Fear of the Unknown

I have to admit when I signed up for this class, I had no idea what to expect. I am an English Adolescence Education major at Geneseo and needed to add another course to my schedule. On the first day, we were asked to define what digital humanities is and I struggled with this question extremely. Digital humanities was definitely not a term used in my everyday vocabulary. The title of this course intrigued me and I was eager to explore what digital humanities was all about since it was a topic so foreign to me. The Monday and Wednesday time slot fit perfectly into my schedule and I thought I should take a risk for once and give it a shot! After going over the syllabus and the course’s expectations, I was extremely nervous and worried that I would not have what it takes to do well in this course since I had barely any prior knowledge about computers. I can type fast and that is about all I can do when it comes to computer talent!

The words binary and coding were very unfamiliar to me. I have never had a good relationship with my computer in the past and felt if anything, my computer has given me nothing but a headache. Whenever something happens with my computer, I often look to google and see if I can figured it out myself. Unfortunately, a lot of the time I cannot and have to go to CIT to help me. Last semester, my hard drive failed on me which was the peak of frustration with my computer. Everyday I was forced to rent out a computer every four hours and I was not allowed to borrow it over night. I am sure anyone could imagine how irritating this could be right in the middle of the semester! I also lost everything on my computer but learned the valuable lesson of how important it is to back up your pictures and other documents somewhere else.

In the future, I plan on becoming a teacher and would love to share my knowledge on computers and technology in general. Technology is quickly advancing and has become so dominant in today’s society, so it is essential for teachers to be able to teach their students how to understand and work with it. Inventions such as the smart board have made a huge impact in the teaching world and new inventions are constantly arising. The newer generations have become so reliant on technology that is important to include technology based lessons so that you can keep students engaged and interested. When I was in high school, we practically had a smart board in every single room and I still had teachers refuse to use them because either they simply did not know how to use them, were not educated on how, or they were old fashioned and did not believe in using it. This made learning much more boring and redundant. I believe that schools should implement programs for teachers where they can learn the best way to integrate technology into their everyday teaching and make the learning experience much more exciting.

Although I do not have much experience with my computer, my iPhone is a completely different story. Similar to most people, I am addicted to my phone. When I wake up I check it, during class I check it, and a lot of the time, it keeps me up late at night. I believe that we do not take advantage of what technology has to offer, instead, we are all just stuck on social media when there is so much more to know and learn.

Almost a month later of being this class and I have learned so much. I love the different approach this course takes. Most english classes are just discussion based and get repetitive and boring, however, this class is hands on and we get time to navigate our computers during class time. It is the perfect balance. Each day we explore new things and I can actually say I learn something new every class period. I never knew applications such as Atom and VirtualBox even existed. I am so glad that my eyes have been opened to other applications, other than your simple basic stickies or photo booth.

 

 

 

 

You Learn Something New Everyday

Prior to entering the classroom for my first day in this course, I remember considering myself to be proficient in all things digital. For my generation, growing up with technology was incredibly normalized. Additionally, technology played the milestone role in the timeline of my life events. From receiving my first handheld gaming system, to my first mp3 player, to a digital camera, followed by an iPod, and then, of course, the status-symbol that was my first cell phone, and later my very own laptop that was separate from my family’s shared desktop– technology was the trusted partner that I grew closer to as I grew older. Due to the influential relationship I had built with technology throughout my journey to adulthood, I envisioned myself as a tech-savy individual who would be ready to handle anything this course would throw at me. However, I will humbly admit that the programs we have been working with mimic my experience studying a foreign language.  Continue reading “You Learn Something New Everyday”

Better Understanding my Computer and the Humanities

In beginning this course, I honestly did not know what to expect. In reading the course description when I initially signed up, I believed I would be creating and running a blog around some readings we would be doing in class. In reading through the syllabus the day before our first class, I quickly realized it would be different than I expected. I believed that we would be covering how those who study the humanities were able to digitize a collection and how they collaborated through new technology. I imagined the class to be us studying how others were using technology instead of us actually being the ones doing it.

