In 1956, Roberto Busa, S.J., founded the first dedicated humanities computing center. After several years in other temporary locations, the operation moved in 1961 into a former textile factory in Gallarate, outside Milan, where IBM punched-card data processing machines were installed. It was named CAAL, the Centro per L’Automazione dell’Analisi Letteraria (Center for the Automation of Literary Analysis). There student operators worked on the Index Thomisticus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other projects, 1961-1967.
This project has been made possible in part by a major Level II Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a whole, the project aims to digitize a key range of materials in the Busa Archive in Milan that are directly relevant to the establishment of the center, to augment these with new oral histories of machine operators, and with punched card-machine software emulations, and, finally, to connect everything to immersive 3D models of the center and its machinery. The goal is to reconstruct CAAL, not in a final way or to settle every question, but to explore the infrastructure, workflow, and institutional contexts for this highly significant site in the history of technology and the humanities.