Blog Post

Digital Community

Digital Community

HASTAC is an online platform that fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration. It is a useful community forum within which to frame class discussions because posts are open to over 13,000 members – from humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists, to technologists – and 400 institutes. Digital, humanistic endeavor hinges on the interaction between a cross-functional team, so expanding the course’s viewership vis-à-vis a digital platform could provide dividends for developing ideas. 

In my early explorations of the site, one blog posts that struck me as particularly interesting was Northwestern University PhD Candidate Elizabeth Hunter’s “Must humanists learn to code? Or: Should I Replace My Own Carburetor?,” wherein Hunter recounts how playing the role of jack of all trades fell short of expectations. She discusses MIT professor Nick Montfort’s dialectic that all humanists must learn to code, advice she likened to acquiring a second language to study comparative literature. But after taking a Design of Technological Tools for Thinking and Learning (DTTTL) course and learning simple coding programs like Logo, NetLogo, and Scratch, which she used to prototype her game Something Wicked, she could not crack Unity, despite several months of effort.

Screenshot of Something Wicked in Unity by Hunter's developer.

Consequently, Hunter decided to partner with Unity experts to build the final version of Something Wicked, though she mentions how learning to code has shaped her conversations with CS collaborators. 

HASTAC@CUNY was one aspect of the HASTAC website that stood out to me. The initiative is a prime example of how technology could be applied to social justice, in this case, using a wired network to increase access to higher education and giving students a platform to share their research. I was also interested by the events and opportunities tab, too. Digital humanities is a nascent field, so it is reassuring to know that there is a central hub for internships, fellowships, and grants to support students looking to get involved.



1 comment

Hi Raul,

I believe your post raises some interesting questions while providing an opportunity to share some ideas I've been incubating for about 50 years. It is part of the old topic of Computer Literacy.

First, let's consider the act of "coding". IMHO, all speech, all scripts and much of animal body language are forms of encoding information internal to the organism so that it can be shared. In that sense your comments are not about coding in general. We members of the academic world are already skilled in that. Rather, your question is whether we all need to learn one or another specific coding technique that will permit us to input instructions to a class of computers to generate a desired output. My answer is a qualified "yes".

Everyone needs enough experience programming computers to develop a gut-level understanding of the principle of "garbage in - garbage out". This serves as an innoculation to protect us against the idea that computers make us do things rather than the people behind the computer program. It enables us to hold those people accountable in a highly technical, often confusing, civic and economic landscape.

Beyond immunity to claims that "the computer won't let me do that for you", some rudimentary understanding of computer programming makes it easier for non-professionals to communicate their requirements to those who specialize in the twisted and esoteric coding process we still must go through to fill our screens with informative and entertaining games as well as interpretable information displays.

Second, the fact that I am the first commenter on your post suggests that HASTAC (and many other social media platforms) have a long way to go before they begin to rival coffee shops or even the proverbial back fence as opportunities for human information exchange. Coding is necessary but not sufficient for that exchange. After a message is encoded it must be received by another and then that other must respond.