New paths through the histories of digital humanities, Keynote speech by Julianne Nyhan #dhiha6

dhiha_6New paths through the histories of digital humanities: uncovering hidden contributions to Busa’s Index Thomisticus

Abtract of the Keynote speech by Julianne Nyhan (University College London), opening speech of the conference “Digital Humanities Experiments #dhiha6” at the German Historical Institute in Paris, Thursday, June 11th 2015 at 6 p.m.

This symposium’s call for papers emphasises that while experimentation plays a central role in Digital Humanities it remains rather alien to the Humanities. This tension:

affects not only the individual researcher’s methodological standards, but also the communicational and infrastructural context in which he/she works, from the place taken by teamwork to grant requirements, including such a major aspect as the integration of failure into the research process. (

This paper will focus on the social aspects that are alluded to above, namely, how Digital Humanities teams and teamwork have been shaped by the influences of both these research cultures. In order to explore this I will focus mostly on a historical case study, namely the team (which at one point numbered some 60 people) that Roberto Busa assembled in order to implement and complete his Index Thomisticus project. It is usually to this project that the origins of Digital Humanities are traced (c. 1949) when Busa, with funding from IBM, began work on his index variorum of some 11 million words of Medieval Latin in the works of St Thomas Aquinas.

In particular, I will give a detailed overview of oral history and archival research that I have undertaken on the training school that Busa set up and the (mostly female) key punch operators that he trained there in order to transfer the text of Aquinas (and other texts) to punch cards. Until this research was undertaken the stories of the female operators had mostly disappeared from the historical record. As well as revealing their otherwise neglected contributions to the project, I will reflect on how issues like scholarship, gender and status seem to have shaped decisions about whose work was deemed eligible for acknowledgement in this early Digital Humanities project. I will conclude by reflecting on the lessons we might learn from this historical context in regard to the role of teamwork in present-day Digital Humanities.


Julianne Nyhan has been a lecturer (assistant Professor) in Digital Information Studies at UCL’s Department of Information Studies since 2011. Her research interests include most aspects of Digital Humanities, Information Studies, Oral History, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as well as Sociology of Science and Critical Cultural Heritage studies. At present she is working on a book that is due out in 2015 and has the provisional title Computation and the Humanities: towards an oral history of Digital Humanities.

Commentator will be Claudia Mueller-Birn. She is assistant professor for Web Science/Human-Centered Computing at the Institute of Computer Science at Free University of Berlin. Her research focuses on collaborative knowledge collections that provide a unique research environment for studying existing interdependencies between people’s participation processes (the social system), the employed software (the technical system) and the collectively created artefact (the knowledge system).

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dhiparis (2015, 11. Mai). New paths through the histories of digital humanities, Keynote speech by Julianne Nyhan #dhiha6. Digital Humanities am DHIP. Abgerufen am 24. April 2024, von

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