||Invited Paper at the Joint International Conference of the Association for Literary and
Linguistic Computing and the Association for Computers and the Humanities.
Hosted by the Department for Literary and Documentary Data Processing (LDDV) of the
University Computing Center (ZDV) and the Department of English and American Literature.
University of Tübingen, 24. July 2002.
The year 1960 marked the beginning of several strands of the speakers activities, strands which have remained fruitfully entwined until the present day. In January 1960 he was appointed Honorary Secretary of the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA), an influential learned society, established in 1918, becoming its Honorary Treasurer in July 1963, a post he held until March 2001. Following this he was elected as the Associations President for 2003. Quite separately, and in a direction more obviously germane to the present conference, he embarked in June 1960 on his first applications of the computer to medieval literary texts, after a year or two of growing awareness, above all through press reports concerning the work of Roberto Busa, that scholarship had gained a powerful new tool for the compilation and analysis of natural language. His first paper on the subject was presented in November 1960 to humanities scholars at the University of Cambridge, and published in The Modern Language Review, an MHRA periodical, in April 1962. Also in November 1960, he attended and contributed a paper to the colloquium on the mechanization of literary analysis and lexicography organized by the Tübingen Computing Centre in conjunction with IBM Germany and the Centre (CAAL) which Pater (later Monsignor) Busa had established in 1956 at the Aloisianum in Gallarate.
Also in the autumn of 1960, the speaker had submitted proposals to the University of Cambridge for what was eventually called the Literary and Linguistic Research Centre, the doors of which opened in October 1964. Its work gave rise in March 1970 to an international symposium on 'The Computer in Literary and Linguistic Research' (published C.U.P., 1971) the first of its kind in Great Britain, a forerunner, and one of the progenitors of the present conference series. There was a direct link between the symposium and the establishment in April 1973 of the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing. Its inaugural meeting at Kings College London was under the speakers chairmanship, with Mrs Joan M. Smith as founder Secretary. Within a few years the Association was fostering international co-operation in humanities computing on a considerable scale. The range of experience represented by these early developments offers an opportunity to examine examples of how far the aims of projects undertaken during this period had to be tailored to what was technologically possible at the time, and the extent to which that generations expectations for the future were realistic, or fell short of what would actually be achieved. Another question is how far subsequent research has been shaped by events which were not foreseeable in 1960, for instance the present scale of access to personal computing, together with its low cost, and the associated ubiquitousness of e-mail and the web. In seeking new directions for humanities computing it is sensible to reckon with some developments, such as the availability of inconceivably large storage capacities, and the processor speed necessary to harness them for every aspect of the worldwide electronic library. Among the lessons the past can teach us, on the other hand, is the realisation that we have little prospect of predicting future technologies, and the radical changes they will bring about.
In choosing illustrations from the present-day situation in humanities computing, the speaker draws inter alia on experience he has gained during the past decade, during which he has played a guiding role in giving electronic access to the very large archive of MHRA periodicals, bibliographies, monographs, and other book publications. This challenging task, which finally and fully brought together various strands of his activities, as outlined above, represented a striking blend of processes such as the digitization, computer typesetting, and electronic storage of periodicals, which it was possible to envisage in 1960, although hardly on the scale required, with advanced features like mass accessibility for full text searching and article delivery through the internet. Reference is made also to non-electronic obstacles in the way of such undertakings, among them legal matters, for instance intellectual property rights, and commercial considerations like financial viability. Such concerns are of particular importance to learned societies which, like the MHRA, see their charitable function as the provision of a stable, long-term environment for core bibliographies and periodicals, as well as the generation of funds for future initiatives, above all those which cannot hope to be self-sustaining at the outset. Recent electronic developments have ensured that the work of past contributors to MHRA publications is revivified and that it remains current indefinitely, while helping to fund new directions of scholarship.