Students and scholars in the humanities generally rely on prefabricated tools to guide and instruct their learning and research. They are reluctant to engage with technology through coding. This remains a major distinction between the humanities and the sciences. The sciences design, create and maintain their own digital research environments and tools, while the humanities make do with prefabricated, and often inappropriate, tools.
At the moment, there are no broadly available academic programming courses aimed at humanities students and scholars. However, jobs related to the humanities now strongly rely on digital tools, in terms of communication, collaboration, documentation, visualization or analysis. Thus coding skills become increasingly important and will continue to do so in future for several reasons:
Knowledge of programming helps students and researchers to understand the various technologically mediated objects that they are studying.
Developing custom tools, rather than using ready-made ones, can improve the actual practice of humanities research as well as (the quantity and quality of) its output.
There is an ever-growing demand in the public and private sector for academics who can read and write code. //This holds true especially with regard to data sets increasingly made accessible by public institutions like museums, archives or libraries.//
Code can work as a basis for ambitious international research collaborations in which partners of different size and with different expertise can cooperate.
Online academic education is currently mainly offered in the form of Massive Open Online Courses. There is a reasonable fear, however, that the lack of individual feedback and direct interaction in those MOOC will lead to a decay of quality of education and scholarship.
We believe, that a more creative use of online teaching and a online learning environments can actually help us educate both larger numbers of students as well as give more attention to the individual student. We call this approach online first and envision a platform that combines the following elements:
Online learning exercises with behaviour-driven feedback
Peer-feedback in small groups, via an online platform and offline meetings
A distributed repository and version control system (GitHub) that encourages collaboration, sharing and reuse
A possibility to contribute bits of code collaboratively and copy and comment on each others work in real-time
Large Q&A sessions where students get direct feedback from teachers
Detailed metrics of the course to monitor progress of individual students and groups of students
The application is set up such that universities can integrate learning modules from CtH in their curriculums, while students can build up their portfolios through research projects, with which they can show both their progress to teachers and their skills and achievements to employers. Furthermore, the application integrates naturally with Github and other open source environments, lowering the threshold for a diverse audience to reuse, copy and extend the prototypes, products and results of interest to society, including the general public, other academics and companies.
Programming offers opportunities for new kinds of collaborative work. Large scale research projects no longer need to be split into several topics or objects, but people can divide labor through different tasks and skill sets, using tools developed by humanities scholars for humanities scholarship. It allows for sustainable and enduring ventures as project results produced and published on open licenses can be taken over and further by developers from academic institutions or organisations different from the initiating ones.
The following examples provide an overview on the research techniques Coding the Humanities seeks to experiment with and the kind of collaborative projects CtH aspires to stimulate.
imaging, translation, mapping
example: Bosch project
visualization, filtering, searching
example: New York Times Guantanamo project
example: Public Knowledge Project
crowdsourcing, annotation, translation
This kind of large scale collaborative projects not only advance the internationalization of humanities research but make the humanities more attractive for external funding and more accessible for companies willing to cooperate.
The kind of humanities teaching that we propose will give humanities students a unique profile that meets current needs of the job marketfor academics with a skillset that combines a classical humanities education with programming skills. The programming experience will thus not only provide students with tools that help to innovate humanities research but also make them more employable.
Coding the Humanities will morover provide a test-bed for new forms of online learning developed specifically for the needs of humanities teaching and learning. Together with different private partners CtH will advance the conception and development of an online learning platform aimed specifically at humanities students, that combines practical assignments, theorectical discussions and critical reflection and encourages students develop their coding and research skills collaboratively.