Unlearn What You Have Learned17 Sep 2019
Crossposted to the Scholars’ Lab blog
In the last few years, I have come to realize how digital tools can help historians like me to analyze the past in new and interesting ways. As a Praxis fellow, I want to learn more about what’s out there. What digital tools could I use to augment my teaching and research? And what are the implications of using those tools?
But the truth is, for much of my life I described myself as “not a tech person.” Whenever friends would talk about computers, I’d find myself struggling to follow and soon my brain would begin to wander.
As a late-blooming “tech person,” I find myself especially susceptible to self-doubt. Though I’ve found the Scholars’ Lab to be a warm and welcoming community, during the first few weeks of Praxis I have continued to question my ability to keep up. Am I asking a stupid question? Does everyone else already understand this concept? Can I actually complete this coding homework?
I found myself asking that last question during our first coding assignment. The assignment was to create a program in Python that would translate a word into Pig-Latin. I didn’t know where to start. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck beginning to rise. I was going to be found out as “not a tech person,” and it was only Week 2.
Thankfully, Shane had suggested working in partners, and my new friend Janet had some great ideas about how to get started. Though it took more than a few tries, Janet and I eventually came up with a code to successfully perform the task. Hufflepuff, you say? How about ufflepuffHay? I was proud that I had suggested using the input function—an intervention that helped make the breakthrough. Maybe I could do this after all?
Having sipped the nectar of possibility, I found myself creating other simple programs in my free time. For instance, I created a program that asks the question every PhD student gets all too often: “How’s your dissertation coming?” After you inevitably write something like “Oh, not great actually—I’m really struggling to write,” the program replies with a piece of advice from Yoda such as, “Do or do not—there is no try!” or “That is why you fail” or perhaps something more uplifting like “Patience you must have young Padawan” or “May the force be with you!” I found myself chuckling every time the program spit back a response. Having learned about coders’ sense of humor, the program felt like my “Hello, World!” to this new galaxy of digital humanities.
One of my personal goals as a Praxis Fellow this year is to shed any lingering traces of my “I’m not a tech person” mentality. “You must unlearn what you have learned,” Yoda might say.
It won’t be easy. I’m sure this past week won’t be the last time self-doubt creeps back. But hey, who wants a year without a little adventure? Hit it, John Williams!