Since the earliest civilizations, people have recorded their thoughts and experiences through storytelling, art, philosophy and other forms of expression. Studying these works – collectively known as the humanities – helps us understand the past and ultimately ourselves. In today’s digital age, scholars are advancing this research with tools like visual mapping and computation to better probe questions of how and why history unfolded the way it did and what makes us human.

At Stanford, this research happens through many interdisciplinary collaborations among the humanities, social sciences and technical fields. Some of that work takes places at the Stanford University Libraries, the Stanford Humanities Center and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), which is home to the Literary Lab, Spatial History Project, Humanities + Design, Poetic Media Lab and Text Technologies, among others. These stories represent some of the ways Stanford scholars are probing ancient questions through modern digital technologies.

Digital media

Stanford University Press pioneering digital academic publishing through innovative program

Stanford University Press’s digital publishing program gives scholars an extraordinary opportunity to publish and peer review their interactive scholarship. The press was the first academic publishing group to offer scholars a way to publish and peer review academic research that involves digital tools not usually found in online journals.


Stanford team brings medieval texts to a contemporary audience

A new website curated by Stanford faculty and students, the Global Medieval Sourcebook, translates medieval literature into English for the first time.

Manuscript illustration depicts King Henry II of England demanding that the Arthurian romances be written down. It is taken from the beginning of La mort au Roy Artus, in a 13th-century manuscript of Arthurian romances (Yale ms. 229, f. 272v, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

Image credit: Courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

Teaching & Students

Free Stanford tool enhances collaborative learning in classes focused on reading, writing

Lacuna, a free online annotation platform developed at Stanford, promotes collaborative learning and interdisciplinary conversations. The platform is being used at higher education institutions around the world.


Thousands of Rome’s historical images digitized with help of Stanford researchers

Painting of Colosseum

Image credit: Courtesy Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte

Researchers digitized thousands of pieces from 19th-century archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani’s collection to help scholars across the world study Rome’s transformation.


Stanford researchers map fear and happiness in historic London

A digital humanities team sifts through two centuries of British novels and geography to see how London’s readers felt about different parts of their city.

A map of emotions in London from 1700 to 1899. While London’s actual population increased from 600,000 to 4.5 million during this time, the London depicted in literature remained largely the same from 1750 to 1899.

Image credit: Stanford Literary Lab (CESTA)


Stanford research explores novel perspectives on the evolution of Spanish

Using digital tools and literature to explore the evolution of the Spanish language, Stanford researcher Cuauhtémoc García-García reveals a new historical perspective on linguistic changes in Latin America and Spain.

Map showing frequency of the use of the Spanish pronoun 'vos' as opposed to 'tú' in Latin America

Image credit: Cuauhtémoc García-García

Law & Policy

New interactive Stanford website presents unexamined data on federal programs that aid local governments in the American West

A team at Stanford created an interactive website to shed light on the money the federal government has paid to counties and states in the American West over time in turn for controlling parts of their lands.

Nevada desert

Image credit: nevskyphoto / Getty Images


Stanford historian explores social roots of Rio de Janeiro

In his recent book, Stanford historian Zephyr Frank explores how 19th-century literature tells the social history of Rio de Janeiro, revealing the foundations of today’s Olympic city.

Digital media

Visualization tool prototyped by Stanford humanities scholars aids the investigation of ‘Panama Papers’

The fallout from the world’s biggest data-based journalistic investigation known as the Panama Papers continues to reverberate across the world.

Few may realize that the revelations were made possible thanks in part to a visualization tool prototyped by humanities scholars at Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA).


A new school approach to critiquing dime novel Westerns

Ellie Redding is tapping her computer science skills to uncover the literary brilliance of tales of the Old West.

Photo: Ellie Redding

Image credit: Linda A. Cicero


Stanford’s map center devoted to the ‘joyful exploration of all things cartographic’

The David Rumsey Map Center is a spacious room with maps at every turn – in slender atlases tucked into bookcases, displayed on the fragile pages of rare books, mounted on walls with magnets, gleaming on two vast video walls – even etched on its front doors.

exhibition designer and map donor view digitized map on large video wall

Image credit: L.A. Cicero


Stanford Literary Lab uses digital humanities to study why we feel suspense

Stanford English Professor Mark Algee-Hewitt and a team of eight graduate students combine digital tools of textual analysis with the emotional experience of reading to uncover what creates suspense in stories.

Stanford Literary Lab

Image credit: Tanu Wakefield

Ecology & Environment

Stanford scholar unearths conflicted human history of South America's great natural wonder

Nestled along the border between Argentina and Brazil are the spectacular, thundering Iguazu Falls. Surrounding them are two national parks – legally protected areas of subtropical rainforest that appear free of both people and politics.

According to Stanford’s Frederico Freitas, however, the national parks served a more pointed purpose throughout the 20th century: They were geopolitical weapons and highly effective tools for nation-building.


Stanford scholar uses digital tools to track grave relocation in China

A digital humanities project led by Stanford historian Tom Mullaney is creating a map that illustrates the ongoing and multifaceted impact of funeral reform and grave relocation in China.

Teaching & Students

Stanford launches digital humanities minor, combining tech skills with critical thinking

A new interdisciplinary minor gives students the opportunity to blend traditional humanistic research with technology tools.


After 20 years, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy thrives on the web

The Stanford scholars who founded the groundbreaking online encyclopedia say that the project owes its success to the unique way it organizes its community of contributors, editors and users.

Statue of ancient philosopher holding a scroll. / Photo: Shutterstock

Image credit: Shutterstock


Catalhoyuk Living Archive

Stanford scholar Ian Hodder is leading the way on an international effort to reconstruct the story of humanity’s past in a Neolithic village in modern-day Turkey. Part of that effort has been creating and maintaining the Catalhoyuk Living Archive, which provides central interactive database for different scientific findings, interpretations of archaeological artifacts.


Stanford historian looks to the U.S. Postal Service to map the boom and bust of 19th-century American West

The history of the settlement of the American West comes to life with Geography of the Post, a digital mapping platform that creates visualizations of where and when post offices operated.

screenshot from Geography of the Post website
Teaching & Students

In her research and in a new online course, Stanford scholar delves into the secrets of medieval texts

Digital tools, including a free, public online manuscript training course, are allowing English professor and medieval manuscript scholar Elaine Treharne to share her expertise well beyond traditional classroom walls.

medieval manuscript scroll

Image credit: Colin Reeves-Fortney/Stanford Online

Race & Ethnicity

Developed at Stanford, a website about comedian Richard Pryor's early years reveals the complex history of race in an American sin city

With maps, photos, news clippings and written artifacts about Pryor’s roots in Illinois, the interactive website Richard Pryor’s Peoria offers an online tool to learn about segregation, urban renewal and the roots of Pryor’s comedy.

Collage for Richard Pryor story