Computation and the Humanities

Part of the series Springer Series on Cultural Computing pp 177-194

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


I Mourned the University for a Long Time: Michael Sperberg-McQueen 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 took place on 9 July 2014 at dh2014, the Digital Humanities Conference that was held in Lausanne, Switzerland that year. In it Sperberg-McQueen recalls having had some exposure to programming in 1967, as a 13 year-old. His next notable encounter with computing was as a graduate student when he set about using computers to make a bibliography of secondary literature on the Elder Edda. His earliest encounters with Humanities Computing were via books, and he mentions the proceedings of the ‘Concordances and the Dictionary of Old English’ conference and a book by Susan Hockey (see below) as especially influential on him. In 1985 a position in the Princeton University Computer Center that required an advanced degree in Humanities and knowledge of computing became available; he took on the post while finishing his PhD dissertation and continuing to apply for tenure-track positions. Around this time he also began attending the ‘International Conference on Computers and the Humanities’ series and in this interview he describes some of the encounters that took place at those conferences and contributed to the formation of projects like TEI. As well as reflecting on his role in TEI he also compares and contrasts this experience with his work in W3C. On the whole, a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards his career emerges from the interview: he evokes Dorothy Sayers to communicate how the application of computers to the Humanities ‘overmastered’ him. Yet, he poignantly recalls how his first love was German Medieval languages and literature and the profound sense of loss he felt at not securing an academic post related to this.