Roberto Busa (November 13, 1913 - August 9, 2011)

August 10, 2011
Photo of Father Roberto Busa next to a mainframe computer.
Photo caption

Father Roberto Busa next to a mainframe computer.

Photo courtesy of Alberto Cavicchiolo

I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of Father Roberto Busa, one of the most influential figures in the digital humanities. Busa's doctoral thesis and much of his later scholarship focused on studying the works of Thomas Aquinas. Famously, in 1949, Busa approached IBM founder Thomas J. Watson and convinced him that computers could be used to study the vast corpus of text written by Aquinas. Computers in the 1940's weren't used for searching or studying text -- but Busa spent several decades demonstrating how they could.

For more on Busa, do check out this terrific Time magazine article from 1956 (thanks to Bethany Nowviskie for passing this on). Also, see these tributes to Busa from Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell. Also see the Busa Prize, awarded to pioneers in digital humanities by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, named in his honor.