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Update: Teaching Perl in the Humanities

by cyocum (Curate)
on Feb 24, 2005 at 17:20 UTC ( #434158=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Many of you may remember How to Teach Perl to Scholars in the Humanities a post that I did quite a while ago about teaching Perl in the Humanities. Well, I took all of your suggestions and tried my best to use some of them.

I only had an hour and my department (Celtic Studies) was mashed together with Scottish Ethenology so I had to cater to both groups of people. The first thing I had to decide was what about Perl I wanted to convey to them. I decided that what I do as an academic was manipulate texts so that I could get the information out of them that I needed. Perl is perfect at this with its regular expression engine. I decided that instead of showing all of Perl off that I would only show how to use the regular expression engine to break up texts in a complex but meaningful manner. In this vein, I choose to take the Annals of Ulster, which is our most reliable historical text for early Ireland from the Celt (the link is currently not working because the entire University College Cork site is down) project at the University College Cork to split this up by year, entry for that year, and entry text. This would show off Perl's regular expression engine at the same time as it would show something useful for researchers.

Explaining what a computer program is ("it's only a text file...etc..") and what Perl is then showing off the regex and how they work (I skipped trying to explain Perl syntax and stuck to the regular expression syntax because of time contraints) took up the first half hour. I know that this was probably shorter than it really needed to be and I talked very quickly through it. From the questions at the end, they seemed to understand what I was trying to say.

The next half hour was taken up with showing different tools for capturing interviews on a computer and what kind of digital audio information is out there. I also showed them how to use blogs for doing modern Scottish studies (there is a tendancy at the department to focus strongly on the Western Isles and ignore the "Central Belt" (Edinbrugh and Glasgow)) I also gave them a hand-out with different web sites on it for them to check out (including this one).

While I was showing them Perl, I also took them on a tour of the command-line. I know in my last meditation that some of you said that showing them the command-line was a mistake and I should have some pretty GUI thingy. I went with the notion that many of these people speak multiple languages, which I used to my advange, telling them that Perl was a language like any other langauge and that they had nothing to fear if they already knew Latin or Gaelic then learning Perl was even easier since computers always stick to the rules unlike humans. They are smart people and if I reassured them that I would be around to answer their questions if they hand any problems then they would respond to me.

I think overall they were interested and will be following up some of the stuff that I gave them. The downside was the time constraint because I could not cover anything worthwhile in depth. I have a feeling that they have half-baked ideas that are going to need some more feedback from me before they go ahead. On the plus side, I have already talked to one person who does Onomastics (placenames) and showed him how to use MySQL to speed up his searches so he does not spend a bunch of time doing that and can get to his proper research.

I would like to thank everyone who responded to the last meditiation. The ideas were great and I wish I could have implemented all of them but I had a hard time constraint to work with. Thanks again, Perlmonks.

Update: fixed second link as it was broken (no http://) and used PerlMonk reference in first link. Thanks Joost!

  • Comment on Update: Teaching Perl in the Humanities

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Re: Update: Teaching Perl in the Humanities
by samizdat (Vicar) on Feb 24, 2005 at 19:06 UTC
    I found this very insightful, thanks for posting! Holli is right, scholars will go ape over PerlMonks. You (and previous posters) also were right that scholars would accept the CLI, because many academics -- especially my / our generation, are primarily print-verbal oriented. Perl is just another language, with rules, as you said.

    I remember one seminal incident in my middle-school teaching where I was sending a shell script to bash, and one of the kids 'got it'... light bulb time!

    "Oh... you talk to the computer and it answers back! Cool!"

    We went forward from there.
      I wonder if , in years to come, a techno-archaeologist will be digging through the digital detritus of times past and discover a community of monks dedicated to all things Perl. Which futuristic computer language will they use to decipher these monastic scribblings? What will they make of it all? Will the node reaper still be stalking the halls?

        Nice idea, but I doubt it. I think Perl will always be around, despite what Python advocates say.

