Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version

January 1999


Published in The Classical Bulletin 75:1 (1999), pp. 3-20. Copyright © 1999 Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc.


This is a story from early in the technological revolution, when the application was out searching for the hardware, from a time before the Internet, a time before the PC, before the chip, before the mainframe. From a time even before programming itself.

Tasman's 1957 prophecy was no shot in the dark. His view of the future was a projection from his recent past. Thomas J. Watson, Sr. had assigned him in 1949 to be IBM liaison and support person for a young Jesuit's daring project to produce an index to the complete writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. First, Tasman's thesis, as subsequent history turned out, was a huge understatement; and second, it essentially defines the first large invention of Father Roberto Busa, S. J., namely, to look at "tools developed primarily for science and commerce" and to see other uses for them. As will be seen, this was a case of fortune favoring the prepared mind. Redirecting scholarship, he essentially invented the machine-generated concordance, the first of which he had published in 1951.

Father Busa, of course, is best known as the producer of the landmark 56-volume Index Thomisticus. As he began this work in 1946, and produced a sample proof-of-concept, machine-generated concordance in 1951, his professional life spans the entire computing chapter in the history of scholarship. Emphasis in this article will be on the early steps.

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