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Sacred Electronics
August 10, 2011 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Father Roberto Busa, whose work to analyze and index the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas led to the foundation of the discipline now known as the digital humanities, has died at the age of 97.
posted by Horace Rumpole (11 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

Not to take away from anything he did--that concordance is a monumental undertaking--but that obituary link is a little too laudatory. Father Busa didn't really have much to do with the invention of computer language, the web, or hypertext.

The idea of even a semi-automated lemmatization of a 13-million-word corpus in 1949 was pretty freaking revolutionary, though.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:18 PM on August 10, 2011

Deus ex machina should apply for electronics just as well.

posted by Meatafoecure at 6:56 PM on August 10, 2011

Wow, how had I not heard of this man? Astonishing stuff; thanks for the post.

posted by everichon at 7:31 PM on August 10, 2011

I began, in 1949, with only electro-countable machines with punched cards. My goal was to have a file of 13 million of these cards, one for each word, with a context of 12 lines stamped on the back. The file would have been 90 meters long, 1.20 m in height, 1 m in depth, and would have weighed 500 tonnes.

In His mercy, around 1955, God led men to invent magnetic tapes. The first were the steel ones by Remington, closely followed by the plastic ones of IBM. Until 1980, I was working on 1,800 tapes, each one 2,400 feet long, and their combined length was 1,500 km, the distance from Paris to Lisbon, or from Milan to Palermo. I used all the generations of the dinosaur computers of IBM at that time. I finished in 1980 (before personal computers came in) with 20 final and conclusive tapes, and with these and the automatic photocompositor of IBM, I prepared for offset the 20 million lines which filled the 65,000 pages of the 56 volumes in encyclopedia format which make up the Index Thomisticus on paper.

posted by Ahab at 9:21 PM on August 10, 2011

posted by iamkimiam at 10:10 PM on August 10, 2011

posted by Cranberry at 11:45 PM on August 10, 2011

Something something medieval scribes still among us something something. (See also the St. John's Bible, an illuminated manuscript produced a few years ago at the abbey at St. John's University in Minnesota.)

Truly this was an amazing feat, given the great physical bulk of the materials: My goal was to have a file of 13 million of these cards, one for each word, with a context of 12 lines stamped on the back. I mean, if someone dropped just a fraction of his punchcards, he'd've been re-sorting the things for a long, long time.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:42 AM on August 11, 2011

posted by jquinby at 7:26 AM on August 11, 2011

How many angels can fit on a MetaFilter Death-Recognition Period?

posted by resurrexit at 8:02 AM on August 11, 2011

posted by Lutoslawski at 1:00 PM on August 11, 2011

posted by eritain at 12:38 PM on August 12, 2011

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