Instant History: The Postwar Digital Humanities and their Legacies

Instant History: The Postwar Digital Humanities and their Legacies

24 September 2016
4th Floor, Information Commons, Lake Shore Campus

In 1949, Jesuit scholar Father Roberto Busa began to collaborate with IBM to build a massive lemmatized concordance to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. By the mid-1950s he had established the first humanities computing center in Milan, which both IBM and Father Busa referred to as a Center for Literary Data Processing. This turn toward thinking of texts as data--or as potential sources of data--to be processed using computers and algorithmic, quantitative methods, has its legacy in many of today's digital humanities and electronic textuality, from the creation of electronic editions to so-called distant reading and quantitative analyses and visualizations of very large corpora of texts.

Our day-long conference explored several aspects of this legacy of Father Busa’s mid-century humanities computing, including the history of natural language processing and digital text processing, systems of textual markup and the creation of digital scholarly editions, topic modeling and large-corpora analysis, with speakers Steven Jones, Geoffrey Rockwell, Laura Mandell and Ted Underwood. Presentations were followed by a roundtable and general discussion.

This event was sponsored by the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage, the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities, and the Svaglic Chair for Textual Studies. For more information, please contact Paul Eggert at

Plenary speakers

Laura Mandell, Texas A&M University
What Can You Do with ‘Dirty OCR’?: Digital Literary History beyond the Canon

Geoffrey Rockwell, University of Alberta, Canada
Replicating Father Busa’s Methods

Ted Underwood, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Genealogies of Distance

Steven Jones, University of South Florida
Reverse-Engineering the First Humanities Computing Center: A Media-Archaeology Approach