Tag Archives: computational thinking

User-Friendly XML

As I continue to think through how I do history digitally, I note both that historians have been using computers for a long time and that what I do differs from the statistics-heavy social science computing people were learning when I was in graduate school. Programs like SPSS didn’t seem relevant to my dissertation project, which focused on small communities that would not have yielded statistically significant analysis. I didn’t know about Arc-GIS, and it might be interesting to see what one could learn by imposing census data on Whitney Cross’s maps of the Burned Over District. Might, at some other point.

I’m struck by how easily I accepted the idea that transcribing and marking up journals, diaries, and now financial records could yield interesting results for understanding the nineteenth-century United States. But an analogy that came to me this morning clarifies the process for me.

I’ve noted here before that I came to comfort with code as a result of the coincidence that my post-secondary education began just at the moment that computing was becoming democratized. At Rice, my own experience with mainframes began with learning to use word processors to type papers. In my early post-collegiate jobs, my comfort with learning to use similar applications earned me a position as the WordPerfect expert among the secretarial staff of a department at the UVA Medical School. I bought my first PC in grad school and developed minimal comfort with DOS, but I didn’t become a power user until I bought my first Mac and learned the joy of the Apple interface.

My development as an academic user coincided with the spread of the Internet in the 1990s, though I remained a low-end user focused on email and word processing until my first exposure to TEI and XML in 2004. The utility of statistical data remained relatively opaque to me, and my fondness for Macs and parallel contempt for Windows as a DOS-impaired lesser version of the Apple interface prevented my exploring possibilities. Coupled with my interest in pedagogical uses of technology, the advent of the World-Wide Web led to my involvement in discussions about cross-platform applications, and I became more and more comfortable in conversations about technology. Thus, I had been primed for the next stage–learning about XML through exposure to TEI and therefore becoming a different kind of academic user.

The analogy between the comparative difficulties of DOS/SPSS and Mac/XML has considerable explanatory power for me as I think about how I have come to be convinced that XML/TEI tools for transcription and markup have a place in undergraduate classrooms. I think it goes a long way towards expressing some of the assumptions behind my notion that liberal education should include exposure to computational thinking.


Filed under digital humanities, liberal education

Brown Groupies?

At the Women in the Archives conference this weekend, a friend commented that we seemed to be turning into Brown groupies.  We both attended an intensive three-day Advanced Encoding Seminar a few weeks ago, and there we were again on Saturday.  I had an even more groupie-like week since I heard computer scientist Jeannette Wing give a talk about computational thinking last Monday and then heard Neil Fraistat, who leads the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) discuss digital humanities centers on Wednesday.  This immersion in the digital will continue this Wednesday, when Angel David Nieves from Hamilton College will be on campus at Wheaton College to talk about his research and the regional digital humanities center they are organizing at Hamilton. I will be interested to see how my colleagues at Wheaton respond and to find out how all of these talks fit together in my own thinking about digital humanities and next steps at Wheaton, especially around collaborations with other institutions.

For the moment, I’m mostly just grateful for Brown.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear Wing.  Her three page piece on computational thinking from 2006 has had impressive effects.  She claims that the concept has taken hold in undergraduate curricula, and she is now focused on considering where we might best teach significant concepts in computational thinking at the K-12 levels.  This is all very exciting to me, and I look forward to seeing how it develops.  I wonder how my colleagues who specialize in teaching math educators for those levels are thinking about this issue.

Fraistat’s talk gave me still more to consider, as he presented a tour of MITH and the work they do there along with a summary of where we are in the development of digital humanities centers.  So much of what he had to say seemed to speak directly to where we find ourselves at Wheaton.  We’re not, of course, a big research university like Maryland, but we do see more and more collaborations among faculty members, students, and staff in Library and Information Services.  And those collaborations seem to me to echo on a smaller scale the kinds of collaborations Fraistat figured as significant for the next steps in the development of digital humanities centers.  Especially if we can promote the kind of broad and inclusive definitions of digital humanities that he suggested.

My brain was a bit on overload as I settled into a full day of papers and discussion at the Women in the Archive conference on Saturday.  I took plenty of notes, and the papers generated more ideas about the various projects I am working on than I could possibly summarize here.  I will note that during the conference I got an email asking for a title and blurb for the digital humanities workshop we will hold on campus at the end of May.

This has been a fruitful month for learning more about what others are doing in digital humanities, and I am looking forward to learning more and thinking with colleagues about where the work we do at Wheaton fits in this universe.


Jeannette Wing, “Computational Thinking,” <www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/usr/wing/www/publications/Wing06.pdf>.

Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, <http://mith.umd.edu/&gt;.

Women in the Archives Conference, <http://www.wwp.brown.edu/about/activities/wia/wia2010/schedule.html&gt;.

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Filed under digital humanities