hic Rhodus, hic salta: Tito Orlandi

The third interview in the forthcoming book is with Tito Orlandi.  I did the interview with Orlandi in October 2014, whilst I was in Rome to attend the ‘Making of the Humanities IV‘ conference on the History of the Humanities.  At that time my (now) elder daughter was almost 2 years old and she had not slept for more than 3 consecutive hours since she had been born. My abiding memory of the interview is that when it started I felt so tired that I was really afraid that I would literally keel over mid-sentence. Yet, just minutes in I had forgotten all about this and instead felt deeply honoured to have the chance to talk to Orlandi and to be able to do such oral history research. Of course, as often happens, when I read the interview transcript back I berated myself for the questions that I didn’t ask and the answers that I should have drawn out more. All the same, I think the interview with Orlandi is a very interesting one.

Orlandi & Nyhan, Rome, October 2014

Orlandi & Nyhan, Rome, October 2014

In terms of publications in English, Willard McCarty has, of course, published seminal and widely acknowledged scholarship on modelling and its significance to Digital Humanities. Orlandi also published in Italian very important work on modelling and it is notable that he did so before McCarty; yet, it was some time before Orlandi’s work was picked up by the international community (see his discussion of such processes here). Orlandi’s interview is notable for the wealth of fresh and original perspectives it contains. For example, it might seem convenient to classify his work within a wider ‘Italian school’ of Digital Humanities that emanated from Busa. However, Orlandi disagrees with the preeminence that has been given to Busa and instead emphasises the work of scholars like Jean-Claude Gardin. Indeed, in many ways his interview exemplifies the strengths of an oral history approach to research on the history of an academic community like Digital Humanities. The Busa origin story is important for the community in many ways.  Members of it are drawn from very many ‘home’ disciplines and they use varied methodologies in their work. So, the foundation myth of ‘Busa as progenitor’ offers a convenient narrative of common descent from a shared and revered ancestor. Yet, the downside of the Busa origin story can be seen in the way that it seems to have silenced other stories about the other figures who also played important roles in the origin and development of DH. Orlandi’s interview explores this and also discusses areas of research (like the theoretical basis of computing) that DH would do well to pay closer attention to in the coming years.






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: https://juliannenyhan.com/publications/

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