Advance endorsements


I’m grateful and honored to have received advance notice of the following advance endorsements by prominent digital humanities  scholars of Roberto Busa, S.J., and The Emergence of Humanities Computing: The Priest and the Punched Cards, which will be published in spring 2016.


“In The Priest and the Punched Cards, Steven Jones explodes the most oft-repeated origin story of the Digital Humanities and then puts it back together again piece by archival piece, replacing mythology and commonplace with scrupulous research, forensic reconstruction, and deep media archaeology. It is a work of scholarship that is as lively and atmospheric (and compelling) as a novel.”
— Matthew Kirschenbaum, author of Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing

“An essential investigation, covering both technological advancement, and the lived experience of Father Busa as he undertook his groundbreaking, and field forming, research. This text is vital reading for those interested in the history of computing, and the use of computing in history.”
— Melissa M. Terras, University College London, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities

“This fascinating book succeeds in both problematizing and pushing forward our hitherto limited understandings of the complex and shifting relationships that developed between Busa and IBM, on one side, and the emerging field of Digital Humanities, on the other. It is a tremendous and important contribution to scholarship on the History of (Digital) Humanities.”
— Julianne Nyhan, University College London

The Priest and the Punched Cards maps the improbable story of the emergence of digital humanities in the 1940s out of an Italian Jesuit’s vision of an electronic concordance of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. In this dazzling exposition Steven E. Jones traces the historical factors that converged as Father Roberto Busa, SJ pursued a scholarly passions—the vision of an electronic concordance of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas—that pulled him from war ravaged Italy to the New York office of IBM President Thomas J. Watson, to a state of nervous exhaustion from overwork, and finally to a completed concordance that continues to serve scholars today. As in the best of media archaeology, along the way Jones uncovers radio tubes, key punch cards, and scores of unsung women keypunch operators; the dream of the computerized analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls; and the mid-century popular imagery of the thinking machine in Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Desk Set, LIFE magazine and other popular culture artifacts. The Priest and the Punched Cards is a must-read—and a pleasure, at that—for scholars and students of cultural theory, humanities computing and digital humanities, intellectual history, and Jesuit contributions to contemporary culture.”
— Micki McGee, Fordham University

New Book forthcoming spring 2016

BusaCover The new book I’ve been working on for the past year, Roberto Busa, S. J., and the Emergence of Humanities Computing: The Priest and the Punched Cards, is now at the press, and will be published by Routledge in spring 2016. It’s about the Italian Jesuit scholar who collaborated with IBM to produce a massive concordance to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, among other projects, starting in 1949. This story has become the founding myth of humanities computing and, by extension, digital humanities. I aim to complicate the myth with history. I use Busa’s own papers, recently accessioned in Milan, as well as the IBM Archives and other sources, to write what I think of as the biography of his research project in its first decade, 1949-1959. Combining a media-archaeology and platform-studies approach with archival research, I explore the question of how the specific technologies of the punched-card data-processing era afforded and constrained the academic research agenda of humanities computing at the moment of its emergence.

Watch this space for more on the book and on a dedicated website in support of the book that will contain a collection of archival photographs and other contextual information.

DH2015, Sydney

I’ve just returned from the Global Digital Humanities conference (dh2015) in Sydney, Australia, where I presented a paper on The Priest and the Punched Cards. I shared a session with Stéfan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell, who’ve also conducted research on the early history of humanities computing, including Father Roberto Busa. The discussion afterwards was lively–and very useful for me as I put the finishing touches on the book. The conference as a whole was richly populated with excellent papers, panel discussions, and posters on current work in the field, a good deal of it community-based, outward-facing, politically and socially engaged. (Keynotes by Intel’s Genevieve Bell, on robots, and Tim Sheratt, “Unremembering the Forgotten,” stood out in particular.) Geoffrey Rockwell’s conference notes, which summarize sessions he attended, can be found here.



Poster from Fordham talk (April 2015)

Steven Jones talk on Roberto  Busa (Poster)

Fordham University, April 23, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015, 6:00 PM, I’ll be giving a talk on my book in progress, “The Priest and the Punched-Card Machines: Father Roberto Busa, SJ, and the Emergence of Humanities Computing,” at Fordham University (Father Busa’s home-base In New York for the early years of his work with IBM). Location: Duane 140 (Theology Conference Room), Fordham University, Rose Hill campus. The event is sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Faculty Seminar on Digital Technology and Scholarly Communications, the American Studies Program, and the Department of Theology.


CUNY DHI Roundtable, March 27, 2015

I’m happy to be taking part in a roundtable tomorrow, March 27, 2015, Room Rm. 4406, Graduate Center, CUNY, 4-6 PM, a session titled: “Books Matter: Circulating Digital and Printed Texts,” sponsored by the CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative.


New book: CIRCSE, Milan

This past week I’ve been visiting CIRCSE research center at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, digging into the fairly recently accessioned archive of Father Roberto Busa, SJ, often said to be the founder of humanities computing. I’m working on a book on the first decade of his research in historical context, 1949-1959, tentatively titled The Priest and the Punched-Card Machines. My hosts here, especially Dr. Marco Passarotti, have been very kind and helpful, and I’ve handled and examined a fascinating collection of letters and other documents, as well as punched cards, magnetic-tape reels, floppy disks, slides, and fragile glass transparencies, among other artifacts and texts. Today I visited the location of Fr. Busa’s  first humanities computing labs in Gallarate, or locations for, as he called it, “Literary Data Analysis.”