The humanities was a strange area for technology to be integrated, in my opinion. When I thought about the humanities, I found myself imagining a large library full of texts and a scholar hunched over a novel. This is may have been the case at one point but it certainly has changed since then. The humanities require collaboration. Humans have always had a need to work together since the dawn of time. Through collaboration, humans built the first civilizations and began to establish a way of life that seems familiar to us today. Most humans today cannot connect with nomads or hunting/gathering societies. We find our roots in Mesopotamia and Egypt in civilizations that have a structure similar to our own.

In studying the humanities, we look back on these early civilizations for answers regarding our beginnings. We want to understand how this all came to be. Well maybe only those who have chosen the study of humanity care about that question; every day people probably have other things on their minds. But regardless, there is a need to know. I believe the reason Google became such a mainstay in our lives is because people want to know. In a under a minute, I could be looking up the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein on my phone and reading about the cultural impact of the musical *Oklahoma.* Humans are constantly seeking answers to all of life’s mysteries or even the most basic questions.

This is why I now understand why technology is so important to the study of the humanities. We want to know and connect with others who share that same interest in the subject. Through collaboration, discoveries are being made with those who live across the ocean. The integration of technology has made it easier for ideas to spread and for new understandings of old texts.

In coming into the course, I saw myself as some sort of advanced novice. I was relatively able to figure out problems with my computer or how to set up programs on my machine through the process of trial and error or just flat out googling the problem. I wasn’t able to understand how to code or read binary but I was able to make something happen somehow.

Technology was a friend to me but it often left me confused and annoyed. I once lost a file for a paper that was due and I lost my mind. I was so upset that laid in bed and cried for a whole afternoon. Of course it was discouraging and I may have overreacted but once I calmed down, I went on a search for the file. The problem was that the auto-recovery feature for Word was saving the files to an obscure folder deep in my hardware. Tracking it down meant going into the containers of Microsoft Word and almost digging it out. Looking back on the incident, I am almost glad that I lost the paper. It was a short one and it hadn’t impacted my grade too much when I turned it in late. It taught me how to find files that were almost hidden within my computer and taught me to be much better about saving my files.

I think that while I’m fairly decent with my computer that I’m weak in fully using it. I am barebones with it and only using it mainly surface level. I would like to expand my knowledge further and understand what processes are being done to make it run. I believe this would make me a better computer user and that I could properly aid my machine if it were to get stuck. I believe more people should have a similar want. Technology is a necessary tool in our modern world. Much of the world is ignorant to the technology because it has developed so rapidly and it is hard to keep up. But I still believe there should be a drive for most people to understand their machine a little bit better than what our current average is. This would make us all a bit smarter and would maybe aid in our relationship with technology.

On Comprehending my Computer, Humanity, and even Myself

Prior to taking this course, I had a close but toxic relationship with my computer. This peculiar bond was formed through my experiences as a dedicated yet struggling physics major in the first half of my college career. In my freshman and sophomore years, my homework sets were posted and completed online and often required the use and mastery of programming software such as Mathematica, MatLab, and even Python. My computer followed me wherever I went until the device started to feel almost like a vital extension of myself.

Though I was very familiar with the aforementioned software, I never felt as though I truly understood what I was doing and I depended heavily upon troubleshooting and resources like stack exchange and friends to complete assignments. Additionally, due to my insecurities regarding my mathematical abilities, I became extremely reliant upon Mathematica to solve math problems for me and lost even more confidence as a result of this dependence. While some would have considered me adept at technology, specifically computers, I felt as though I never really understood what I was doing or why I was either able or unable to do it.

In my sophomore year, I took Geneseo’s interdepartmental programming class where the primary programming language learned was Python. Despite the warmth of the instructor and the generous support they offered, my comfort level in Python nevertheless remained low. I knew the terms such as string, list, and variable, as well as the different commands. However, I found myself unable to apply this knowledge and complete problems assigned in Stepik, the course homework site. Though I had the tools needed to solve problems such as the infamous Caesar Cipher, I felt frustrated that I could not consolidate my knowledge and deduced that programming, and computer science in general, just were not for me.

