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Médiévistes et ordinateurs. Organisations collectives, pratiques des sources et conséquences historiographiques (1966-1990).

Abstract : From the late 1950’s onwards, the rapid emergence and growing use of computers in the humanities brought about many changes in the practices of researchers. My PhD dissertation sets out to analyze some of the historiographical transformations caused by these technical innovations. With this aim in mind, I focus on a small group of medievalist historians who used these tools for research purposes between 1966 and 1990. This thesis deals with two main issues. Firstly, it looks at how, in that context, new forms of collective organization emerge at different scales, beginning inside the research team and extending to encompass the whole discipline. My dissertation shows how these forms are articulated with the production, manipulation and circulation of new types of texts (coding sheets, punched cards, computer programs, coding books, but also liaison bulletins). Secondly, it deals with the ways in which the historians’ methods are transformed in correlation with the operation of the computers. In this perspective, I highlight the fact that these new technologies and the knowledge associated with them (data analysis, automatic text-processing, computer science, etc.) entailed to work with a set of intellectual technologies (matrices, graphs, lists, indexes, inventories, thesaurus, etc.) that required a strengthened formalization in each of the activities associated with the medievalists’ research. Moreover, each of these intellectual technologies was, in this specific context, endowed with its own original functions. The methodology I develop is underpinned by two firm beliefs. While I acknowledge the idea that the historian of the humanities has to apply to his objects the methods developed by historians of science, I also show that it could be worthwhile, in order to grasp the realities of the historians’ research practices, to focus on the texts they produced, handled and exchanged. This second approach requires us to borrow some methods of research from linguistics, and in particular from discourse analysis. This study is divided into three parts. In part one, I analyze two French medievalist projects in 1966-1990, so as to compare their collective organizations (manpower, computer science collaborators, funding, computing tools), the extra- disciplinary influences exerted on them (demographic, geographical, linguistical, sociological), the methods they developed (lexicometry, quantitative history) and their historiographical consequences. In part two, I expand on the process by which some of these entities set up a meta- collective organization, so they could exchange the fruits of their research (computer editions, databases, computer programs, etc.) as well as the methods and techniques they had developed on their specific projects. The object of the analysis is a French-based initiative forming part of a Europe-wide project, which was launched at a colloquium in Rome in 1975. A few years later, in 1979, the same organizers published the first European periodical dedicated to this subject, the liaison bulletin Le Médiéviste et l’ordinateur. This rapidly became one of the main media for the dissemination of methods and the construction of a common scientific culture. The third part of my dissertation is dedicated to the modes of exchanges that took shape within the pages of the bulletin. Two different directions are explored: 1) the genre of papers born out of the newfound need to share computer-related technical knowledge and 2) the difficulties that some of the authors encountered at a technical and epistemological level in the process of sharing this knowledge with their colleagues.
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Submitted on : Saturday, March 5, 2022 - 5:14:36 PM
Last modification on : Saturday, April 16, 2022 - 3:29:42 AM


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Edgar Lejeune. Médiévistes et ordinateurs. Organisations collectives, pratiques des sources et conséquences historiographiques (1966-1990).. Histoire, Philosophie et Sociologie des sciences. Université de Paris / Université Paris Diderot (Paris 7), 2021. Français. ⟨tel-03598652⟩



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