Speaking in Code was an NEH-funded symposium and summit that brought together 32 accomplished digital humanities software developers at the University of Virginia Library Scholars’ Lab for two days in November 2013. The goal was to give voice to things that are almost always tacitly expressed in our work: expert knowledge about the intellectual and interpretive dimensions of DH code-craft, and unspoken understandings about the relation of that work to ethics and inclusion, scholarly method, and humanities theory and critique.

Together, we

Our first meeting focused on creating inclusive, welcoming developer communities and ways to address the social implications of tacit knowledge exchange in digital humanities software development. This page remains as a place for publishing outcomes from the Speaking in Code summit, sharing our original agenda, and fostering further conversation both online and face-to-face—including by making available a Codespeak Kit.

Get the Kit

Run Your Own Codespeak Event

Because we feel the DH developers' community needs more open and frank conversations like the ones at the heart of our summit, the Scholars' Lab has constructed a kit that others can use to run their own Speaking in Code events. The kit contains lots of heartfelt advice and a customizable website for your gathering (a Jekyll application we've set up for you to fork from GitHub or scaffold with yeoman in Node, modify as desired, and publish on the cheap through Github Pages). It can be found at our Codespeak Kit repository, with further instructions and details.

Read Up

A white paper on the outcomes and challenges of this summit is now available through the University of Virginia's institutional repository and the Database of Funded Projects at the National Endowment for the Humanities. We've also made the starter bibliography we used for the inaugural Speaking in Code event available as part of the kit!

Join the Conversation

Codespeak conversations don't all have to be face-to-face. We invite you join us on Twitter using the hashtag #codespeak and on IRC, using the #speakingincode channel.

Share Your Stories

One of the small groups at Speaking in Code had the idea of sharing brief digital humanities "origin stories" and answers by experienced developers to the question "How should I get started?" Read the ones we've collected and contribute your own!


The original cohort of Speaking in Code participants were selected on the basis of their demonstrated experience in digital humanities software development, their interest in advancing solutions to the problems raised by the summit, and the diversity of perspective they brought to the conversation. Click for bios and more information, and learn about our call for participants in the Codespeak Kit.

Summit Agenda

For posterity, and as an example for people using our Codespeak Kit. An overview of the schedule is available in the kit.

We start from the premise that humanities software development holds more in common with traditional arts-and-crafts practice than with academic discourse, and that its methods and assumptions may embed a valuable, largely non-verbal new hermeneutic of “making.” The Speaking in Code program calls on five respected, versatile, and motivated experts in the field to help participants articulate—from their own vantage points—whether and to what degree tacit humanities knowledge is embedded in DH developers’ craft, and to outline the new scholarly and methodological understandings that may be emergent from their praxis.

The second part of the summit will be a unconference-style “Development Day,” designed to foster grassroots leadership among participants and seed collaborative projects that may be technical or social in nature. Projects pitched on the second day are meant to address the larger goals of Speaking in Code and the most practicable and potentially transformative among them may be undertaken by the Scholars’ Lab and new partners after the summit ends.

Sunday, November 3rd

Time Topic

Casual meetup at Michael's Bistro

David McClure will host an optional get-together for early arrivals at a favorite Scholars' Lab / Praxis Program watering hole.

Monday, November 4th

Time Topic

Continental Breakfast provided in the Scholars’ Lab


Welcome and agenda-setting

Bethany Nowviskie will outline the summit’s program and themes, organizers’ motivation and desired outcomes, and will facilitate introductions.


Symposium Session 1: Tacit Knowledge in Code

Drawing on his research into the history and literature of craftsmanship or tacit knowledge, and building on pragmatic work in computer-assisted fabrication and physical computing, William J. Turkel will offer concrete and inspiring examples of the ways in which unspoken understandings impact the theoretical and practical dimensions of code.

Activity: Brainstorming a working list of areas in which tacit understanding and hands-on journeyman learning experiences make it difficult for scholars and junior developers to engage with the theoretical side of DH code craft.




Symposium Session 2: Procedural Interface Design

Stéfan Sinclair will draw on his scholarly interests in the algorithmic, combinatoric, and playful practices of the OuLiPo literary movement to explicate code written with human interaction in mind. This presentation will address the division that can occur between design and development, even in humanities projects in which design elements take on particular rhetorical or interpretive significance.

Discussion: What is unspoken but critical in DH design? What is ill-understood or under-theorized—and what can the community do about that?


