Why Researchers Need to Learn to Program

Why you might want to learn to program

We think that at least some historians really will need to learn how to program. Think of it like learning how to cook. You may prefer fresh pasta to boxed macaroni and cheese, but if you don’t want to be stuck eating the latter, you have to learn to cook or pay someone else to do it for you. Learning how to program is like learning to cook in another way: it can be a very gradual process. One day you’re sitting there eating your macaroni and cheese and you decide to liven it up with a bit of Tabasco, Dijon mustard or Worcestershire sauce. Bingo! Soon you’re putting grated cheddar in, too. You discover that the ingredients that you bought for one dish can be remixed to make another. You begin to linger in the spice aisle at the grocery store. People start buying you cookware. You get to the point where you’re willing and able to experiment with recipes. Although few people become master chefs, many learn to cook well enough to meet their own needs.

If you don’t program, your research process will always be at the mercy of those who do.

This book is for digital historians. I think it is for every researcher. I like the analogy with cooking. You don’t need to take a deep dive. There are tools that help you stitch together some scripts that help you automate things that you do manually, frequently.

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