The Programming Historian

The Programming Historian is a website which publishes “novice-friendly, peer-reviewed tutorials” designed to help teach historians “digital tools, techniques, and workflows.” It is aimed at helping historians who identify as “technologically illiterate” to become programming historians. If you’re a historian and you want to know how to set up an Omeka site, or edit an oral history using Audacity, then The Programming Historian is a place to learn how and where to get started.

Over half of the lessons have been translated into Spanish. If you speak French, you’re out of luck at the moment.

Clicking on the English-language portal presents us with three options: we can Learn, we can Teach, or we can Contribute. Learn takes us to the lessons and Contribute provides links to pages with information for those interested in writing a lesson or becoming one of the reviewers. Teach has little beyond a link to provide feedback on ways to make the lessons better suited to being used as teaching tools. We’re going to Learn today.

Clicking on learn brings up all the lessons that you can access. There are 78 lessons available in English, which is quite a few to browse through.

The Programming Historian provides a few ways to organize the lessons to make it easier to find what you’re looking for. At the top, you can click on buttons to display all the tutorials that are tagged with one of five categories: Acquire, Transform, Analyze, Present, and Sustain. 30 lessons fall under the category of Transform, making that the largest of the five categories.

The next way to sort the lessons is by more specific criteria: for example, you can click to see all the lessons tagged with “Web Scraping” (only 6) or lessons that have to do with the  programming language Python (19 lessons – second only to “Data Management”).

Finally, you can sort the lessons by their publication date or by their difficulty. Lessons are given a difficulty – Low, Medium, or High. These difficulty lessons appear to be assigned based on the difficulty of the subject matter covered by the lesson, not the difficulty of using the lessons to learn the programming tool.

Here’s half of the lessons tagged with “Digital Publishing”

Let’s click on the lesson “Up and Running with”. This is a lesson designed to help historians set up their own content on

The lesson is all text and images – no video or audio. The lesson reads like a longer version of one of our digital tool reviews, featuring walkthroughs of how to use the digital tool. When I say “longer,” I do mean significantly longer – here is the table of contents for the lesson:

And here is what the content of the lesson looks like:

The lessons all seem well-written and informative. However, they are not infallible: several lessons have notifications that reviewers have caught inaccurate information. Rectifying these errors is dependent on the website administrators contacting the authors and then having the authors correct the mistakes in their lessons.

Overall The Programming Historian seems to be a very helpful resource for any historian looking to expand their technical skills.

6 Replies to “The Programming Historian”

  1. This digital tool is so cool! Whereas the tool seems to be marketed at humanists, the idea that the Programming Historian is free, open-source, working to include other languages, and catering to different levels of understanding opens it up to a tool that can be accessible by anyone. I think the some of the most important things is that there’s no account necessary to access the learning portion, and those that are contributing seem to be credited.

    The only thing that gave me pause is that it’s slightly annoying that there isn’t a search function, so you have to shift through all of the lessons to find what you’re looking for. Still, all in all, it seems like a step in the right direction for expanding scholarly communication. It seems like it puts into practice the ideas that Katherine reviewed in Fitzpatrick’s The Anxiety of Obsolescence. The Programming Historian seems to offer ample opportunities for review by an unlimited amount of people…assuming they know the site exists.

    1. I agree that the lack of a search function is quite annoying – I experienced that first-hand several times when I accidentally closed out of the browser tab with the tutorial I was reading and had to remember what category I had to select to find it again.

      The openness of The Programming Historian is definitely a benefit -it’s a good way to get crowd-sourced training on digital platforms without having to trawl through pages of YouTube results looking for a good How-To video.

  2. Thanks for this great post! I am baffled that I have not heard of this program earlier in my education (as it would have been extremely helpful to me as I worked with Audacity last semester).
    I completely agree with Haley, this digital tool does seem like a step in the right direction for expanding scholarly communication. With 78 lessons to learn from, various translations and difficulty levels, as well as options to learn, teach, and contribute The Programming Historian is making major moves in the realm of history. However, I can only wish that this site continues to grow and gain more attention and use, especially from college professors, as the discipline of History is becoming more and more digital. As we all know, it is imperative to know the basics of all things digital to make it in the world today. Therefore, I think this tool is a fantastic way for historians to further their studies and make new insights through digital tools!

  3. This is such a great resource! I can imagine how historians and even educators in middle or high schools can benefit from it. I’ll certainly use this in the near future.

    One aspect of this program that is particularly useful is that it is a repository that seems without limits. In other words, as the number of digital history tools grows, so too can the number of tutorials on The Programing Historian. Are there prerequisites for individuals who’d like to produce a lesson and submit it for peer-review?

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