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Blog and assignment no.3 "Digital Humanities Pedagogy" -choose one chapter to read and blog about.

Chapter 9: Programming with Humanists: Reflections on Raising an Army of Hacker-Scholars in the Digital Humanities (Stephen Ramsay)


In chapter 9 of the book "Digital Humanities Pedagogy" Stephen Ramsay describes the relationship between Digital Humanities and programming res. engineering and his approach in introducing students of the Humanities to programming.
Ramsay states that students of subjects related to the Humanities are experiencing more difficulties while approaching programming as e.g. informational scientists do. While engineers deal with mathematics and related tasks on an everyday basis, students of e.g. linguistics do not directly understand the benefit of knowing how to program if they learn it with help of tasks that are not at all related to their field of study. Additionally, working with the command line interface (CLI) and with programs that do not provide a graphical interface with icons at all is not trivial for students who do not fully understand the underlying structures and functionalities of a written program. It takes time to get familiar with using the command line but nevertheless is important for the students to learn how to program, which is why Ramsay includes a module, in which he explains these basics, in his courses.
He discovered, that it is far easier for non- engineers to get a grip on scripting languages first and then learn how to program in other languages. This is because scripting languages tend to treat e.g. Strings as primitive data types (for example Integers) and students find it easier to work with words instead of mathematical based tasks. The main statement here is, that students should not at all be afraid to approach subjects like programming even if they are not essentially part of the subject they are studying. After all, programs are written for humans to read and only incidentally for machines to execute, as Ramsay writes.

For Humanities as well as for Digital Humanities the claims of usefulness of the subject and of programming for the subject are hard to justify. To propagate the relevance of a subject, usefulness is very often the main criterion and to convince others from the usefulness of linguistics or of the knowledge of languages as Java or Haskell for the Humanities is not always easy. A convincing statement of Ramsay on this matter is, that programming, in his eyes, is most of all like writing. He even criticises the perception of engineering as a practical matter and compares writing and programming as being very similar to another. Writing as a tool for thinking through a subject is the same as programming, as it provides the possibility to think in and through a subject.

A citation which introduces to Ramsay´s article is also one of the main advantages programming has for everyone in his eyes: "Program or be programmed." With this argument, Douglas Rushkoff essentially states that if we do not know how to program, we only have access to using the software written for us, but not the power to create new software ourselves. This also prevents us from participating in the process of creating actively and even denies us in some ways the access to knowledge, which is to be seen critically in our computer driven era.

29.12.14 13:10

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