For years historians engaged in digital work have used the “I can’t really write much code” excuse as a way to avoid everything from learning simple tools like CSS to more complex ones like MySQL and PHP. Alas for me and everyone else who has used the “me no code” excuse, we’ll have to find a new reason why we can’t program.
Bill Turkel and Alan MacEachern have just released The Programming Historian and with its release my excuses go poof. As soon as you go to the website that is the “book” you’ll see that it is a wiki and so an evolving project rather than a static monograph. This approach seems particularly right to me given how fast the technologies we use change. With each change the authors will be able to update their work to keep us all closer to the cutting edge.
You’ll also see that this project is by no means complete. The “coming attractions” list is extensive and over time I expect it will get even longer.
Also of particular note is the fact that the authors provide a list of their peer reviewers. Peer review is an essential part of scholarship, but as we all know, it is mostly blind or double-blind. As befits an open source project, the list of peer reviewers for The Programming Historian is open and available.
If, like me, you have been putting off learning more sophisticated programming skills, this project is the place to start, because it is accessible to the average historian and is written by historians for historians. You won’t get to claim the status of “code monkey” after reaching the end of the current iteration of the project, but keep at it. Someday you too can be a historical code monkey.