Oral History of the Digital Humanities and the Work of Roberto Busa

What are the Digital Humanities (DH)? This question of a quite long standing debate is treated in a new open access book in the Springer Series on Cultural Computing: Computation and the Humanities, Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities. Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flinn of the Department of Information Studies at the University College London (UCL) state that the DH form an interface between computing and cultural heritage. They believe that DH transforms the objects and the methods of studying them. They did oral history to know more about this.

Nyhand and Flinn present 14 biographies and interviews in this book. They came about in the context of a project entitled ‘Hidden Histories: Computing and the Humanities’. This project aimed to identify ‘early adopter’ scholars and practitioners in the field of DH and to carry out oral history interviews with them. The authors wanted to fill some of the archival gaps that are alluded in this field of practice.

The contested nature of DH was significant for setting the parameters of the study. Therefore, the approach was an inclusive one. The sample includes not only those who worked in academic positions in DH from the 1950s onwards but also those who supported them, for example, in computer centres. The title of the book as been chosen to indicate that an oral history will always remain incomplete.

This interesting book deals with one of the first DH project: The now famous Index Thomisticus by Roberto Busa.The Jesuit and Philosopher was a specialist for the works of Thomas Aquinas. To assign texts to this influential Scholastics, it was necessary to lemmate them. Thanks to the us of a punch card technique the lexicographical reduction of words to their basic form on more than 70 000 pages lasted much less long than originally planned. Busa is seen as a pioneer for the application of computing machines in lexicography, text analysis and computer linguistics.


Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *