The Digital in the Humanities

You have already talked quite a bit about coding, but I’d like to return quickly to the question of DH students needing to learn computer languages. In the past there has been a line drawn in the digital humanities between those who code and those who don’t. Do you think full engagement with the digital humanities requires programming skills, and, if so, should programming become a requirement for humanities students?

Would you trust a book on the French Revolution written by a scholar who didn’t read French? It’s a legitimate question. I’m sure there are brilliant lunar geologists who have never been to the moon. But I maintain that one must learn one’s materials — including computation and coding — in order to be competent in DH. Computer languages might not have the deep history that natural languages have, and they might not have the same kind of cultural depth that natural languages have. But in terms of relevance in contemporary life, in terms of a rich analytical and critical context, machine languages are just as fascinating as natural languages. Of course there’s the question of which language one ought to learn. For language requirements in digital literacy, one might not simply master Ruby or Python but instead master three or even four languages. It’s less important to master the specific syntax of a single computer language than it is to understand certain fundamental concepts that many languages share, concepts like variables, iteration, and subroutines.

Full interview Alexander R. Galloway:

Alexander R. Galloway is Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.


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