From objects and word of mouth to artifacts and primary sources to web pages and online Journal articles. Should historians now really need to know how to program?

The manner in which gathering and distributing information has developed and evolved is remarkable, however, I do not think that Historians have to know how to program in order to effectively contribute in their field. Firstly, with all the programming we have done in class I found that I still don’t really understand how to program or see the point to it.  With all the time and work I put into putting up these words “Hello World” on a page on my computer, I could have been online looking up information for my final projects or fooling around with Neatline or one of the other programs that we have learned about to get a better understanding of them. Secondly, I found that being thrown into using Komodo Edit, as fast as we did, made it very difficult to understand what we were doing. After it was explained a couple of times I felt that I could somewhat understand what we were doing with the writing of the code. Having limited background in computer science I was not comfortable with programming in general and felt I would never understand it well enough to have it hold any value during my research of topics.  But I really felt that it would have served those of us in the class who have never written or seen code before better to have had a longer time in class of explaining and telling us what every thing stands for.  The code below is  from a class lesson that we had to write (you can find it here: http://programminghistorian.org/lessons/keywords-in-context-kwic)

# calculate the length of the n-gram
kwic = 'amongst them a black there was one'.split()
n = len(kwic)
print n
-> 7
# calculate the index position of the keyword
keyindex = n // 2
print keyindex
-> 3
# display the items before the keyword
print kwic[:keyindex]
-> ['amongst', 'them', 'a']
# display the keyword only
print kwic[keyindex]
-> black
# display the items after the keyword
print kwic[(keyindex+1):]
-> ['there', 'was', 'one']
Now I did do all the lessons before it such as when we had to write “Hello World” and have it come up three times on a page, or when we wrote code to get a word count from the Old Baily web page. I even did the code above in class but I got lots of help with every lesson including this one and still find I do not understand this code. I know we can have a course that takes an entire term to learn how to program and that programming is a valuable skill to have even for historians but I believe that three or four classes is far to little to have people who have never worked with it before to learn and pick it up. I would much rather continue working with and learning about the other, I believe, far more useful programs (that some one else created) like Neatline or sketch up. I could see more value in an interdisciplinary course where people choose to specialize in historical code learn and develop the programs for historians to utilize. Code is not for everyone but having historians who can use it and make websites/programs for other historians to use would make doing research a lot easier and help out the community of historians greatly.
Advertisements