We learn about our world – we make sense of our world – through texts. Texts are made up of sentences and words and letters. We compile these words – these “code snippets”, if you will – into complex sets of instructions that help us to understand our world. We encode our lives – we inscribe our existence – through letters and numbers and symbols. Then we share these code snippets with one another, to share with one another our understandings and ask of others our questions about the world. We share our beliefs, our visions, our codes of conduct. We look for ways to reach out and express ourselves. That is writing. That is encoding.
How do we take what has been shared? How do we make sense of it? How do we let it shape us? How do we use these code snippets that have been shared? Do we decode them for our own use – our own knowing – or do we turn them around and re-encode them again for the use of others? I think the answer is both, but to what degree do we think about this?
When we write we encode. When we read we decode. When we work with texts – when we analyze them and comment upon them and reconfigure them and remold them to be shared in different media we are both en- and de-coding. We are engaging in differential coding. In this class we will talk about this also in terms of differential reading, the intersection of what Digital Humanists call close and distant reading.
There is nothing inherently digital about this – our brains are the computers we need to do this work. We learn the languages we need to help our brain/computers to negotiate these acts of coding, to negotiate these texts.
What the Digital Humanities, and DH encoding, can help us to do is to shine light on certain aspects of these texts to help us see things that we might not otherwise see, or to explain or communicate what we think might be as important to someone else as it is to us. We “encode” and “mark up” texts so that they can be shared, published, reconsidered, remediated.
We reclaim texts that are hard to access.
We structure texts that need to conform to conventions.
We deconstruct texts that hold hidden meanings.
Like the nineteenth-century linguists who deciphered the Rosetta Stone to make sense of previously unknown ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Demotic script from ancient Greek script people;1 like the code breakers at Bletchley Park in World War II who cracked the Enigma cipher;2 we read texts and break them down to find patterns that have eluded us. Maybe our acts are heroic, or scholarly, or transactional, or recreational. But that is what we do. And that is what we will think about and undertake in this course.
I think about “texts” in a postmodern rather than a structuralist sense – literature, certainly; but also letters and legal documents and news items and histories – textual in terms of alphanumeric, but also textual in terms of images, music, maps, found objects … making sense of these broadly-defined texts in concert is an even more complex act of differential reading.
In this course we will learn and employ languages – computer languages – that will help us to negotiate and share these texts.
- We will use Python to “play” with texts
- We will use TEI to dive into the texts and tease out meaning
- We will put all of these together in an alchemy of analysis and critique and sharing.
We will work and think the way humanists have been working and thinking about texts for thousands of years – just using new languages, new methods and approaches, to decode and encode knowledge. We will work with the texts of others – famous authors and everyday people – of witnesses to great events and small, of people who tried to make sense of what they saw and heard, of people who try to create beauty and of people who try to destroy society, all through words. And we will work with our own texts, reflecting upon our experiences and annotating the code that we write, in turn giving instructions to others who want to work with our code.