[Humanist] 27.442 computing literacy

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Oct 18 10:35:09 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 442.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Alexander Hay <a.hay at soton.ac.uk>                         (67)
        Subject: Re:  27.437 raising the level of computing literacy in
                digital humanities?

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (41)
        Subject: like Latin

        Date: Thu, 17 Oct 2013 09:23:31 +0100
        From: Alexander Hay <a.hay at soton.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re:  27.437 raising the level of computing literacy in digital humanities?
        In-Reply-To: <20131017052601.687273A65 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Paul,

I'm from a humanities background but presently work in promoting greater 
use of software across all the disciplines. Based on my research into 
the various schools of thought on this matter, there seems to be a broad 
range of opinions, from those who think only programmers should 
programme to those who think everyone should start coding immediately 
and kickstart The Singularity (or something). My own view on the matter 
is that scientists and engineers all certainly need to know how to code, 
but what they need to know and to what degree varies from case to case.

The flip-side of this is that many of the computing/hard science people 
I work with are shocked at just how adept academics in the humanities 
are in regards to IT and programming. They thought they were the only 
ones having these debates, so it is quite a surprise for them to realise 
how advanced the discussions are in our own fields. (This is profoundly 
amusing for an English graduate like myself.)

Kind regards,

- Alexander

On 17/10/2013 06:26, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 437.
>              Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                         www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                  Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>          Date: Wed, 16 Oct 2013 21:32:52 -0500
>          From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
>          Subject: Re:  27.432 disciplinary contradictions & radical demythologization
>          In-Reply-To: <20131016053103.F2CD63C0F at digitalhumanities.org>
> I'd like any references that you may have on DH's need to raise the level of
> what we may call "computing literacy". I believe I have seen blog posts to this
> effect, but if any of you have journal articles or books, I'd like to know of them.
> The goal of "computing literacy" is one of my personal missions in bridging arts and humanities
> with computing/engineering, and I see it as a worthy goal. I wonder if part of that goal
> is the perceived need to treat the "tool" as subject matter for the humanist? I believe
> that Willard may have opined previously on the desire to see "into the black box."
> There are two approaches I am using at UT Dallas:
> (1) Relevance: teaching computing principles to artists, designers, and humanists is
> achieved through cultural contexts. I have a project where students learn computing
> and systems modeling by building several model-based interpretations of Al Jazari's
> 13th century castle clock (a water clock). Current models are centered in theory of
> computing (automata) as well as systems (block model). However, there is an abstract
> design interpretation, and if I had a history student in the class, there would be a
> historical piece as a model. Students routinely raise questions answerable through
> knowledge of history, computing, culture, and physics.
> (2) Representation: students are encouraged to creatively represent dynamic models--using
> something other than flat diagrams with circles and arrows, however, keeping the underlying
> metaphors alive. This is a another gateway to the humanities.
> "Relevance" makes reference to traditional notations. "Representation" goes beyond community
> norms for computing formalism, opening up the creative process so central to arts and
> humanities. Some of this philosophy is found in aesthetic computing literature.
> p


Alexander Hay PhD
Policy & Communications Consultant
Electronics & Computer Science
Faculty of Physical & Applied Sciences
Building 32 Room 4067
University of Southampton

        Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2013 09:28:55 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: like Latin
        In-Reply-To: <20131017052601.687273A65 at digitalhumanities.org>

In response to Paul Fishwick's note on computing literacy, I couldn't 
agree more that some level of instruction in programming is close to 
essential for training in digital humanities. 

It seems to me that the question of which language (Python, perl etc) is 
relatively unimportant. What's more important, because it's more of an 
impediment to people from a non-technical background, is the sort of 
example problems from which elementary exercises are drawn.

Many years ago, teaching MA students with no such background whatever, 
I'd pose a simple problem almost everyone faces when doing research in 
the humanities and writing: how to reformat in Word a document with hard 
returns in the wrong places without losing the double hard returns 
between paragraphs -- or, somewhat more complicated, how to deal with 
such a document in which paragraphs are distinguished by tabbed 
indenting. This forces the student to think procedurally, to reason out 
the consequences of each action applied mechanically to the document. 
Many found this *very* much of a shock -- but they had no problem 
understanding the relevance of the problem.

I'd also give them Edsger Dijkstra's "A parable" for light but 
instructive relief. See the E. W. Dijkstra Archive, ms 0594, 

Perhaps someone has thought of this before: a collaboratively 
constructed collection of sample problems that seem immediate sensible 
to humanities students. Problems they can imagine themselves wanting to 
solve. Problems that motivate. I took up a study of Latin because I knew 
it was sine qua non for what I wanted to do. Then I fell in love with 
the language.



Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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