As the director of research, innovation and outreach at Deerfield Academy, Peter Nilsson's main job is to provide high-school students with a competitive skill set for college and beyond. He wanted to modernize the school's curriculum with an introductory course in the digital humanities, showing students how computation can apply to the liberal arts while they also develop vital skills in coding and computational exploration. To implement his idea, he needed comprehensive sources for linguistic, cultural and historical data, as well as a computational system with professional-level text analytics in an interface his students could easily understand and use.
For Nilsson, the Wolfram Language has been indispensable in developing and teaching his digital humanities course. In addition to sophisticated text and language processing capabilities, it offers a range of high-level visualizations for communicating all kinds of results. With immediate access to built-in knowledge and computable data resources, he can introduce new concepts to his students using familiar works, such as performing a text mining analysis on Hamlet.
Most importantly, the language is very high level, making it straightforward to learn and ensuring short, readable code. "In the Wolfram Language, it's one line, and that is extraordinarily powerful," Nilsson says, noting that the Wolfram Language provides him with faster, deeper exploration than systems like Excel, MATLAB and R. And within a week of being introduced to it, his students are already doing their own research projects—which Nilsson's colleagues have compared to doctoral-level work.
Overall, Nilsson sees the Wolfram Language as the perfect all-in-one solution for creating digital humanities coursework. Its combination of speed, power and ease of use allowed him to implement ideas in his course that weren't possible with other systems. "It's all doable because we have this very simple language," he says.