Blog Post #4 – Venom of Python




Encountering a Wild Python: First Ever Computer Programming

     My first ever encounter with a computer language was a disaster. As a classmate in History 303 confessed, it was difficult to even grasp an understanding of what python was.

Fig. 1


          From simply “printing” Hello World and creating a html page, the level of difficulty suddenly jumped. The real confusion started from defining functions. While I understood what defining function do and meant, the speed of class progression left me behind despite the long personal reviews after class. But more importantly, personal interest played a bigger part. For example, I was able to completely understand the process of taking the National Basketball Association (NBA) stats online into a html and a textual format.

Fig. 2

2ESPN NBA’s all time MVP (most valuable player) award list in a text format.

Fig. 3

 ESPN NBA’s all time MVP (most valuable player) award list copied and pasted without python.

Comparing fig. 2 and 3 proved that by using python, I can obtain statistical data in a textual format that can easily be modified and posted online unlike fig. 3, where excessive fluffs have to be edited. There are many sites that do not allow copy and pasting. This method will bypass many restrictions. However, the real purpose of the above “exercise” was to categorize the MVP winners in the history of NBA that scored less than 30 points per game in that season. Unfortunately, I did not possess necessary programming knowledge to accomplish that task.

Fig. 4


Fig. 5

Practicing string manipulations.

      The most difficult aspect of python was manipulating python strings. I followed the guide on The Programming Historian and understood what manipulations do. However, I didn’t understand its meaning and importance. Personal interest played a big role, but I failed to apply string manipulation into anything meaningful. Lack of fundamental understanding of programming was clear.



Programming for Historians

     A driver does not need to know the mechanical blueprint of cars to drive them. However, anyone would benefit from knowing how to change a tire and an engine oil. Programming is the same. There is no need to become a master programmer to be entitled a Digital Historian, but it is, nonetheless, beneficial to harness the power of any computer language.

     Indeed, we are living in a digital age.

     One of the biggest challenges in learning a new language is age and familiarity. If students were exposed to programming since elementary school, the programming portion of History 303 would have been easier to understand. Or, too easy, according to a classmate, Shaun.

     Programming is a valuable approach for historians and to the discipline of history. At this moment, millions of records are being digitized. However, programs that historians use to extract digital resources are written by engineers with no historical background. What key words to take out? How should the program categorize and visualize historical content for users? These are all important questions to ask. Simply playing with, neatline, and google maps might not be enough in the future.

      A great advantage for the programming historians is not having to dig into hundreds of books for content. Although reading through The Programming Historian took many hours just to follow the basic instructions, as soon as the language clicks in our brain, the “puzzle” should come together.

     Is computer language merely a culture? No, information technology platforms are extending beyond its original field. More of the world is falling under its dominance and will only continue to grow. Massive demand but short supply of programming knowledge  is inevitable.

     In the near future, to be called a digital historian, one will be “required” to possess a programming background.


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