Then, at the start of my junior year, I realized that while I harbor a great interest in and love for physics and the sciences at large, my true passion is for English and the humanities. So, I declared an English major and named physics as my minor. Initially, I believed that my transition to the English major would effectively divorce me from my computer and end my tumultuous reliance upon it. In my general education humanities course, I only ever needed my computer for writing essays which I would then print and effectively bring into the physical, instead of the digital, world.

Furthermore, I had always associated computing with physics and math since these subjects relied a great deal upon computers and technology whereas I perceived the humanities to be focused on the texts, ideas, and objects of past human civilizations. However, this perception soon changed as I began the English major and became involved in discussing literature in the modern era while blogging about said literature and its connections with the many issues that humanity faces now and with those it has arguably always faced. Moreover, my involvement in this course and my introduction to the term “Digital Humanities” has further challenged my previous beliefs by demonstrating exactly how the digital world interacts with the humanities and how each entity benefits from and is informed by the other. Specifically, reading James Gleick’s The Information has been particularly helpful in demonstrating the symbiotic relationship the digital world has and has had with the humanities. Most notably, Gleick’s superb storytelling ability, a skill one might refer to as a byproduct of studying the humanities, allows readers to better understand the development and evolution of digital computing and communication.

On the other hand, digital tools like computers are extremely helpful when it comes to studying, analyzing, and appreciating the humanities. In class, we have already seen how we can use Python to analyze the word choice, particularly the percent of unique words used, in Thoreau’s Walden. In this way, Python serves as a tool that can supplement other methods of literary analysis to provide readers with a more holistic understanding of Walden. Additionally, the internet, a large facet of the digital world, allows for the texts of the past to be not only preserved but shared on a larger scale than ever before thereby granting more people access to the ideas and objects regarded as facets of the humanities. Furthermore, the internet provides a platform for which greater quantities of diverse stories, art, culture may be shared and appreciated.

While this class has already substantially challenged my belief regarding the relationship between computers and the humanities it has also challenged beliefs I had about myself and my own capabilities. Where I once thought that computing completely evaded my ability, I know now that I am capable of further learning and of applying the knowledge I gained through my experiences as a physics major. I am dedicated to shifting my relationship with my computer from an antagonistic and negative one to a symbiotic and positive one through the experiences I will gather in English 340.

Thinking and Living with Computers: Making a Digital Humanist

I can remember a time when I believed computer science and the humanities represented what Stephen Jay Gould would call non-overlapping magesterium. In other words, the two fields emerged from completely different epistemic origins; they had little (if anything at all) to do with each other. This had to be true. I hated working with computers, I became easily frustrated doing so, and I felt inherently different from those of my peers who found computing so natural. The TI-84 on my trig class desk would taunt me for 40 minutes a day throughout all of 10th grade. Meanwhile, I felt at home in my literature and history classes. I loved books, both for their readability and their materiality. I enjoyed my copy of Grapes of Wrath for both the story and the pulpy pages themselves. Hence, I began to develop a sense that computers had simply no place in my humanist education and, likewise, it made sense that my STEM focused peers would have such a distaste for reading books. I can remember this time because it was not too long ago. In fact, it wasn’t until last semester that I uncovered the deeply human nature of the device on which type right now.

Working with Dr. Schacht last fall on a versioning project about W.B. Yeats’s later poetry not only made me more familiar with my computer; it granted me access to a whole new plane of thinking about language. Writing xml documents for this project in Atom and Oxygen created a discussion between my computer and Yeats’s manuscripts. In this way, computers can be Rosetta Stones, engaging different languages simultaneously to present new ways of expressing similar ideas. While I was never one for computer based assignments, this kind of work reminded me of the fun I would have translating Virgil and Catullus in high school Latin. Both demanded a delicacy and respect for the texts. Perhaps the most exciting prospect of this work, though, was the potential of expanding the accessibility of the humanist education.

There is a momentum to digital communication. Too often, books remain on shelves or in the backpacks of disinterested students. By bringing humanist work to the computer, the probability of it reaching more people skyrockets. With social platforms abound, people will run into more and more content that (hopefully) reflects their interests and the continuation of sharing can go on ad infinitum. The self-organizing aspect of some internet tools can be admittedly quite scary and I am not even remotely close to grasping the behind-the-scenes activity of this kind of communication. However, I see a very democratic potential in all of this. One of my main focuses in creating a digital version of Yeats’s poetry was bringing the text to those who couldn’t access the pricey and rare Cornell Manuscript Series. This semester of work got me excited to do more investigating with my computer and ultimately prompted me to take English 340 this spring.

