CIRCA:More hack, Less yack


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More hack less yack

There is an ongoing debate among "digital humanists" concerning the idea of "more hack, less yack." Hacking refers to doing, but yacking refers to talking, and the two are essential to comprehending the digital humanities. This term refers to the preference for practical activity (projects, particular tasks, etc.) above discussion and theory. It is the notion that practitioners should simply do rather than talk. In other words, DH academics should be more focused on creating and making things happen.

In some ways, we might think of the yack/hack split as a distinction between the yackers who interpret the word "digital" in "digital humanities" as referring to the object of study and the hackers who interpret it as defining a technique of study.

  • The yackers are compared to the close readers. They will look at digital humanities in relation to what they are learning. For example, when yackers read the book, they just consider how it made you feel and what you gained from it.
  • The hackers, on the other hand, are looking at how we study it using digital approaches. They are compared to distant reading. For example, when the hackers are reading the book, they connect it to a computer, which analyses the frequency of specific terms and provides statistics about it.


  • First of all, “this slogan began as a goofball joke” (Nowviskie, 2016). At the 2008 THATCamp, a humanities and technology conference, Dave Lester is the first one to make up the slogan "More hack! Less yack!".
  • Later in 2011 and early in 2012, the subject sparked one of the most in-depth philosophical debates in the history of Digital humanities.

Support opinions

“From a “hacker” perspective, while reflective practice is, of course, important, one must have something to reflect upon. That is, the act of building the data infrastructure necessary to enable sophisticated computational analyses must precede in-depth theoretical reflections on the latent assumptions buried in that infrastructure” (The MCAT podcast). So, according to these individuals, you must first collect the data before you can reflect on it. “In a world of limited resources and time, prioritizing rigorous theoretical analyses over “hacking” can mean that nothing new will ever be built and that the digital humanities will fail to develop into anything beyond a specialized extension of new media studies—in other words, only the “humanities” would remain, not the “digital humanities” (The MCAT podcast).

There are some specific digital humanists supporting this slogan including Tom Scheinfeldt, Stephen Ramsay, Geoffrey Rockwell, the #feralcat team, …

  • Tom Scheinfeldt did not discuss theory in an influential lecture outlining digital humanist principles presented at the CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative in 2010, instead highlighting coding and Do It Yourself [Scheinfeldt 2010].
  • Stephen Ramsay, speaking at the 2011 MLA conference in Los Angeles, put a sharper point on the matter by asking: “Do you have to know how to code? I’m a tenured professor of digital humanities and I say “yes.”... But if you are not making anything, you are not — in my less-than-three-minute opinion — a digital humanist”
  • Most of the theoretical exploration in the digital humanities, according to Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell, is "nondiscursive," or "knowledge that cannot be fully expressed in language. (Rockwell, 2011)
  • At THATCampLAC 2012, the #feralcats team, comprised of four researchers from various organizations, developed a "More Hack Guide" as a hacking handbook to promote the slogan "more hack, less yack."

To summarize, Digital Humanists are more akin to carpenters and craft-builder than conventional academics.

Oppose opinions

Natalia Cecire

  • In the digital humanities, Natalia Cecire emphasizes the significance of talking as a technique of forming and spreading ideas.
  • In her article “When Digital Humanities Was in Vogue”, she argues that the digital humanities are undertheorized and yacking is essential for comprehending the digital humanities.
  • Cecire stresses that removing Digital Humanities' "yacking," or theoretical foundations, will radically shift the area away from what it began as. *She makes an excellent point in stating that a yack is required in order to have any kind of hack. Cecire argues that if the discipline loses sight of its humanist beginnings and focuses too much on craft creation, it will wander away from its theoretical roots, preferring simple access and rapid learning above solid, underlying principles.

Adeline Koh

  • Adeline Koh, a member of the #transformdh collective, whose goal is to make the Digital Humanities field more accessible, has critiqued “more hack, less yack,” as is a sort of tacit understanding.
  • In her article “More Hack, Less Yack?: Modularity, Theory and Habitus in the Digital Humanities”, she states that “we need to invest in the creation of a metalanguage that will allow us to see the ideological foundations that undergird our "common sense"”.
  • Yacking, she claims, is about a shared understanding and knowledge base among all Digital Humanists, not just discourse, theory, or shared ideas.
  • Koh argues that to leave everyone to their own devices, with no help from a yacking framework, will lead to an overspecialization of the Digital Humanities.

The balance between “Hack” & “Yack”

This slogan and debates around it seem to imply that yacking is the opposite of hacking, which is not comprehensive to some extent. I agree with Tara Macpherson's opinion. In her book “The Routledge Companion to Media studies and digital humanities", Tara Mcpherson stated that “we might understand the two terms to be tied together in a productive and interactive friction”. Hacking and yacking are not independent entities because words and talk lead to acts. To some extent, yacking is a type of hacking.

The relationship between hacking and yacking is the two sides of the same coin. In order to form a hack, there must be a yack behind it. You can not spread ideology and create an impact without following up with a hack. I believe that there must be a balance between hacking and yacking. However, it does not mean that there will always be a precise equation between hacking and yacking. Instead, hacking and yacking must work hand in hand to share ideas and expand the digital humanities. Although knowing how to code is not demanding for every digital humanist, the process of writing the code should be considered as as important as the ideas and specialised knowledge provided by other academics. In a book named "Between humanities and the digital", Cathy N. Davidson propose an idea that rather than a one-size-fits-all digital humanities model, in which everyone does a little bit of everything, digital humanists should take the lead in demonstrating to the academy the benefits of "cross-disciplinary participation in all aspects of content, expertise, skills, problem-solving, assessment, and representation." (2015).

There is an interesting question raised by dr. Geoffrey Rockwell which is "Is it possible to have a hack that contains a yack?". To answer this question, educational video games is an outstanding example. Video games is definitely a hack while it require visual, coding and other technical aspect to be combined. When video games is used to educate others about a specific topic or being a medium for an academics instead of papers and journals.


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