Lunch on your own (at UVa or on the Corner)


Symposium Session 3: Designing Text Models for Language

Digital humanities software developers must cultivate a sophisticated understanding of the structures of textual information, and help articulate the ways in which those structures contribute to or inhibit humanities arguments. Hugh Cayless will present approaches to the semantics, structures and representations of texts.

Activity: Create a quick-and-dirty intellectual model of a humanities document or book object. What existing theories and text technologies did your work draw on?




Symposium Session 4: Messy Understandings

Little conversation takes place among developers, across digital humanities projects, on decision-making with regard to uniformity or incongruity of data. Mia Ridge will discuss the process by which one might decide to support or disregard “edge cases” in cultural heritage metadata, and the manner in which decisions about ambiguous or contradictory information can affect ongoing database design and development.

Discussion: Share your own stories. How have you worked to incorporate ambiguity or contradictory evidence in humanities computing projects? When have you decided to elide it, why, and with what impact on the scholarly arguments your tool enabled?


Working dinner provided at Trinity Irish Pub

Nowviskie introduces tomorrow’s “Project Pitches” and “Development Sessions.” Other possible activities include: round-robin contributions to a Speaking in Code idea-hopper (concrete actions required to address the problems surfaced today) or a table-based brainstorming/discussion session led by Wayne Graham, Jeremy Boggs, and Eric Rochester: DH developer community needs, scholarly communications vectors.

Tuesday, November 5th

Time Topic

Continental Breakfast provided in the Scholars’ Lab


Project Pitches

A lightning round of participant-generated project ideas and topics to be workshopped in Development Sessions. Project Pitches will refine brainstormed needs from the first day’s symposium sessions and working dinner, and should answer the following questions:

  • How can we better articulate and share the theoretical and intellectual dimensions of our craft?
  • How can we help to create the DH culture we want to inhabit, and participate more fully in the one we’ve got?

Development Sessions

Stemming from Project Pitches, participants divide into small groups to undertake planning for follow-up activities and (depending on the nature of the project) begin to engage in concrete work.


Lunch (provided) and continued project development


Plenary Discussion

Development session projects report out for group engagement. Can we identify ongoing action items and needed players? What are the weaknesses and strengths of the proposed project plans? What can we really accomplish? (Facilitated by Nowviskie and Boggs.)




Summit keynote: On Speaking in Code

Stephen Ramsay offers reflections and a final charge to participants, to be followed by an open discussion. Where should Speaking in Code go from here?


For posterity, and as an example for people using our Codespeak Kit. Get some tips on logistics as part of the kit.

Times and Dates

The Speaking in Code program will run for two full days, 4-5 November 2013, starting with an 8:30am breakfast in the Scholars' Lab. Participants should arrive in Charlottesville on the evening of Sunday, November 3rd. The sessions will conclude before 5pm on Tuesday.

Location & Directions

If you are driving to the Charlottesville area, you will probably want Maps & Directions to the University of Virginia. Our local airport is CHO, a short taxi ride to the north of town. Charlottesville is approximately 110 miles and two hours south of Washington, DC.

The Scholars’ Lab is located in Alderman Library, behind the café to the left, on the main floor (4 West). View the Scholars’ Lab and Alderman Library (and relationship to parking) on a Google map and on map of UVa's Central Grounds.


Participants should have received info on conference rates for local hotels. The Cavalier Inn, Courtyard Marriott, and Red Roof Inn are walkable, affordable options.

Travel Bursaries

We are pleased to report that, through the generosity of the NEH Office of Digital Humanities and the University of Virginia Library, we have been able to offer travel assistance to all participants who requested funds. These awards are meant to offset the cost of travel, lodging, and any meals that are not provided, and/or to supplement the wages of hourly or freelance developers who are taking time away from work to participate in Speaking in Code.

You Are Welcome Here

Speaking in Code was successful in part because it attracted an unusually diverse group of developers. We published this statement for the event. Learn more about our call for participants in the Codespeak Kit.

This is a small planning and problem-scoping meeting, meant to provide an opportunity for advanced software developers to address shared issues in DH and tacit knowledge—on their own terms. Because software development—even in the more intellectually diverse and welcoming digital humanities—is a predominantly white and male profession, we are particularly committed to amplifying the voices of developers who are women, people of color, queer/LGBT, or otherwise under-represented among programmers, and to creating a friendly and respectful environment for collaboration at this event.

Whether you're a Speaking in Code attendee or a member of the interested public, if you have questions, special requests, concerns, or advice to share, please get in touch with the Scholars’ Lab or with Bethany Nowviskie directly.