After a few short months of learning more than I had in the previous 20 years, I feel much more comfortable with my computer. However, I recognize the limitlessness of such an endeavor and realize that I may never master these skills which, in a way, is why computing is so similar to the humanities. We don’t seek mastery of literature, rather we read in order to read more; there is no endpoint. Similarly, the reading we’ve done until now will help us in the reading we look forward to doing. In learning xml I didn’t learn all coding and all codes, but I did come to understand appreciate the symbolic nature of such languages and learning one has certainly made learning the next easier. There is a logic to this. It is no mistake that themes in both my English classes and my STEM classes here at Geneseo can find their beginnings in that one philosophy class I took freshman year: Introduction to logic.

It would be a fallacy to say that I am much more comfortable with computing only as a result my humanities classes. Sure, literature helped me step into the cold water of this new way of thinking, but thinking of the two as overlapping has given me the confidence to dive deeper. Thus, while I may not always understand my computer, I am now all the more excited to try and figure it out. What I once saw as a walled-off territory of inaccessible knowledge I now see as an horizon that beckons for further exploration.

 

Knowing but not Understanding

On the first day of class when we were asked about the relationship between the humanities and the digital age/computers I thought that the relationship was one that was growing with the advancement of technology and the way in which we consume information. I found the connection of the humanities and computers to be a concept that I had never once thought in depth about. This I found to be especially interesting because the humanities is being changed because of the growing prevalence of technology. As a digitally based society we are in constant exposure to information and the way in which we receive information is different now than it was 50 years ago. When coming into the course however I never truly had to think about and connect the two subjects of humanities and computers together, they were always two separate entities addressed separately in my previous courses. When exploring the humanities I have always focused on texts and related that to the subject instead of focusing on the more broad definition of the humanities in which were brought to my attention on the first day. The only thing that can possibly connect the humanities and the digital age that I have participated in is the finding of primary sources using the Milne library databases. These archival databases act as a sort of digital library full of information and texts that pertain to the humanities.

My knowledge of computing that I brought with me into this course pertains to my love for video games. I from a young age loved computer games, I would sit at our family computer for hours as a child playing games. This is a hobby that could classify myself as a “nerd” in modern society but I had always found the computer and the internet to be fascinating. I had many games as a child that I would modify or “hack” if you will by downloading files and moving them to a folder in the games hard-drive called “mods”. I would do this “modding”  for a game called The Sims (yes I know, nerdy), where I would download custom content online and they would show up in the game after I had downloaded them and put them into the games hard-drive. This knowledge has helped me a great deal in knowing the inner workings of games, especially on a computer. I have always been the person in my family who was able to solve “tech” issues, if someone has a problem I am usually able to solve it, (unless it is an issue pertaining to the Mac computer in which my skills would be rendered useless).

If I am given a task pertaining to my computer I am generally able to solve it however, I find a lot of the time especially in this class I am doing something, and understanding how to complete the steps and get to the end result, but at the same time I have absolutely no idea what I am actually doing. When I would download custom content and drag it into the mods folder I understood that by putting these files into the modifications folder in the games hard-drive I was then putting these files into the game where they would show up. However, in class where we are downloading various programs such as the virtual box I am able to follow the steps and get the end result that I am supposed to I just don’t truly understand what it is I am doing. This class is in turn helping me develop more of an understanding of my computer and what it is capable of. My relationship to my computer coming into the course was one of simplicity. I would use my computer for gaming, YouTube, course work and simply to surf the web. A computer can be compared to the human brain, it is speculated that humans are only using a small percentage of their brain when we are capable of using much more, it is the same with a computer. Humans are only using a certain percentage of their computer when it is capable of doing so much more. I feel as if this course will help me to see just how much my computer is capable of and how I can use it in ways that I have not previously thought of. At the beginning of this course I thought I was very familiar with my computer and how to use it and at this point in the course I am finding that assumption to be incorrect.