Computation and the Humanities

Part of the series Springer Series on Cultural Computing pp 99-121

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.


The Influence of Algorithmic Thinking: Judy Malloy and Julianne Nyhan

  • Julianne NyhanAffiliated withDepartment of Information Studies, University College London (UCL)
  • , Andrew FlinnAffiliated withDepartment of Information Studies, University College London (UCL)


This interview was carried out via skype on 11 August 2015 at 20:30 GMT. Malloy was provided with the core interview questions in advance. Here she recalls that after graduating from university she took a job as a searcher/editor for the National Union Catalog of the Library of Congress. About a year after she arrived Henriette D. Avram began work on the process of devising a way to make the library’s cataloguing information machine readable (work that would ultimately lead to the development of the MARC format (Schudel 2006)). Malloy recalls this wider context as her first encounter, of sorts, with computing technology: though she did not participate in that work it made a clear impression on her. She had learned to programme in FORTRAN in the 1960s when working as a technical librarian at the Ball Brothers Research Corporation. She had also held other technical roles at Electromagnetic Research Corp and with a contractor for the Goddard Space Flight Center, which was computerising its library around the time she worked there. She recalls that she did not use computers in her artistic work until the 1980s (when she bought an Apple II for her son). However, she had been working in an interactive, multimedia and associative mode for some time before then, as evidenced by the card catalog poetry and electronic books that she created in the 1970s and early 1980s. In this interview she traces the importance of card catalogs, Systems Analysis and algorithmic thinking to many aspects of her work. She also reflects on why it was that the idea of combining computing and literature did not occur to her (and also was not practically feasible) until a later stage in her career. Among other topics, she reflects on the kinds of computing and computing environments that she encountered, from the reactions in the 1960s of some male engineers to the presence of a female technical librarian in the mainframe room to the thrill of discovering the community that was connected via the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (The WELL).