Miriam Posner's post, "Some things to think about before you exhort everyone to code," has touched off a series of conversations on twitter and elsewhere. My own feeling is that she's nailing some things square on the head and, fortunately, doesn't conclude saying that we should banish coding from the digital humanities. We just need to be careful how we cast the need for coding.
I've tossed around a nugget in my mind for the last few weeks, and Mariam's post is making me focus more intently on it: A digital humanist afraid of the digital is like a scholar of French literature who is afraid of French. You can't be a digital humanist if you don't understand the digital. That doesn't mean you have to be able to code any more than being a scholar of French literature means you have to be able to write French literature. You just have to be able to understand the nuances of what you're studying and how you are studying it. Otherwise, how can you properly interpret the results?
Every November, I mean to buckle down and write 50,000 words. Every November, something comes up that keeps me from doing it. Last year, I taught an introductory course to creative writing at Texas A&M University. The year before, I probably got too busy with work. This year, I'm going to make it happen! I don't have any trips planned except for Thanksgiving. I don't have any activities after work or on the weekend that take up a large amount of time. Nothing is standing in my way.
For those who haven't heard of NaNoWriMo, hop over to the website and take a look. I'm raising money to help the nonprofit that runs it build communities in classrooms, coffee shops, libraries, and living rooms all over the world and help the inspiration flow for me and thousands of my fellow novelists. More importantly, your contribution will help The Office of Letters and Light build a more engaged and inspiring world.
For the rest of this post, I want to explore why NaNoWriMo works and touch a bit on what it could mean for digital humanities. Today is my research day, after all, so I need to tie this in with my work somehow.
The Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) is in a week. I'll be teaching a course on data discovery, management, and presentation using a platform I've been developing for the last couple years. This will be the first time other people will try to use the platform to build a project. I've been writing the workbook for the week-long course and I think we can do it.
For those who aren't familiar with what I call the Fabulator, I've developed a compute engine as an extension to Radiant, an open source content management system. The goal is to provide a platform for dynamic, data-driven digital humanities project sites that fill the role of the traditional monograph. These sites make a scholarly argument using interactive web applications instead of static text. The problem is that libraries don't want to touch these projects. No one wants to provide the long-term maintenance required to keep a web application running as the underlying languages and systems change.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) with the same title. I've linked to the video here so you can see the slides along with my monotone voice. In this talk, I use imagery and music along with mathematics to explore how we might approach taking ownership of computing in the humanities.
The last slide is wrong. It should be the following:
I'll explore the implications of this code in another post.