17.271 dance steps to coding

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Oct 02 2003 - 01:05:11 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 271.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Thu, 02 Oct 2003 05:58:29 +0100
             From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay@uga.edu>
             Subject: Re: 17.265 dance steps to coding

    On Tue, Sep 30, 2003 at 08:45:50AM +0100, Humanist Discussion Group (by way
    of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:
    > 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 discovered programming while working as Assistant Director for the
    Electronic Text Center at UVA. The job was primarily administrative
    (make sure everyone showed up on time, got paid, and so forth). I
    decided to teach myself programming as way to make myself useful.
    That decision completely changed the direction of my scholarship.

    I'm now on my eighth language, and it continues to be the single
    most thrilling aspect of my scholarly life. Most of my work is
    about code -- its relation to textuality more generally, the
    constraints and potentials it introduces into humanistic inquiry,
    the idea of computation as a way of spurring us to insight. Along
    the way, I have also had to teach myself quite a bit about data
    structures, algorithms, information theory, and discrete
    mathematics. I am forever trying to develop relationships with
    people who were formally trained in these matters -- in part to
    correct my erroneous assumptions, but also to foster the kind of
    interdisciplinary dialogue upon which so much of humanities computing

    Autodicticism can be a perilous business, though. One constantly
    encounters distrust from proper mathematicians and computer
    scientists (the only way to diffuse this distrust is to know of what
    you speak -- and that takes a lot of work). On the other hand, I
    have met a number of generous souls over the years who were willing
    to answer questions. Outside of a math/CS program one invariably
    has to sweat through it the hard way. I suppose that experience
    made me more self-aware as a technologist (and as a teacher), but my
    humanities computing courses are fundamentally designed to save
    people the pain of trying to figure it all out themselves.

    I imagine that there's an enormous amount of autodidacticism that
    goes on in HC. I'd love to hear about others' experiences.


    Stephen Ramsay
    Assistant Professor
    Department of English
    University of Georgia
    email: sramsay@uga.edu
    web: http://cantor.english.uga.edu/
    PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11

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