Intro to Programming Languages

Part 1 in a three part series on the Digital Nuts & Bolts for programming.

What is it?

One of the basic components of a digital humanities project is how “digital” is made.  This is done through programming languages or “coding”.  Different DH tools you will learn about such as WordPress, Omeka, GoogleMaps and others are coded (created) using a programming language.  It is important to know about coding and programming languages if you are going to start a DH project.  However, you do NOT have to be an expert at the start of a project.  A good place to start is to familiarize with what programming languages are commonly used in the Digital Humanities.  Below is a list of languages that link to their respective Wikipedia entries.  In this specific instance Wikipedia is a reliable source and good starting place to learn about each language.  As you read do not try to be an expert and understand everything!  Familiarize yourself with the language (pun intended!) and terminology.

Going hand-in-hand with programming languages are terms such as syntax and tagging.

How is it used in the Digital Humanities?

HTML is the most common or likely language you will encounter.  If your project entails a website you can use basic HTML knowledge to customize the design as little or as much as you want.  PHP is commonly used in conjunction with HTML as it helps with web design or acts as a filter for data.

You are probably already familiar with Java or JavaScript with your everyday use of the internet.  JavaScript is a great tool for creating interactive content that is accessed through a web browser, such as a mapping project.  If you would like to animate parts of your webpage or create interactivity with it you will be well served to learn more about this dynamic programming language.

Python, Ruby, and Perl are all general purpose programming languages.  Projects that involve network visualizations or text analysis will benefit from a knowledge and familiarity with either of these languages.  The programming language R is a more specific and best used for statistical analysis projects such a text analysis.

How to learn:

There are several great websites that use an engaging learn by doing approach to learning the languages.  Their best feature is that the beginning lessons assume no previous experience with the language.  The three that are most commonly used for introductory learning are:

The Programming Historian is another introductory programming website that was created by professors for professors.  Their goal is to connect the ideas discussed in  “getting started in the Digital Humanities” and being new to programming.

If you are looking for a more structured approach to learning a language and would like to be able to engage with other learners Coursera offers a number of options for self-paced and engaging courses to learn and ask questions.  Some of the courses available are:

Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python

Learn to Program: Crafting Quality Code (Python)

Programming for Everybody (Python)

Learn to Program: The Fundamentals (Python)

Fundamentals of Computing Certificate

1 comment for “Intro to Programming Languages

  1. June 22, 2015 at 11:07 am

    learning php is the key to web programming. learning c++ is the key to mobile apps and other computer software. nice post!

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