It’s probably the only modestly widely used system with a command language in Latin


It’s probably the only modestly widely used system with a command language in Latin


An oral history interview on the history of Digital Humanities for the Hidden Histories project


This interview was carried out on 10 July 2014 at the Digital Humanities Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. In it Thaller recalls that his earliest memory of encountering computing in the Humanities dates to c. 1973 when he attended a presentation on the use of computational techniques to map the spatial distribution of medieval coins. The difficulties of handling large, paper-based datasets was impressed upon him as he compiled some 32,000 index card of excerpts for use in his PhD thesis. When he later encountered statistical standard software at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna he found that such software could not be beneficially applied to historical data without first transforming in some way the historical data in the sources (indeed, the formalisation of historical and cultural heritage data is an issue that reoccurs in this interview, much as it did in Thaller’s research). In light of his experience of the problems of using such software ‘out of the box’ to work with historical data he went on to teach himself the programming language SNOBOL. Within a few weeks he had joined a project on daily life in the middle ages and was building software to manage the descriptions of images that the project compiled and stored on punched cards. Having contributed to various other projects with computational elements, in 1978 he took up a post at the Max-Planck-Institut for History in Göttingen. As well as discussing the research he carried out there, for example, CLIO/ κλειω a databased programming system for History with a command language in Latin, he discusses the immense freedom and access to resources that he benefitted from. He also goes on to discuss some of the later projects he worked on, including those in the wider context of digital libraries, infrastructure and cultural heritage.


Julianne Nyhan and respective interviewees


Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flinn 2016. Computation and the Humanities: towards an oral history of Digital Humanities. Springer.




Interview audio files are made available under a creative commons licence “by-nc-nd” with the following characteristics:
• by: the content must be attributed to me and the interviewer.
• non-commercial: commercial use of the content is not allowed.
• no derivative works: the material is to be allocated in its original form and may not be
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Oral History interview


The history of Digital Humanities c. 1949- 2016



Julianne Nyhan


Manfred Thaller


Lausanne, Switzerland. Digital Humanities Conference 2014.



Julianne Nyhan and respective interviewees, “It’s probably the only modestly widely used system with a command language in Latin,” Hidden Histories: Digital Humanities 1949 – Present, accessed February 22, 2024,