[Humanist] 30.785 hands on

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Feb 27 07:13:26 CET 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 785.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 26 Feb 2017 07:41:45 +0000
        From: Bill Pascoe <bill.pascoe at newcastle.edu.au>
        Subject: Re:  30.781 hands on
        In-Reply-To: <20170226063514.64EB68843 at digitalhumanities.org>


Craftsmanship has long been an important part of writing code, and so implicit in digital humanities. It's been important not only as aesthetic appreciation but of great practical importance, and free of nostalgia for handicrafts. This craftsmanship goes by names such as 'well-structured code', 'coding best practices' etc. - anything relevant to what makes 'good' code as opposed to 'bad'. Not only does a developer appreciate the beauty of it when they see it but it has practical and economic benefits. There's commonplace ideals such as separation of form and content, of front and back end, the MVC pattern etc. Simply neatly laid out and well commented code saves time and money in the reading of it, and so it's modification etc. Code that is laid out in a structure that makes sense similarly is good craftsmanship and makes sense. The best code is so well designed, in terms of its architecture, its use of design patterns, and the sort of techniques that you learn as you progress from 'apprentice' to 'master', that changes and additions to it can take hours instead of weeks.

There are so many ways in which code can be well written, where you can see the work of a skilled craftsman, that I can't list them here, but are easily found in internet searches. One example is the art of the one liner - a piece of code where someone has found an elegant and clever way of writing a single line of code that others might have written in convoluted loops and subroutines. While not a one liner I remember feeling a swell of pride when C# introduced reflection and I realised you could use a simple hash in lieu of a factory method - so simple, so ingenious, so beautiful. (Dare I mention Perl Poetry? http://www.perlmonks.org/?node_id=1111395 )

Ways to instill this sense of craftsmanship might be simply by teaching what makes good code (eg: Google 'well-structured code'), designing demonstrations where good architecture makes code more flexible and repurposable, articulating all the benefits of code re-use etc, etc.

In short I think the craftsmanship you seek for DH and the ways to highlight its importance and teach it are already there in coding practices. You just need to recognise it. This raises the question whether there are any differences to the craftsmanship of writing software in itself and in it's application to humanities. I think so.

Kind regards,

Dr Bill Pascoe
eResearch Consultant
Digital Humanities Lab
hri.newcastle.edu.au http://hri.newcastle.edu.au/
Centre for 21st Century Humanities<http://www.newcastle.edu.au/research-and-innovation/centre/centre-for-21st-century-humanities/about-us>

T: 0435 374 677
E: bill.pascoe at newcastle.edu.au

The University of Newcastle (UON)
University Drive
Callaghan NSW 2308


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 781.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

>        Date: Sat, 25 Feb 2017 06:36:59 +0000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: craftsmanship

Like Andrew in Humanist 30.776 I never looked back once wordprocessing
became available, which for me happened while I was writing my doctoral
dissertation, first via a 'dumb terminal', then a series of 'microcomputers'
(scare-quotes to mark antiquated terminology). I migrated from use of a
typewriter. But I had trained as a calligrapher and taught it for
years. Prior to that a friend and roommate taught me a fair bit of
carpentry, and before that my father. So I had -- and have -- a feeling for
craftsmanship, indeed love of it and some ability, though not enough to
allow me to give up my day-job.

But I never once thought that using a keyboard was any kind of betrayal.
Handwriting and typewriting happily cohabited in me until wordprocessing
sent typewriting on its way -- and good riddance (though I loved my Olympus
portable -- a fine machine). A keen appreciation for good handwriting,
typography, page-design and the book-arts has remained strong as ever.
Obsession for layout and other aspects of readability dogs my use of e-mail,
Humanist very much included.

So, my point at last. The question I've hinted at in the last couple of
e-mails on this topic is this: how do we (as digital humanists) best instil
a sense of craftsmanship in all relevant matters without falling victim to
nostalgia for a once happy Paradise defined by its innocence of
wordprocessing, smartwatches, iPhones & alii? (I have and delight in
all of those -- to the degree they are well crafted :-)

My point about programming, that I feared it was "too much in the head", was
not to denigrate head-work, rather to question our ability to do it well
without that sense of craftsmanship best instilled, I'd think, through
physical work with one's hands. (Gardening is included!) My over-the-top
recommendation would be to require courses in calligraphy, book-binding and
design. Perhaps the human imagination is powerful enough to acquire that
sense through coding alone? The beauty and elegance of a fine mathematical
proof surely attest to something very much like craftsmanship. I once knew
a Nobel chemist who was so much "in the head" that, it was said, he
couldn't tie his own shoelaces. But he thought in terms of molecular
objects, i.e. in physical terms. Is the real problem a false separation of
mind and body?


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/ http://www.mccarty.org.uk/ ), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney
University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20<http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20>)

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