There had to be a better way: John Nitti and Julianne Nyhan


There had to be a better way: John Nitti and Julianne Nyhan


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


This oral history conversation was carried out via Skype on 17 October 2013 at 18:00 GMT. Nitti was provided with the core questions in advance of the interview. He recalls that his first encounter with computing came about when a fellow PhD student asked him to visit the campus computing facility of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where a new concordancing programme had recently been made available via the campus mainframe, the UNIVAC. He found the computing that he encountered there rather primitive: input was in uppercase letters only and via a keypunch machine. Nevertheless, the possibility of using computing in research stuck with him and when his mentor Professor Lloyd Kasten agreed that the Old Spanish Dictionary project should be computerised, Nitti set to work. He won his first significant NEH grant c.1972; up to that point (and, where necessary, continuing for some years after) Kasten cheerfully financed out of his own pocket some of the technology that Nitti adapted to the project. In this interview Nitti gives a fascinating insight into his dissatisfaction with both the state and provision of the computing that he encountered, especially during the 1970s and early 80s. He describes how he circumvented such problems not only via his innovative use of technology but also through the many collaborations he developed with the commercial and professional sectors. As well as describing how he and Kasten set up the Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies (HSMS) he also mentions less formal processes of knowledge dissemination, for example, his so-called lecture ‘roadshow’ in the USA and Canada where he demonstrated the technologies used on the dictionary project to colleagues in other universities.


Julianne Nyhan and John Nitti


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


Created on 17 October 2013


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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Julianne Nyhan


John Nitti


Skype interview



Julianne Nyhan and John Nitti, “There had to be a better way: John Nitti and Julianne Nyhan,” Hidden Histories: Digital Humanities 1949 – Present, accessed February 22, 2024,