17.265 dance steps to coding

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Sep 30 2003 - 03:45:50 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 265.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Tue, 30 Sep 2003 08:44:51 +0100
             From: lachance@origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Dance Steps to Coding


    While recently in a book about T'ai Chi, I came across a passage that
    contrasted learning by the book with learning from an instructor. To whit
    "old dance manuals with footprints on the floor, for doing cha-cha-cha and
    tango. People never could learn to dance through the Arthur Murray dance
    books, so finally they had to pay their fee to go to the dance school."
    [Al Chung-liang Huang Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain (1973)]

    This has made me wonder how people in the humanities come to learn
    programing languages. I am especially wondering about the role of
    autodidactic practices in the acquiring of technical savy and at what
    moment in their apprenticeship humanits might search out spaces for
    show-and-tell modes of knowledge acquisition.

    I ask because it appears that on many technical discussion lists that
    reading code is practiced almost as an exquiste explication de texte. For
    example, one can call to mind Jeni Tennison's magistral tutorial
    interventions on the XSL discussion list hosted by Mulberry Technologies.
    Was there ever a time or a place where "reading code" was consider worthy
    to be in the purview of humanities computing?

    I raise the question not purely for the pedagogical aim but for the way
    histories and styles of learning shape research interests. I am persuaded
    that folks who have learnt to hand code HTML look under the hood and view
    source mark up when accessing WWW resources more often than folks who have
    relied on WYSISWG editors to produce HTML. <!-- You would be surprised
    what gets tucked away in comments -->

    Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large

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