Coding in the Humanities: a Language, a Tool, the Future

Humanities students should learn to code. Programming is about building models and virtual realities. Scholars and students of the Humanities have created virtual realities in the form of literature for hundreds of years. In an article arguing that humanities students should learn to code, Matthew Kirschenbaum describes programming as “a kind of world-making” and says that “such an activity [is] connected to the long traditions of humanistic thought encountered in the classes devoted to [the humanities].”


Both Kirschenbaum and Evan Donahue (who argues against Kirschenbaum’s claim) point out that people outside of the fields of computer science have misconceptions of what programming is. There are many coding languages and the code is created by humans and for humans. It’s a language.


Coding is just a language. English is just a language. There are different types of computer sciences just like there are different types of humanities. Donahue argues that “learning to program should be no more and no less enabling than reading Derrida.”


In a reddit post in 2013, the user JBlitzen made a comment describing the connections they observed between programming and philosophy. The comment which can be read here, supports the idea that learning code is an important skill for people in the humanities to acquire.


Humanities students can use code to turn ideas into clear, simple instructions. This is done, as stated in the reddit comment, by “taking concepts and turning them into practical utility”.


This matched my recent experience on Codecademy. I took CSS: An Overview, HTML Basics, and the Javascript course titled Getting started with programming. My profile page on Codecademy can be found here.


For example, my idea was to put a cute picture of a sloth that linked to the wikipedia page about sloths. I had to break that idea down into steps and then write those steps in the form of html code.


So the idea

  • Cute sloth picture linking to sloth wiki

turned into

  • Find picture
  • Obtain picture url
  • Insert picture
  • Find website
  • Take website url
  • Hyperlink website url

which turned into

<a href="">

<img src="" />



The last point made in JBlitzens comment is that the world is changing. Any work that can be automated is fair game if it will improve cost efficiency. Students that develop an understanding of coding can understand technology better in order to both analyze and understand the present world and make accurate predictions about the future. Humanities students need to learn to code so they can work alongside computers instead of being replaced by computers. 



  1. I agree with your stance that coding should be adopted by humanities students, as it will help with the coming to understand technology, as well as how to apply this useful tool to the humanities. Additionally, I had a clarifying question to your statement on how learning to code would lead to students “mak[ing] accurate predictions about the future”. What are these accurate predictions that students will be producing?

  2. Good example with the sloth–who can resist an adorable sloth picture which links to even more? Although I would’ve included the picture if I were you. More seriously, good points. Coding is definitely a practical skill which can only help humanities students in the future. Although analyzing literature can’t be automated, when humanities students do learn to code, they’re “cutting out the middleman” in a way. And very nice use of a reddit expert–I can’t argue with those points.

  3. Clarissa, I really like the example of turning an idea into concrete steps and then ultimately code. Nice use of the <code> tag, too, but I’m with Pallav: let the browser render that code — the final step in the process — so we can all see the sloth!

  4. Clarissa, but understanding technology and knowing how to code do not have to be related. As a Digital Humanist, one can also use a variety of available tools to achieve the same result. WordPress would be a good example. You can either create your own website by writing thousand lines of codes, or you can utilize wordpress to do the same thing.

  5. I really like how you tied everything together. Firstly, I thought your quotes were well chosen and fit right in with your claims. I also like how you incorporated the Reddit comment into your post. I took a look at it and the “programming is the language of technology” part of the Reddit comment really blended well with the content of your post. I did have a question about one of your concluding sentences; what exactly did you mean by coding could help students make “make accurate predictions of the future”? But overall, I thought you made some good points that were well backed up with quotes from a variety of sources. Nice work!

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