Some people may wonder why a historian would use computational analysis over a close reading of documents. My reason is simple: computational analysis provides me an opportunity to extract meaning from large volumes of data over time. Historians look for change over time and R is a tool that helps me do that. In short, R helps me understand the past more clearly.
I really thought that all of my previous R+ training would come back. I learned that a computing language is much like a foreign language. If you do not use it, you lose it. I spent the better part of the week refreshing my R skills. Although it felt like starting over, it was important for me to go back to the basics. Like Jason, I learned to code through experience.
If you are thinking about using R, or need a refresher, here are some of the sites that I reference a lot:
Next week I will attempt to explain if, and how, historians who use R are in any way different than their literature counterparts.