The University was still taking account of universitas scientiarum: Wilhelm Ott

The second interview in the forthcoming book is with Wilhelm Ott. I traveled to Tuebingen to interview Ott in the offices of pagina, the company that he set up in 1973. pagina is quite an early example of the kinds of knowledge transfer and commercialisation that Humanities Computing research was involved in at an early stage.We know from Busa, for example, how commercial companies like IBM supported Humanities Computing from its earliest days. However, to the best of my knowledge, we don’t know so much about how the processes flowed in the other direction i.e.  how Humanities Computing research and researchers flowed into the computing industry and created commercial spin-offs.There is some interesting work to be done about this (and some of the other interviews in the book also cast new light on such questions).

Wilhelm Ott in July 2015

Wilhelm Ott in July 2015

After the oral history interview Ott was also kind enough to invite me to his house where I saw his personal archive. He worked in Humanities Computing since its inception, more or less. He was able to show me materials in his archive like the attendance list of those at the 1963 conference at the Centre for Literary and Linguistic Computing in Cambridge, UK that was organised by Roy Wisbey.

Ott’s interview is fascinating and he covers a lot of ground starting with his first training in computing in 1966 when he took an introductory programming course in the Deutsches Rechenzentrum (German Computing Centre) in Darmstadt. The title of his interview (the same title as this blog post) is taken from an observation that he made about the kinds of changes he saw during the course of his career in terms of the position of the Humanities in the Academy.

Julianne Nyhan

Professor of Humanities Data Science and Methodology, TU Darmstadt, Main research: Digital Humanities, Oral History, History of Computing and Collections as Data. Publications:

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