Bridging Project Gaps – Why You Should Learn Some Code as a Digital Humanist

I am vehemently in favor of everyone learning to understand on a basic level how code works and the fundamentals of coding, not just digital humanists. However, since the humanities now so closely linked with many disciplines, computer science included, I believe code is more important than ever as outside of English it is the language that translates best to every discipline. From a personal standpoint Donahue’s article comes as something of a contradiction, he argues that humanities and the computer sciences are closely interlinked and tackle many of the same issues.

I think, to anyone from the humanities, with or without the ability to program; that they are pursued with algorithms and code does not change the fact that in the end many of the same questions are asked, and many of the same approaches shared.

Evan Donahue, A “Hello World” Apart

Donahue brings up the computer science field of Natural Language Processing, something I am deeply familiar with (most of my COMPS work is on NLP). In the development of any NLP project computer scientists work closely with either peers in the humanities or base much of their work off of papers written on linguistics related to their field of study. They then must in turn learn enough of that division of humanities to be able to translate their work into code (which is easier said than done). To be fair, it is much easier to read a paper than hundreds of lines of code, but what happens when someone in the humanities wants to try to translate something from the world of CS back to their own? This precise reason is why I believe it is important if not necessary for someone in the digital humanities to learn some code – it gives you the baseline to interact with a massive world of new possibilities, projects and ideas. Why limit yourself to just one language? You could argue that learning coding is similar to learning an entire new foreign language, but I disagree.

Here is a simple process: “Remove all question marks from the following sequence: ?!??*!?&^!?”. This is easily read and easy for you to do by hand. But code can translate that request to everyone able to code, not just to English readers:

?!??*!?&^!?".replace("?", "")

This is a fairly simple example in python, but the idea holds for more and more complex pieces of code. The ability to communicate across disciplines is incredibly important and I believe that knowing some code is an important way to communicate.



  1. The NLP is an interesting point, and I definitely agree that we should not limit ourselves to one language. I also agree that people in the digital humanities would be greatly benefited from learning code, however I wonder what you think about people in the (non-digital) humanities.

  2. I agree with your point about bridging the gaps between humanities and the digital world. There are definitely benefits in having people understand the base in fields they will be collaborating with. My question to you is does every digital project have to start with the base of coding? I think one of the points Donahue was trying to make is that even if people haven’t learned how to code, that should not dissuade them from engaging in digital humanities.

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