of the opinions of the world's journalists and commentators about ongoing political events and issues.
  • WordPress
    • Wordpress is a content management system that enables users to create blogs and webpages. There is a free and open source version of this platform.
    • Used by researcher Tim Sherratt for his research blog.

Examples of digital reference works

  • Discontents
    • Research blog of digital humanities scholar, historian and hacker, Tim Sherratt
  • Dictionary of Sydney
    • A dictionary of historical and cultural information about the city of Sydney

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