Tag Archives: History

Living History

I read with avid interest Susan Hockey’s piece, “The History of Digital Humanities”. It turns out that this history closely parallels the arc of my life. By sheer coincidence, I was born in the year that Father Busa began work on his “index verborum” and I finished school about the time the concordance was first published in 1974. Like James Mason (https://dhpraxis14.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2014/08/29/digital-humanities-instilling-optimism-in-academia/) , I got my degree in English and could not do anything with it.

Finally, in 1978, I fell into a job as a mainframe computer operator. I had fun driving that big old machine, working with punch cards and huge reel-to-reel data tapes. My career led me to programming and then project management. Just as Hockey describes the advance of technology in the humanities, I lived through a similar evolution in the corporate IT world. The “invention” of word processing, the arrival of personal computers, the breakthrough of GUI (graphical user interface) and of course the history shaking impact of the Internet. I remember sending my first email. I remember working remotely on text-based terminal that operated over a telephone line at 300 bytes per second (it had no CRT; the I/O took place on spool of paper).

What is intriguing to me is that the tension between technologists and users of technology that seem to be taking place in the Digital Humanities is not a new phenomena. Techies have always been more interested in the tools than what can be done with them. I believe that Humanities has only lately been grappling with these issues because the technology is finally mature enough to deliver real value. It was much simpler to create systems that keep track of debits and credits, than to open up insights into the complex subjects that concern humanists. What seems to me to be unique to academia is the ongoing argument over the definition of Digital Humanities. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply do the work rather than agonize over what to label it?

Time will tell if this MALS program will lead me into a new way to study literature and theatre again or if it will open up a new arena for me leverage my technology career. Perhaps it will do both.