        Linux, sci-fi, and Nat Torkington, all at Penguicon 3.0
        perl -e 'print(map(chr,(0x4a,0x41,0x50,0x48,0xa)))'

      No problem. I am glad you liked it. Anyway, I gave them a link with a description of PerlMonks on the hand-out. I was a bit hesitant because I did not want them flooding the site with newbie questions but I went ahead because I figured that they would read stuff before posting.

        Actually, IMHO, it'd be a pleasure to have the site flooded with questions I can answer!!!

        Seriously, that was good work and I think you distilled just the right beginning points from all the suggestions. I'd be interested to see if anyone tries it out, if you'd follow up.
Re: Update: Teaching Perl in the Humanities
by g0n (Priest) on Feb 25, 2005 at 09:49 UTC
    Perl gets an explicit citation in my (Computational Psychology) MSc dissertation because it was so heavily used in data preparation and translation. Some of the tasks perl was used for:

    • Translating between alpha letters and binary representations for a PDP model
    • An interactive script to assign 'features' to patterns
    • CGI scripts to collect & collate input from participants in a side study
    • Converting data from format used by SNNS to format used by Xerion when I switched modelling software
    • Converting output data from Xerion's output format to something the stats software could handle
    • interpolating human readable 'tags' for the output, in place of the index numbers of the data from the Xerion input file (hurray for the Hash!)
    If I could have done the PDP modelling (Neural networks, for those not familiar with the term) in perl I would have done. I tried, the results of which are on CPAN. Likewise, if I could have done the 6 way ANOVA in perl that would have been easier, since I could have changed the code to recognise a within subjects study when it saw one! (Maybe a project for the future).

    Perl is the most powerful and flexible tool in my toolbox, both professionally as a code monkey and academically as a student of psychology & language.

    One of the ways Perl scores, and this might be worth bearing in mind for teaching/promoting it in your field, is the ability to both write simple linear scripts to perform a given task, and to develop complex fully functional applications, in the same language, and with full interoperability.

    The other thing I would stress is CPAN - if something can be done, someones probably written a module to do it

Re: Update: Teaching Perl in the Humanities
by holli (Monsignor) on Feb 24, 2005 at 18:40 UTC
    I hope you informed them about the perlmonks-community, and what a vital resoure of information it is?

    holli, /regexed monk/
Re: Update: Teaching Perl in the Humanities
by bibliophile (Parson) on Feb 25, 2005 at 15:02 UTC
    Excellent. I wonder if PM should have an "Advocacy" or "Success stories" category... (or would that fall under "Cool uses..."?)

    I'd certainly be interested in hearing how folks successfully lobbied to use Perl at work, or taught it to non-perlers, or received kudos for perlifying something :-)

    A quick SuperSearch on "advocacy" and/or "success stories" turned up some interesting things :-)

Re: Update: Teaching Perl in the Humanities
by herveus (Parson) on Feb 25, 2005 at 15:27 UTC

    That's way cool!

    One thing that caught my eye was where you said person who does Onomastics (placenames)... Did you mean that the person in question specializes in placenames, or did you mean to equate Onomastics with the study of placenames? Every use of the term I've seen simply meant the study of names, in general, so I twitched a bit. One of my hobbies is the study of medieval names and naming practices. I know hypocoristic, locative, patronymic, and many other fancy words.


      I actually did not encounter the word until I came to Edinburgh. The word Onomastics comes from the Latin word Onomasticus (ie. Onomasticon Goidelticum, is the place name book for Ireland) and before that Greek based on the ending (Greek neuters end in -on) so I assumed that the word ment placename in particular not just name (cf. Latin "nomen"; see also here). My friend actually does river names in particular but he says that he does onomastics.

      In any case, you could be completely correct since I am basing my analysis solely on usage.


        OK. That makes sense. Onomastics is, formally, the study of proper nouns, of which placenames is a useful subset. Personal names and bynames form another interesting subset or three. River names would be a suitable topic for onomastic study.


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