DH at GU: A History

Computing began in the 1940s, and so did computing in the Humanities. Some examples are: 1945, Vannevar Bush, As We May Think. A seminal paper which was the first to describe how computers could mimic the way humans think; 1949, Roberto Busa, Index Thomisticus (finished 1973). The first to realise that numbers could represent letters and, therefore, words. The Index to the works of Thomas Aquinas is the first computer concordance; 1950, Bernard Bronson realised numbers could also represent musical notation. A pioneer who created the first digital, searchable scores. In the 1960s International associations were formed by humanities scholars using computers in their work. Today they run conferences which bring together scholars from many countries, offer support and advice to young scholars, and provide funding for projects.

University of Glasgow Arts and Humanities scholars have been leaders in digital humanities for four decades.

In 1964 two scholars in English Literature used the new mainframe computer in Chemistry to create a concordance of all the works of Shakespeare. Unfortunately their names have been lost. All we have is a photograph showing two young men with Beatles haircuts and a very large pile of printer paper. If you know who they are please let us know.

In the 1980s scholars in several subject areas began to investigate the new computing technologies for research and teaching. The UK Government Computers in Teaching Initiative provided funding for equipment and technical staff. At that time there were no ready-made digital resources available. Glasgow led the field in creating both data sets and programs.

In 1985 the departments of Modern History, Social and Economic History, Scottish History and the University Archives came together to create the DISH (Design and Implementation of Software for History) Computer laboratory. The History disciplines were leaders in the use of databases in their research and this fed into their teaching. DISH was the UK’s first computer classroom for historical studies. Glasgow hosted the Computers in Teaching Initiative Centre for History, Archaeology and Art History (1989-1999), the Teaching & Learning Technology Programme History Courseware Consortium (1994-1999) and the TLTP Archaeology Consortium (1993-1996). A “Computing for Historians” course was taught created then and was the forerunner of current courses such as “Introduction to Computing for Historians”.

In 1986 Modern Languages opened a computer classroom and created programs for learning languages, especially in Hispanic Studies.

In 1987 the departments of English Literature, Scottish Literature and English Language opened STELLA (Software for Teaching English Language and Literature). STELLA created programs for teaching (grammar, metrics, Old English, Old Norse) and resources for research (collections of texts, hypertexts, analysis programs, databases). This was the first and for a long time, the only, UK computer classroom for English studies. An Honours course, “Literary and Linguistic Computing for English”, began in 1991 and is currently taught under its new name, “Digital Humanities and Text”. STELLA has been the source of many collaborative digital projects creating online corpora.

English Language created the Historical Thesaurus of English. This project deserves special mention as the oldest and longest running research project using digital methods in GU. It started in 1964 and ran for 44 years until its print and digital publication (to great international acclaim) in 2010. The Historical Thesaurus has been held in a digital database since the late 1970s, originally on the GU mainframes and later on the first personal computers available.

Music opened two computer labs in the 1990s. They now have a Music Audio Lab for audio production, acoustics, composition and sound synthesis work, three studios dedicated to composition and audio production, and a Diffusion System which is used for public performances of music by international and Glasgow based composers including current students. The system comprises an 8-channel speaker array and sound diffusion desk for live sound processing and spatialisation. Music now hosts the Music Technology Centre and runs the unique Electronics with Music undergraduate course with the School of Engineering.

Theatre, Film and Television Studies were also early adopters of technology. They now have a Resources Room which has computers with DVD and digital satellite viewing, and an extensive, fully computerised video library. There are also two digital video editing suites and a Theatre Design Room which has model-making, drawing and computer imaging facilities.

Dedicated computer classrooms were also set up for each of Philosophy, Classics and Theology studies. These classrooms made available the special character sets and texts required by these disciplines.

In the early 1990s scholars from several disciplines came together to create undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Humanities Computing. In the mid-1990s the Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII) was formed to oversee these courses and to unify technical provision in the College. HATII (now Information Studies) has a full set of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. As well as studying Digital Humanities as a full degree undergraduates and postgraduates can benefit from shorter courses taken with their other humanities subjects.

Currently we have dozens of projects, involving scholars and technical experts coming together in the GU Digital Humanities Network to share expertise and collaborate. Our courses are training the humanists of the future to use digital methods in all of their scholarship.