17.554 tribute to Zampolli (from Joe Raben)

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Jan 21 2004 - 03:44:12 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 554.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 08:04:34 +0000
         From: "Joseph Raben" <joeraben@cox.net>
         Subject: Tribute to Zampolli from Joe Raben

To Michael Sperberg-McQueen’s reminiscence of Antonio Zampolli, I would
like to add my own memories of this important leader in the effort to
establish humanities computing during the early decades. He and I first met
in 1968, when I was able to travel to Europe for the first time after
establishing Computers and the Humanities two years before. There were as
yet no regular conferences devoted to humanities computing or sections of
other organizations at which computing humanists could exchange information
or even learn of each other’s existence. Since the meeting at which I was
to organize the Association for Computers and the Humanities was still
about a decade in the future, and no simple means existed yet to establish
communication among the scattered pioneering humanists who were
experimenting with the monstrous and clumsy new computers, I recognized the
importance of reaching out to comrades in Europe whose experience might
guide us and for whom we might in turn provide useful guidance. Antonio
Zampolli turned out to be one of the most important contacts I was able to

The Directory of Scholars Active that I published in CHum had contributed
to establishing the international links which I felt were essential to the
acceptance and progress of this pioneering mode of studying the liberal
arts. From what I was able to glean from this resource, I knew that I had
to visit three major European initiatives: Louis Delatte’s laboratory for
the statistical analysis of text in Liège, Belgium; Paul Imbs’ monumental
Trésor de la langue française at Nancy, France’s attempt to do for French
language studies what the OED had done for English; and the Index
Thomisticus, Roberto Busa’s (perhaps unwitting) implementation of Theodore
Nelson’s ground-breaking concept of hypertext in linking all the works of
Thomas Aquinas to their sources and intellectual descendants.

Fr. Busa had been at the event that apparently inaugurated formally what
has become humanities computing, the Conference on Literary Data Processing
organized under the sponsorship of IBM at Yorktown Heights in 1964. As the
star of that show, however, he had been effectively sequestered from the
lesser personalities who were invited to describe their KWIC concordances
and other efforts to harness the so-called “electronic brains” to the needs
of literary research. My visit to Pisa, to learn more about the man and his
project, would lead me to Zampolli, his disciple.

With characteristic Italian charm, both teacher and student welcomed me for
hours of chat about our mutual interests. I was invited to Busa’s
establishment, where his colleagues, incongruously using IBM keypunches,
were copying medieval texts with the same industry that their forebears had
devoted to manual copying in the age of Aquinas. Zampolli, using only our
single mutual language at that time, college French, took me to Florence to
visit the offices of the Italian electronic dictionary project. During the
hours he was otherwise obligated, he was extraordinarily generous in
lending me his car so I could explore Lucca and the Tuscan region.

My chief memory of our discussions during the days I spent with him was
Zampolli’s particular eagerness that I use CHum to further the cause of
establishing standards for encoding text. To him, my chief advice was that
he utilize the support he had obtained from the Italian government to
organize a summer school for humanities computing. With whatever help I
could offer from the American side and later as a member of his faculty,
this facility came into being two years later, and again two more years
after. It brought together a good assortment of activists, such as the
computational linguist David Hays from the US. That summer school was at
the time the only substantial attempt to spread knowledge of humanities
computing to a wider and younger audience. Among the students, for example,
was Joachim Neuhaus from Germany, whose name Zampolli delighted in
translating as Casanova. The formal classes, the relaxing hours at the
nearby shore, the group dinners -- all contributed to cementing
professional friendships that have endured for many years.

Feeling like me that international links were essential, Zampolli made many
visits to the States (and almost everywhere else). On those occasions he
was often a guest at my home. Among the memories my family cherish is his
delight at seeing my young children drink their milk through long twisted
plastic tubes, “crazy straws.” As soon as he saw them, we had to dash off
to the local novelty shop and acquire a stock for his family in Italy. His
other delight was corn on the cob, of which he apparently could never get
enough. On one visit, we plied him with about a dozen ears. After finishing
them off, he said (his English had developed very quickly): “That was fine.
I had a dozen at lunch.” He then took a sackful of them with him on the
plane home to Italy.

He was also a regular visitor to conferences organized in the Netherlands,
England, and elsewhere in Europe. He was a regular participant in the
conferences organized by ACH and in the series on Data Bases in the
Humanities and Social Sciences for which I was able to enlist the
organizing talents of various colleagues around the country. Wherever I was
invited in Europe, I learned to expect his famous smile.

He embraced all who shared his enthusiasm. His contributions as an active
scholar and teacher are widely known. I hope that these details of his
human side contribute to perpetuating his memory.

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