Hacking the Humanities

Hacking the Humanities is about three things:


"Hacking" here cuts two ways. One cut is "hacking" as in computer code, and hacking out solutions to coding issues and desires. More and more, I draw a distinction between "hacking" and "coding", and that tracks the course of me becoming more and more of a coder. I'm still not comfy with being described as a coder, but since "Web Developer" is now in my job title, I suppose I can't avoid it any longer. From that transition, I do see a real distinction between the two, "hacker" and "coder", with plenty of grey area in between. "Hacking", to me here, starts with a complete application and figuring out how to adjust it to your needs. In distinction, "coding" means creating something new to meet your needs. Given the plugin architecture of most open source code-bases nowadays, it's easy for those to be blurred into grey -- a plugin could be original "code" to fit your needs, but that exists within the "hacking" architecture that open source tends to foster.. And so here I'm mostly going to concern myself with the thinking habits of taking an existing code architecture and making it bow to your/my/our needs. Sometimes that means modifying existing code, sometimes it means building a plugin/module/addon, but in every case it means looking at an existing technology and making it work for your aims.

The other way that "hacking" cuts is a generalization of that to the humanities, exploring what the humanities are about within digital -- mostly, but not exclusively, online forms -- and how that could disrupt familiar systems in interesting and useful ways. The neat thing is that open source code is designed to facilitate doing new and interesting and useful things that the original designer didn't think of. Humanities and academia aren't quite like that, but enough of us are niggling around the edges to make this idea worthwhile.


"The Humanities" is getting interesting. The notion of reflection and deep concepts has been part of it for a long while, I think. The interesting that is that that always involves epistemology, curious thoughts about how we know what we assert we know. It's also generally taken to be based on "texts", but as media gets more interesting "texts" are no longer just things written or printed or drawn or painted. Texts are games, devices, mediated interactions. With media.

The Combination of Hacking and the Humanities

So when we hack the humanities, there's a delightful interaction and a mutual foil there to understanding the code, the design, the media, and the understanding. It's in that interplay that I want to play, and I'm aiming to make this my space for doing and reflecting on that play.

There are many hat-tips to make there. First, to Hacking the Academy. What's going on there is clearly of a kind with what I'm thinking about in a broad brush-stroke of hacking. There are many kindred souls there (and some souls attached to people who employ me!). The computer/geekery of hacking might be more prominent here than it is there.

Hat tips also to *hacker sites: Life Hacker, Prof Hacker, and the emergent Grad Hacker goodness. Also check out #alt-ac. All of these and more inform what I think of as Hacking the Humanities.


As I go along, I'll be blogging about what I'm up to and thinking about, and also trying to supply some structure to that by separating out projects, code snippets, and applications and tools in a try to write out the connections going on between them.

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