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Almost 60 years before the terms “big data” and “digital humanities” were in use, and before economist Thomas Piketty compiled and analyzed his enormous data set, one man pioneered the use of computers for data-driven historical analysis. David Herlihy, a historian and early demographer of Medieval European populations, went to great lengths to access and master the use of the earliest commercial computer, and subsequently revealed a surprising and more accurate picture of Medieval life than known to his predecessors.


Herlihy was a pioneer in the use of computers to analyze socioeconomic trends of the middle ages. In 1953 IBM corporation delivered the UNIVAC I computer to the U.S. Census Bureau. The UNIVAC was the first commercial computer to attract widespread public attention. Linguistic and literary scholar and Jesuit priest, Father Roberto Busa, is widely credited as the first digital humanities scholar, having collaborated with IBM to produce the...

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