Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 271.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Thu, 02 Oct 2003 05:58:29 +0100
From: Stephen Ramsay <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 <email@example.com>) 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: firstname.lastname@example.org web: http://cantor.english.uga.edu/ PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11
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