Blog post #2: What I learned, what I didn’t learn, and what I hope I will learn

“By the time I respond to this post at the end of the semester, I hope to have a greater proficiency in html and a better understanding of what can be done with a VM and why we should want to do these things. But mostly, I want to be able to create fuller answers surrounding the question of the digital humanities’ value.”

-Me, earlier this semester.

Part I : Reality Check

Well, it’s the end of the semester now. Sorry past-self, but your proficiency in HTML is only slightly better than it was when you wrote that post. You tried to stay consistent with the lessons and exercises on W3Schools, but as you are (were?) well aware, the academic semester always demands your full time and energy, and free-time is spent sleeping, not learning HTML or catching up on that free read you started during the break.

However, you do have a better understanding of what can be done with a virtual machine, and why anyone should want to do those things. It’s much more simple than you thought back when you asked the question, probably because you conflated the use of the command line with a virtual machine. A virtual machine is simply a little computer inside your computer. With a VM, you can run any operating system on your computer, regardless of the host OS. There are a wide variety of reasons as to why someone would want to use a virtual machine. For example, I read somewhere that if one were to be surfing the Dark Web they would probably want to be using a VM as added protection from hackers… granted, it wouldn’t be too much trouble for an experienced hacker to break down this safety barrier. A less illegal reason for using a VM would be if one wanted a large group of people to be operating on the same OS, as doing so would make instruction more effective, and ensure that everyone has the same files and software accessible on their respective devices. But really, who would ever do that?? (just kidding).

Part II : What I Did Learn

You did in fact learn a good deal this semester in this class, even if you didn’t accomplish all of the goals you originally set out to accomplish. For example, you learned how to do some things using the command line, like search for certain words or letters that exist within a file. Even further, the command line can tell you how many times a certain word/letter/anything appears in a particular file. Although this action seems at little pointless at first, this technical knowledge does in fact translate to conceptual knowledge. Let’s say that I wanted to examine Thoreau’s use of language describing physical location. More specifically, I wanted to compare how often he references places within civilization (e.g. Concord, or other villages/communities of people) versus how often he references places that are outside of civilization (i.e. the woods). I could simply follow these handy-dandy instructions to search for particular words, and get a count of how many times the word is referenced in the text. With this information, I could gain a deeper understanding of Thoreau’s use of place within Walden. Why, and in what context, is Thoreau referencing these places? How much time did he spend contemplating the civilized world that he was attempting to escape by retreating to the woods? How did the extent of rumination upon society affect his attempt to live an authentic and deliberate lifestyle? If I understood Pomerantz’s definition accurately, then the number of times a particular word is mentioned in Walden would be considered metadata, the word itself is data, the word in its context in relation to the word’s frequency is information, and the conclusion that I, the humanist, make based on this information is knowledge. The study of the humanities is necessary for the completion of this hierarchy, created by T.S. Eliot and refined by Jeffrey Pomerantz to accommodate the digital age that we are in. The value of the digital humanities is synonymous with the value of the humanities: we need it to complete the hierarchy; to convert information into knowledge. We need the digital humanities so our world can make progress in this digital age rather than find itself lost in a sea of meaningless numbers and a storm of misunderstood information. And with that, I have answered my last question.

Part III : The Future

This class has been really influential to the aspirations I have for myself in the future as I continue with academia and pursue a career in library and information science. I hope to continue experimenting with the nifty things my computer can do (as long as it doesn’t break again… that was a real setback) and continue teaching myself HTML and CSS. This summer, I plan to learn python language in Kirk Anne’s programming class, and hopefully in the fall I will be taking an online computer science class at Albany, which will focus on the ethical implications involved in computing. I am grateful for all the doors which this class has opened for me, and for teaching me that the digital age is not something to fear, but something that deserves to be respected and understood. I have feared for a long time that the digital age will result in my beloved discipline’s demise; but, as long as classes like this one continue to be taught by professors and appreciated by students, the teaching of the humanities will remain a necessary function within our ever-developing society.

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