Programming in Python

This series of lessons will cover the basics of a programming language called Python:

“Some things to think about before you exhort everyone to code”

Programming knowledge is not a neutral thing

Miriam Posner

Miriam Posner, a professor of DH and information studies at UCLA, wrote an excellent blog post about the gender, race, and class politics that surround programming languages and why people should think before they “exhort everyone to code.” In her blog post, Posner discusses that certain kinds of people, like middle-class white men, are more likely to be exposed to programming languages at a young age and are less likely to experience sexism and racism while learning programming languages. “Programming knowledge is not a neutral thing,” she argues.

Before we dive into Python, we want to acknowledge that programming knowledge is not a neutral or natural thing. Programming knowledge is not a superior form of knowledge, and it is not the best way to approach every problem.

Why Learn a Programming Language?

With all that said, why might it be worthwhile to learn a programming language?

  • You can save time and energy by automating tasks

  • You can collect and analyze cultural data from a different perspective, often at a larger scale

  • You can gain more flexibility, customizability, and autonomy over your digital research projects

  • You can better understand how data and programming languages shape contemporary society and culture

Why Python Specifically?

Ok but why Python specifically?

  • Python resembles the English language and is readable for those who know English

  • Python is known to have a relatively smooth learning curve

  • Python is a broadly used and popular language

  • Python is increasingly good for data science

Other commonly used programming languages for cultural analytics/digital humanities include R and JavaScript.

Learning Goals with Python

Our learning goals with Python are a little different than they might be in a straightforward Computer Science course. We’re striving to:

  • Learn how to use Python as a tool and apply it to cultural questions

  • Learn how to read and think critically about Python code

  • Learn how to tinker with existing Python code for our own purposes

  • Learn how to better collaborate with computer scientists and software developers

Python Version 3

The latest version of Python is Python 3. Python 2 has officially been retired. You should not use Python 2.

It’s possible that you may come across old Python 2 code on the internet, which won’t work with Python 3. A tell-tale difference between Python 3 and Python 2 code is the syntax for the print() function.

Python 3

In Python 3, the print() function requires parentheses.

print("Good riddance, Python 2!")
Good riddance, Python 2!

Python 2

In Python 2, the print() function does not parentheses.

print "Good riddance, Python 2!""
  File "<ipython-input-2-479c4eb9334d>", line 1
    print "Good riddance, Python 2!""
                                   ^
SyntaxError: Missing parentheses in call to 'print'. Did you mean print("Good riddance, Python 2!"")?