Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: March 19, 2021, 6:59 a.m. Humanist 34.287 - pubs: Busa and Big Data

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 287.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2021-03-18 13:34:36+00:00
        From: Marinella Testori <>
        Subject: Busa and Big Data

Dear Willard,

I would bring to your attention and to the attention of the Humanist's
readers the following contribution by Geoffrey Rockwell and Marco
Passarotti (2019), "The Index Thomisticus as a Big Data Project", appeared
on *Umanistica Digitale*, 3(5),

As detailed in the related abstract,

"The Digital Humanities (DH), as Rob Kitchin reminds us, have always been
interested in the building of infrastructure for research (Kitchin 2014,
Loc. 222 of 6164). Imagining how emerging technologies could first be
applied to Humanities problems and then scaled up to infrastructure for
others to use has been one of the defining features of the field, by which
we mean the field has evolved through projects that experimented with the
application of new computing technologies to the difficult problems of the
Humanities. Such experimentation began with Father Busaís Index Thomisticus
(IT) project (Busa 1980; Winter 1999; Busa 1974-1980) which is why many
genetic descriptions of the field returns to the Index. The Index
Thomisticus (IT) project was not only the first, but also one of the
largest Digital Humanities projects of all time, even though the outcome
might, by today’s standards be considered “small”. The project lasted 34
years and at its peak (1962) involved a staff of as many as 70 persons all
housed in a large ex-textile factory in Gallarate. For that time they were
dealing with big data, we might even say really big data, and the
infrastructure they had to build was unlike any ever built before. If we
want to understand what is involved in scaling up to big infrastructure we
should look back to the beginnings of the field and the emergence of big
projects like the Index. This paper will therefore look at the Busa’s
project as a way to think through big projects by first discussing the
historiography of the IT project and DH projects in general. We will ask
how can we study projects as bearers of ideas? What resources do we
need/have? Then we will look at specific aspects of the project that shed
light on DH projects in general. In particular we will look at how the
project was communicated, conceived, and the data processing innovations.
Finally, we will reflect on what lessons the IT project has for us at a
time when big data has become an end in itself. What can we learn from
Busa’s attention to data in the face of the temptations of automatically
gathered data?".

I am confident that the question about data and the approach to them (for
example, are they a means or an end?) could be of interest and spark a
fruitful reflection.

Many thanks for your attention,
kind regards.

Marinella Testor Ph.D. AKC
Linguistic Annotation and Lexicology for Latin

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