UCL Centre for Digital Humanities


UCLDH ONLINE: One Origin of Digital Humanities, Fr. Roberto Busa in His Own Words

20 January 2021, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

ucldh and cdcs logos, plus book cover 'One Origin of Digital Humanities: Fr Roberto Busa S.J. in His Own Words'

Celebrating the launch of a new book on the work of Roberto Busa, this event explores Busa's methods & contribution to digital humanities.

Event Information

Open to






Jointly hosted by the Edinburgh Centre for Data, Culture & Society and UCLDH, this event features contributors to the new volume One Origin of Digital Humanities: Fr Roberto Busa S.J. in His Own Words edited by Julianne Nyhan and Marco Passarotti ( Springer 2020).

Roberto Busa S.J. is often described as one of the founders of the field now known as Digital Humanities, but many of his writings are difficult to access. One Origin of Digital Humanities: Fr Roberto Busa S.J. in His Own Words draws on extensive archival research to select and contextualise previously out of print or inaccessible writings of Busa, translated into English for the first time.

Each article is paired with a new introduction; in addition, a substantial new chapter analyses Busa’s intellectual legacy for Digital Humanities methodology. A complete bibliography of Busa (1949-2009), and an oral history interview with Busa’s translator (Philip Barras), is also included. This authoritative collection makes available, for the first time, fundamental primary and secondary sources that are crucial for the writing of histories of the Digital Humanities. The book moreover presents a deeper, more complex account of the data-led work of Busa, whose work is highly-cited yet little critiqued, and thus a new insight into the data-foundations of the (Digital) Humanities.

This seminar features discussions from contributors and is chaired by CDCS Director Professor Melissa Terras.

1. Melissa Terras (University of Edinburgh): Introduction

2. Julianne Nyhan (UCL) and Marco Passarotti (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore): "Reflections on the production of One Origin of Digital Humanities: Fr Roberto Busa in his own words."

3. Geoffrey Rockwell (University of Alberta): "Knowing through algorithms: How exactly did Busa and Tasmin process words with calculating machines?"

In this paper Geoffrey Rockwell will look at different descriptions of the innovative process developed for concerning by Busa and Tasmin. This will lead to reflections on how Father Busa, a philosopher, thought computing could model knowing.

4. Steve Jones (University of South Florida): "Where Was CAAL?"

In 1956, Roberto Busa, S.J., founded CAAL, the Centro per L'Automazione dell'Analisi Letteraria. After several years in temporary locations, in 1961 CAAL settled in a former textile factory outside Milan. What is the significance of that physical plant and location when it came to the institutional realities of CAAL and its work?