Miles Efron’s latest blog post about humanities computing reminded me of a breakout discussion we had at the BooksOnline’08 workshop about expectations of humanities scholars with respect to computation. I don’t remember everyone who was at that table, but we talked about the need to build tools for specific analyses, and how that might take someone several months to do. My take is that while we cannot (and should not) expect researchers in the humanities to create complex systems (we don’t even expect some CS types to do it!), a certain proficiency with scripting should be a desirable (if not required) part of any Masters’ program, along side philosophy and ancient languages.
It doesn’t matter if students learn how to use perl, Ruby, Groovy, or some other language du jour; what’s important is that they gain the problem-solving skills and the confidence to apply them to problems that interest them. Modern programming languages can be much more expressive, and modern computers are more forgiving of unoptimized code, making it easier to get stuff to work. Giving students the ability to express themselves in a new medium should improve both the scholar and the scholarship. And this applies to iSchools, too.