Using Computers to Join the Conversation

As a young adult in our technology-driven society who is constantly within reach of my phone and or laptop, and is able to easily use both to accomplish my daily needs, I came into this course thinking that I was highly proficient in the use of computers and technology. After the past few weeks, I have come to realize that I was wrong: there is a lot that I do not know about computers. While I had previously only used my computer to type documents for school such as papers and notes, along with using Google Chrome and occasionally Excel, English 340 has opened me up to an entire world of computing that I did not know existed. At first, using applications like Atom and Virtual Box was a daunting task to me, but working with both applications has gradually increased my comfort with these types of computational tools. I now realize that there is so much I have to learn about computers, and I’m excited to see the difference in my skills from now to the end of the semester.

Going beyond my relationship with my computer to examine the relationship between computers and humanities, I’d like to first define humanities. Humanities are the study of human culture and society, and in academic disciples include the study of languages, literature, philosophy, the arts, and other subjects that examine the human race. Coming into the course, when I thought about humanities and computers, the first thing that came to my mind was the use of computers in conducting research about literature. When I read the title of the class, “Literature Study in a Digital Age,” I assumed the digital part of the course would be doing research on computers about the texts we read. I thought we would mostly be writing research papers and pictured myself using search browsers such as Jstor and Google Scholar. I thought (and still do think) that computers are very useful in the field of humanities because they give people the ability to spread information on a very large scale: if I search a database like Jstor, I can find literature and scholarly articles from all over the world, as well as from many years ago. In this way, technology has a power to connect people from different places and times. Although places such as libraries gave people access to research before computers were widespread, online databases give people access to much more information than a library can hold. Digital humanities also provides a platform for less established writers, researchers, and scholars to share thoughts, ideas, and scholarly work. Instead of having to publish work in a traditional manner, platforms like blogging sites (including WordPress, the one I am using now), allow writers and thinkers to discuss humanities on a less formal basis. This leads me to a point that has been at the center of my academic career at Geneseo: having a “conversation” in English and the humanities. In high school, I wrote papers in which I summarized ideas I read in literature or in scholarly articles. Once I got to college, I was introduced to the idea of joining a conversation in literature, or the “they say, I say,” format, in which I was taught to summarize an argument I read about in a text in order to set up my own unique argument or ideas. Computers and technology give people like me a platform to share our “I say,” and join the conversation about humanities. While if computers did not exist, I could still write about texts and distribute it to others, my work would not reach nearly as large of an audience as it can through online platforms such as blogs.

These are some preexisting ideas I had about the relationship between computers and humanities, but after the first month of English 340 I have realized that there is so much more for me to learn. Before entering the class, I had never heard of coding, markdown, or plain text files. I’m excited to continue to learn how to use this knowledge in my study of the humanities. In our last class, we used Python to examine word choice in texts. Using a tool to see how many “z’s” or “e’s” were in Thoreau’s Walden was not something I could have previously imagined being able to do. I’m ready to continue to learn new ways to analyze text using digital resources and new computer tools to strengthen my ability to use technology to understand literature.

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