Week 4, Topic 4 = Programming for historians

The definition of computer programming is: A series of instructions given to the computer to direct it to carry out certain operations (Dictionary.com, 2015). In short, writing a computer program to do certain tasks.

To at least learn some basic programming could be very useful for historians. Knowing how to program the computer to search for something for you helps sift through a lot of data faster. A downside could be that computers are not always 100% reliable, but this could be solved easily by making security copies of your work regularly to an external hard drive. Another downside is that computer programs might overlook something that you wouldn’t unless you program it to look for that specifically. You must account for misspelling and different ways of writing the same word(s).

Other downsides or limits could be that you will never get more out of it than what you put in and you can not program feelings or certain cultural differences. The computer program will never be able to intepret the data so the historians will have to. On the positive side though it does help reduce the information to look through like I mentioned above. Also, in most search programs you would need to know some syntax and semantics to help with your programming, and syntax is not that easy.

Janine Noack (2014) thinks that for historians to learn programming would be good because it can help you to be more of an outside the box thinker, develop your creative thinking, as well as help you to build logical connections. And with the various tools provided to us by people through the internet, like Python or Codeacademy, you can learn programming in a way that’s fun and not too difficult.

I do believe that programming might be easier to learn if you learn some basic HTML and CSS first. I had the benefit of learning that in senior high so I found Python pretty easy to use. Other people might not.

To quote Noack (2014), “Knowing basic coding helps us to better understand the programs available and in the end, to adapt them to our specific needs.”

I don’t think I could have said it better myself. Understanding how something works makes it easier for us to adapt it toward our specific purpose or needs. Though as mentioned earlier, few things are completely without flaws. This is why knowing the right way to systematize information is so important. Let’s say that someone is looking for the average age of wrestling champions. To do this they would need to find two things; when the champions are born and when they won the championship.

User mcheesaker (hist291.wordpress.com, 2013) also agrees that knowing how to program would allow one to search for keywords through large amount of data. Although mcheesaker also raises the point that one can use Command/Ctrl + F for that which I do a lot myself.

Sienna Latham (2012) also agrees that knowing how to code for yourself makes things easier. She learned Python with help from her husband as usually he was the one coding, but his free time grew shorter so she decided to learn for herself.

I agree with what Noack and Latham has been saying as I have experienced it myself through helping my father with his website and with systematizing his data to be used in his historical and statistical wrestling books. So, in conlusion I do believe that Noack and user mcheesaker (from hist291.wordpress.com) are right when they’re basically saying that it makes things easier when used right as well as it, meaning programming, being a big part of this new and constantly evolving world.


From Analog to Python: Should A Digital Historian Know How to Program? | Digital History @ UW on WordPress.com (2013) Available at: https://hist291.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/from-analog-to-python-should-a-digital-historian-know-how-to-program/ (Accessed: 16 April 2015)
Latham, S. (2012) Coding for Historians, Part 1
Noack, J. (2014) Why historians should learn how to code (at least a bit). Available at: http://doinghistoryinpublic.org/2014/07/03/why-historians-should-learn-how-to-code/ (Accessed: 16 April 2015)
The Definition of Programming (2015) in Available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/programming (Accessed: 17 April 2015)



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