So I started this week thinking I was going to do the Art History optional module, but…I didn’t. I switched to Text Encoding instead, and I’m glad I did.
No joke, as soon as I started the readings for this module I developed this creeping feeling that I had never actually really used a computer before in my life. Somewhere in the back of my head I knew there was more to websites than those super easy build-it-in-20-minutes kind of platforms, but just looking at the source code for my WordPress blog made me want to run for the hills a bit. However, I rationalized to myself that I would never be able to cosplay one of those sick sci-fi hacker/coder people if I didn’t cowboy up and learn at least basic HTML, so here I am.
In order to really wrap my head around this whole module, I had to start with the concept of computer language versus human language. With this in mind, our browsers act more as translators rather than just displays of existing human information. But it was figuring out this computer language that I was expecting to be difficult. Turns out, basic HTML is not terribly difficult to learn. I was familiar with some tags like <em></em> because I use them in World History Commons at work, but the actual stacking process of information and the level of depth you can get into just with simple HTML tags was so fun to learn. Once I started picking up on the different tags, the source code for my WordPress site didn’t look as intimidating anymore (don’t get me wrong, it still is intimidating, but now I know there’s a method to the madness).
For the technical exercise, I chose HTML to encode an excerpt from the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster. Once I actually got into my text editor (I downloaded Komodo IDE, per the Programming Historian’s advice), throwing together HTML was really fun. Getting the basic information of the document out there was easy enough, so I attempted to experiment with some of the style elements in HTML and some CSS. I was not as successful here, but at least I have the basics down!
Part of the reason I switched to the Text Encoding module has to do with our group project. We wanted to set up a series of interactive maps and one of the sites we’re considering using is JSTOR Lab’s Juncture. It has a lot of interesting features that we could utilize, but Juncture requires some basic knowledge of Github and source coding. So as the more-or-less digital point person for our group, I wanted to get a jumpstart on HTML and whatnot. Hopefully if we choose to go with Juncture, I’ll be able to figure out how to actually apply it with my sick new-found skills.