Jonathan Blaney

Research Software Engineer at CDH

What was your first job?

At Oxford University Press, writing and editing dictionaries. I worked on the full range of English dictionaries, from the Oxford English Mini Dictionary to the full OED. For the OED I read books and periodicals looking for new words. I particularly remember some bad novels, lots of skateboarding magazines, the scripts of The Sopranos and an edition of The News of the World (which took ages because I read all the ads). There seemed no relation between the quality of the material and how many neologisms I would find in it.

Everything in the department was Unix, and we edited dictionary texts in SGML, so as well as learning about markup I was introduced to tools that I still use all the time, like grep and Emacs.

Where did your journey to DH start?

DH kind of happened around me. I was working at the Bodleian, in the Oxford Digital Library, mostly on Early English Books Online, when I started to hear people describing what we were doing as Digital Humanities. Before that people called it Humanities Computing, but I don’t think those of us working on EEBO thought about it as a part of a discipline: it was a job that we enjoyed doing.

What is it about DH that interests you?

You’re not supposed to admit this in polite society but I’m a bit of a technological determinist. I think of technological change as a powerful historical driver. For example, when I was growing up I read that the Impressionists got impatient with French academic painting and just decided to go and paint outdoors. It was only later that I found out that this happened at the time when paints were first available ready mixed in tubes, and a railway network had developed to convey people to countryside painting spot with their portable kit.

So I think DH is really well placed to look at that intersection culture and technology, and in more nuanced ways than my hot take on Impressionism. Because although digital technology can seem very new, it of course has deep roots in older technology and in ancient ways of organising information and ideas. One of the challenges for DH is to try to discover what is really new and what is a new expression of an old form.

What do you wish people asked you about?

Sometimes when I’m teaching humanities researchers things like regular expressions they will say “I don’t have the right kind of brain for this!” I wish instead that they would ask, “how do people learn this stuff?” I’d like them to frame it in terms of a challenge for which they need a learning strategy. We’re living in a particular moment when programmers are seen as intellectual titans, presumably because a few of them have become very rich. So we are weirdly respectful of the opinions of someone like Bill Gates on topics outside his expertise. This excessive admiration risks making programming a computer into something for a priestly caste, rather than something anyone can learn about if they have the time and the motivation.

Jonathan’s profile

Giulia Grisot

PostDoc at UniBielefeld and Visiting Scholar at CDH

Project: “High Mountains Low Arousal? Distant Reading Topographies of Sentiment in German Swiss Novels in the early 20th Century”

Why did you want to visit Cambridge?

Why wouldn’t I? Cambridge is an exciting place to work with academics from all over the world, offering plenty of opportunities to meet and exchange ideas, find collaborations and start new projects. And it’s a lovely place to live in!

Where did your journey to DH start?/What is it about DH that interests you?

I was dragged into DH rather unexpectedly when I was hired to work as a Postdoc for my project. I always had a particular predilection for computational and empirical approaches, but I come from a PhD that focused on cognitive processes and literary texts. Finding myself into DH felt very suited to me from the start, and I’d like to make the most of it. So far I have focused mostly on text analysis and distant reading, and I’d be interested in exploring DH approaches in other disciplines and research areas.

What do you wish people asked you about?

As an Italian I suppose I am always happy to talk extensively about food and cooking! But I suppose I would not mind if someone asked me about ideas for future projects, and maybe offered me some funding to start them..? Otherwise ask me about my podcast idea (that’s what geeky people in their 30s do, right?).

Giulia’s profile

Alpo Honkapohja

Visiting Scholar, and Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oslo

I’m originally from Finland, but it’s actually more than ten years since I moved out (in 2011). In the course of last ten years, I’ve lived in three countries: Switzerland, where I did my PhD, the UK (Edinburgh) and now Norway.

I am currently an EU-funded Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oslo.

The name of the project is the Index of Middle English Prose: Digital Cotton Catalogue Project.

If you want to know more, you can follow my blog at:

Why did you want to visit Cambridge?

Even though my project is hosted by Oslo, CDH is a participant.

Cambridge has been a central location for the Index of Middle English Prose (IMEP), ever since the project was originally launched in a conference called Problems in Middle English Prose held in Cambridge in 1978. The digital version of IMEP is under development at the CDH.

We’ve developed a search tool that can cope with Middle English spelling variation in Oslo, and I am working on integrating it to the website. If the tool works well, it can hopefully be used for other projects as well.

Where did your journey to DH start?

I’ve been working with DH since I started with my PhD around 2010. I think applying digital tools and methods to more traditional humanities data is very much where the important work of our time is taking place and I like to be part of it.

What do you wish people asked you about?

If you could live anywhere and work situation would magically sort itself out, where would you live? The answer is probably Tuscany, Italy. They’ve got the climate, the cuisine, the culture and the history.

Alpo’s profile

  • Posted 10 Oct 2022

Cambridge Digital Humanities

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