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A Brief History of Stanford's
Humanities Digital Information Service

(A work in progress: comments?)

The Humanities Digital Information Service (HDIS) began in the early 1980s as a project of Malcolm Brown (currently of Dartmouth College), then a professor of German literature at Stanford. Initially the organization was called simply Information Resources, although its primary purpose, then as now, was to provide electronic access to humanities texts for the purposes of research and teaching.

Although similar activities and organizations became much more popular in the later 1980s and 1990s, during most of the earlier decade Stanford was one of only a few venues of what would come to be called “humanities computing.”  We developed our own program for text searching and delivery, called the Searcher.  This program used a mark-up scheme that was unique to Stanford, and had been developed by Brown.

Sometime during the 1980s we received a grant from Apple to develop the Searcher into a full-fledged client-server application which would serve the needs of the entire University community, and especially the faculty and student body of the humanities. We used the Pat search engine, from OpenText Corporation, on the server, and eventually developed a Macintosh-only Searcher client similar to what had been developed for the OED Browser, one of the first large projects of what was eventually called Academic Information Resources (AIR), and then the Academic Text Service (ATS).

Stergios Marinopoulos, one of the original programmers of our text-searching programs, contributed the following notes about them:

I wanted to provide a few more details of the first version of a Pat-based client/server version. I wrote the original unix server for Pat, and Jayson Adams wrote the first client which was NeXT based. We did this work in the summer of 1989, under the direction of Steve Loving and George Drapeau.

George Drapeau later took over the maintenance of the unix server, and Rick Wong then wrote a version of the client for the Mac.

Every version of Pat that we used was SGML-based, and every version of the unix server I wrote performed PAT queries using SGML-formatted and then indexed documents.

It was at this juncture that Alison Reid succeeded Malcolm Brown as the director of the project, and the library of electronic texts continued to grow.  Selection of texts was made mostly on request from faculty members: texts were scanned from books, processed with an OCR program, proofread, and then marked up in the proprietary Searcher format.  Then each was put online - that is, a set of Pat indexes was created, and the interface configured - on the Searcher server.  From there, members of the Stanford academic community could access the texts using the Searcher client on their networked Macintosh.  The client software was at first distributed directly to users by ATS personnel, who gave private tutorials and classroom presentations explaining both how to use the software, and how computing could help in the study of the humanities.  ATS hoped to bridge the gap between the humanities and computing, which must have seemed quite antithetical to the humanistic mindset and methodologies - especially in the days before the World Wide Web so forcefully brought computerized texts before the eyes of the world.

Jim Coleman, who succeeded Alison Reid as head of ATS, took the Stanford electronic library a major leap forward on two fronts: accessibility and longevity.   First, he moved the text collections from a strictly client-server model to one available over the Web to anyone in the Stanford community without the need for specialized, client-side software. This involved the entire rewriting of the program for text delivery. We were fortunate to have the services of one of the original programmers for The Searcher, Rick Wong, who wrote the new program, which is called Hugo.  At the same time, thanks to developments in the larger humanities computing community, it was decided that our proprietary markup should be converted to something more universally understandable, supported, and stable: SGML (Standard Generalized Mark-up Language), most often in an implementation for humanities materials known as the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI).  The mark-up for the original library had to be changed, and this migration is still underway.  Additionally, we began to acquire a large number of text collections offered commercially, mostly by Chadwyck-Healey Corporation.

The newly-named (since Fall, 1999) Humanities Digital Information Service has added a public presence to our previous, primarily virtual, venue.  We are located in the restored Lane Room, on the second floor of Green Library, Bing Wing, where we offer a number of on-site resources and services.


Thanks to Peter Burchard for contributing research and prose for this history.



Glen Worthey

Everardo Rodriguez

Jacqueline Hettel


general email:

Glen Worthey, Head of HDIS
phone: 650-213-6759
221C Bing Wing, Green Library
Stanford, CA 94305-6004

Last modified: February 22, 2013

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