Should Humanities Students Learn How To Code?

Many people believe that because computer science is an expanding field, all students should learn how to code in order to better work within their own field. While I believe that learning to code can help you think in new and interesting ways, I do not think that students outside of the field of computer science should be required to learn how to code.

“… all who consider themselves scholars of the humanities should realize that the discourse of programming is only the technical jargon with which computer scientists address many of the very same questions that one encounters every day in the humanities.”

Evan Donahue, A “Hello World” Apart(why humanities students should NOT learn to program)

I like this quote from Evan Donahue’s article because it points out the fact that understanding jargon isn’t what makes someone a better intellectual. As Donahue says, learning to code and interacting with the computer sciences is clearly one way to learn more and expand the possibilities of what one can do within the humanities. Still, requiring everyone to code would just be a requirement and would not enrich everyone’s individual learning. Donahue does not dissuade people from learning to program, but makes the distinction that it shouldn’t be another barrier for someone to interact with fields outside of their own. The goal is for humanities students to collaborate with computer programmers, but we shouldn’t force them to learn computer science basics to get to the point of collaboration.

In my experience, computer science is a very intimidating field, especially because it is dominated by white men. Still, it is interesting to me and I found coding to be really enjoyable when I took Intro CS last year. What I like about computer science is similar to what I like about math. It is all about solving puzzles and making things work.

My second exposure to coding was in a digital humanities class about the history of music and dance in Latin America. I really enjoyed creating digital projects and learning basic HTML in a setting geared for more underrepresented groups. In this class, I felt that who I was mattered just as much as what I could create. In this sense I think that computer science could benefit from being in greater conversation with humanities fields.

Overall, I think what attracts people to computer science is the ability to create, and in many ways this stems from our capitalist society. I really do enjoy creating digital projects by using what I have learned to create something so accessible. However, humanities shouldn’t be any less valid because they tend to create different types of materials and focus on discussion. These fields should try to learn from each other’s strengths rather than pushing one to evolve with the other.

Still, there is something so thrilling about seeing your first line of code work. I will always remember it.

print("Hello World!")


  1. Hi Mem, I am sorry that you find computer science intimidating. I think it is a very interesting point that you brought up about how computer science is about “creating”, which is what makes it attracting to people because we live in a capitalist society. This reminds of Debbie Chachra’s article on “makers” vs. “caregiver”. Very interesting!

  2. Mem, I think your argument and mine are quite similar in the idea that the humanities should not be limited by its ability to communicate with the digital — communication between different fields is and always has been necessary, and it seems odd that in order to communicate with the digital specifically, one has to immerse themselves within it, unlike other fields wherein communication can build gateways even to the uninitiated. That said, I find myself troubled by your statement of humanities’ validity … I’m not sure if humanities are being labeled invalid, just, perhaps, at risk of becoming antiquated, which I can understand (many literarians have been debating similar topics for a hundred years now, and while that can still be fruitful, it can also lead to a sort of debate stalemate). Still, I really agree with what you’re saying. Thanks for posting!

  3. Computer science is for sure intimidating. Carleton CS professors have had conversations with students on efforts they are taking to make it less intimidating. An example of one problem they have been working on is balancing out the percentage of men vs women who take a CS course beyond Data Structures. And yes, the problem solving is what makes CS fun!

  4. I really like your small code at the end! It is the most commonly used code and a shout out to the world from the computer! I agree how computer science can be intimidating for people who start coding, as I was one of the people who felt that way too. But, coding is not just about typing in programming language onto your screen. It is about understanding how a program works. Assuming a historian use a analyzing program for a vase used in the far past, it would be much useful for the person to understand how the program works. However, I do understand what you are going for!

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