Computation and the Humanities

Part of the series Springer Series on Cultural Computing pp 123-136

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


I Would Think of Myself as Sitting Inside the Computer: Mary Dee Harris and Julianne Nyhan

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


This oral history interview was conducted on 3 June 2015 via Skype. Harris was provided with the interview questions in advance. Here she recalls her early encounters with computing, including her work at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. Despite these early encounters with computing she had planned to leave it behind when she returned to graduate school to pursue a PhD; however, the discovery of c.200 pages of a Dylan Thomas manuscript prompted her to rethink this. Her graduate study was based in the English Department of the University of Texas at Austin, which did not have an account with the computer centre, and so it was necessary for her to apply for a graduate student grant in order to buy computer time. Her PhD studies convinced her of the merits of using computers in literary research and she hoped to convince her colleagues of this too. However, her applications for academic jobs were not initially successful. After working in Industry for a time she went on to secure academic positions in Computer Science at various universities. During her career she also held a number of posts in Industry and as a Consultant. In these roles she worked on a wide range of Artificial Intelligence and especially Natural Language Processing projects. Her interview is a wide-ranging one. She reflects on topics like the peripheral position of a number of those who worked in Humanities Computing in the 1970s and her personal reactions to some of the computing systems she used, for example, the IBM 360. She also recalls how she, as a woman, was sometimes treated in what tended to be a male-dominated sector, for example, the Physics Professor who asked “So are you going to be my little girl?”