Several years ago, I interviewed for a professorship at Trinity College in Dublin. The position focused on K-12 computer science education. Ireland, like many countries, was ramping up its efforts to bring computer science to K-12 schools. My angle into K-12 computer science was a little different than others. I had no formal training in computer science. I was a former English teacher, city school district official, and ed tech professor. But I did have something unique to offer: I thought the humanities, especially teaching literature, was the key to bringing computer science to people all over the world.
I love Dublin, and spent the morning before my interview taking pictures of a little wooden robot posing in different locations around the city, some literary and some just lovely. (My favorite is the one above, with a statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square.)
In the end, I wasn’t offered the job. During my interview, a computer science professor on the hiring committee vehemently argued that students should study computer science traditionally for its own sake–not be embedded in existing classes like English. His perspective, I suspect, tipped the scales out of my favor.
I left Dublin really bummed. My dad grew up on a dairy farm in Ireland. The idea of me working at the storied university would have filled him with pride, and been a professional highlight and honor for me.
But I learned something at Trinity that is perhaps more valuable than the professorship. I learned that computationality was being staunchly, even if subconsciously, guarded from the masses. I flew home to New York with the solidified conviction that computational methods must be democratized for public use, including the joy of reading books. Why should the science, technology, math, and engineering nerds have all the fun?
After years of teaching myself to program (not well, but well enough), piloting different analytical methods and literary activities, writing research and theory about how computer science can complement teaching literature, and running workshops with English teachers, I am giddy to be launching Plotting Plots.
Plotting Plots is a blog and community for book lovers who like data. Here, I will share brief posts related to computationality and books, and build out a library of literary tools to help all readers explore literature computationally. My hope is that, in this ever increasing digital world, we can find new ways to explore and enjoy books together. I am grateful for your presence here, and welcome your feedback via the messaging links on the site or social media. – TLL