I went into Hacking the Humanities apprehensive about coding. I do not think I would ever be able to achieve proficiency in a coding language, nor do I think that coding should be a prerequisite to working in the digital humanities, nor a requirement for all students of the humanities. Is it helpful? Of course. It’s helpful because understanding a language or a field even at the most rudimentary level can facilitate conversation and collaboration without getting lost in translation. But can that collaboration happen only once everyone knows code? I don’t think so.
My brain has the tendency to switch numbers and letters, and I am a terrible speller. Although this makes looking for books by call numbers a miserable experience, it is harder for me to notice a misspelled variable or a rogue 7 in a page of code than it is to realize I’m in the wrong section of the library. I also find that I do not think as logically, linearly, nor literally as a computer does. I am much more visual in how I understand things. I was very glad that Codecademy’s practice pages had different colors for different parts of code, because it gave me a way to see what I was doing in a way I could understand easier.
As someone who is neither inclined to code, nor feels they are capable of coding beyond, perhaps, changing colors and font sizes, I feel a little betrayed because Donahue’s opening to his response article is:
“Let me start by saying that, despite my title, I am 100% in favor of everyone learning to program and I agree more or less with everything Matthew Kirschenbaum says in his essay ‘Hello Worlds (why humanities students should learn to program).’ I chose this title not to argue against anything Kirschenbaum says, but rather to suggest that the manner in which he says it may be misleading if it is taken at its face value.”
Donahue’s article cannot be taken as an argument against humanities students learning to code, rather it is an amendment to the statement that all humanities students should code (before they can engage with the computer sciences) and an attempt to show some of the similarities between humanities and computer science projects.
I do not doubt in the slightest that code can be as beautiful in its mastery and efficiency to those who read use it as I think the 6-word opening sentence of Fahreinheight-451 (“It was a pleasure to burn”) is when I read it. In that sense, I do not disagree with, nor do I want to quash Kirschenbaum’s belief that those who study the humanities have more in common with the programmers across campus than we think. That said, I’m hesitant about making it a requirement for all humanities students, or all those who want to collaborate on digital humanities projects. Digital Humanities is a deeply collaborative field, and I worry that coding proficiency could exclude students and scholars who stand firmly in the realm of the humanities.
For those who want to actively engage and work with the computer sciences on projects, I think it is worth knowing some coding, or at the very least understand the limitations of programs (which is why I wanted to take this course despite being scared of code). Perhaps it would prevent misunderstanding during longer projects, because knowing what is possible is the first step of making anything.