Visiting Scholar Emphasizes the Impact of Coding on English Studies

Annette Vee

by Maggie Thomas, CAS Communications Intern

Annette Vee, assistant professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, talked to students and faculty about the power of code. During her presentation on Monday, Oct 17, Vee gave a brief overview of the history of literacy and coding, and talked about its presence today.

Some of the ideas Vee talked about included coding and its relevance to those in the English department, how computer programming is changing writing, and a brief outline of coding. photo credit: Kyle Larson Vee also showed examples of several contemporary coding campaigns, and how they relate to literacy. 

“It’s important that we think about literacy when we think of coding… We should think about coding more as if it were a literacy,” Vee said.

She compared the number of people who know how to read and write, versus those who know how to code.

“Coding is hard and it requires a lot of time to do well. How many of you already know how to code,” she asked. “How many of you know how to read and write?”

Vee said that almost 90 percent of men and women can read and write by the time they are 15 in the United States.

“I think these campaigns are onto something when they tap into literacy… For these campaigns, knowing how to code means something good for the country,” she said. “Coding can be more than a means of employment… We can also think about coding as means of creative expression... We should be teaching coding outside places of computer science.”

Vee also talked about how students’ lives are directly affected by codes. “I think our students need to know how code constructs their world.” She said that coding affects the way social media calculates our friendships.

“Code is powerful,” she said. “A lot of your undergrad experiences go through Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.” 

Mary Jean Corbett, University Distinguished Professor of English, invited Vee to talk about the coding movement and its importance.

“We are seeking to hire someone in digital humanities/digital studies who teaches and researches across some of the boundaries among the different sub disciplines of English studies that are represented in our department,” Corbett said.  

These disciplines include composition/rhetoric, creative writing, linguistics, literature, and professional writing. She thinks the English department could benefit from more education about the current work in English studies.

“So having a guest speaker like Annette Vee, who works in an English department but has a great deal of expertise in this area, is part of that effort,” Corbett said. “As Annette Vee’s work suggests, coding may well be on its way to becoming a necessary or even required skill for people of your generation insofar as it enables access to and production of media products and products for example.”

Corbett noted how Vee connects code to literacy, and how this can help us understand what coding means.  

“She considers it on the verge of becoming what we’d call a literacy. Once upon a time, only elites could read and write, and as a result, they had a high degree of power and agency that folks who did not have those skills lacked.  Today, the capacity to code might also be understood in these terms.”