Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Jan. 20, 2023, 7 a.m. Humanist 36.352 - pubs: history of digital history in Europe, 1960-1990

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 352.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2023-01-19 15:47:48+00:00
        From: Edgar Lejeune <>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 36.351: pubs: ethics of AI (cfp); Zuse's Z4 manual translated

Dear all,

I am writing to you all as a new member on the list.

My name is Edgar Lejeune and I completed in October 2021 a PhD dedicated to the
history of digital history in Europe (1960-1990). I think that this work might
be of interested for some of you and I propose to share a short abstract below.

If you are interested, you will find my PhD dissertation following this link : . You can also discover one aspect of
this work in a smaller text, published in a young French journal call Humanités
numériques: .

Please, do not hesitate to write if you are intersted about any aspects, or if
you want to better understand the reasons that led me on this path.

Medievalists and computers : collective organizations, practices of historical
sources and historiographical consequences (1966-1990)
 From the late 1950's onwards, the rapid emergence and growing use of computers
in the humanities brought about many changes in the practices of researchers. My
PhD dissertation sets out to analyze some of the historiographical
transformations caused by these technical innovations. With this aim in mind, I
focus on a small group of medievalist historians who used these tools for
research purposes between 1966 and 1990. This thesis deals with two main issues.
Firstly, it looks at how, in that context, new forms of collective organization
emerge at different scales, beginning inside the research team and extending to
encompass the whole discipline. My dissertation shows how these forms are
articulated with the production, manipulation and circulation of new types of
texts (coding sheets, punched cards, computer programs, coding books, but also
liaison bulletins). Secondly, it deals with the ways in which the historians'
methods are transformed in correlation with the operation of the computers. In
this perspective, I highlight the fact that these new technologies and the
knowledge associated with them (data analysis, automatic text-processing,
computer science, etc.) entailed to work with a set of intellectual technologies
(matrices, graphs, lists, indexes, inventories, thesaurus, etc.) that required a
strengthened formalization in each of the activities associated with the
medievalists' research. Moreover, each of these intellectual technologies was,
in this specific context, endowed with its own original functions. The
methodology I develop is underpinned by two firm beliefs. While I acknowledge
the idea that the historian of the humanities has to apply to his objects the
methods developed by historians of science, I also show that it could be
worthwhile, in order to grasp the realities of the historians' research
practices, to focus on the texts they produced, handled and exchanged. This
second approach requires us to borrow some methods of research from linguistics,
and in particular from discourse analysis. This study is divided into three
parts. In part one, I analyze two French medievalist projects in 1966-1990, so
as to compare their collective organizations (manpower, computer science
collaborators, funding, computing tools), the extra- disciplinary influences
exerted on them (demographic, geographical, linguistical, sociological), the
methods they developed (lexicometry, quantitative history) and their
historiographical consequences. In part two, I expand on the process by which
some of these entities set up a meta-collective organization, so they could
exchange the fruits of their research (computer editions, databases, computer
programs, etc.) as well as the methods and techniques they had developed on
their specific projects. The object of the analysis is a French-based initiative
forming part of a Europe-wide project, which was launched at a colloquium in
Rome in 1975. A few years later, in 1979, the same organizers published the
first European periodical dedicated to this subject, the liaison bulletin Le
Médiéviste et l'ordinateur. This rapidly became one of the main media for the
dissemination of methods and the construction of a common scientific culture.
The third part of my dissertation is dedicated to the modes of exchanges that
took shape within the pages of the bulletin. Two different directions are
explored : 1) the genre of papers born out of the newfound need to share
computer-related technical knowledge and 2) the difficulties that some of the
authors encountered at a technical and epistemological level in the process of
sharing this knowledge with their colleagues.

Best regards,

Edgar Lejeune
Associate Researcher ar SPHERE (Université Paris-Cité & CNRS)

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