In memoriam – Roy Wisbey

I heard today of the death of Professor Roy Wisbey, founder of the University of Cambridge’s Linguistic Computing Centre, founding chair of the Association of Linguistic and Literary Computing, Head of the Department of German at King’s College London, Director of the Institute of Germanic Studies, and President of the MHRA.

I knew him in his days at King’s, where he also ran the Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies and I was a humble designer and propaganda writer for such Centres. Roy was also instrumental in the publications of the Centre (KCLMS, now published under the aegis of Boydell & Brewer) – and I will never forget how he used to arrive in my office clutching a floppy disc and excited by the new world of websites, which I was laboriously writing in html. He was instrumental in universities exploring the linguistic and literary sides of computing and his work created a base on which many digital humanities outfits build to this day.

Medieval royal funeral
Medieval Royal Funeral (illustration shows Solomon mourning David).
Thanks to GoShow CC BY-SA 3.0

There’s a wonderful blog post on Melissa Terras’ site from 2014 about Roy’s early days and his eagerness to harness the digital world to aid scholars. She includes images of a splendid article (written in 1965) where Roy is quoted as saying “the automatic collection of the references does not absolve the scholar of the obligation to know each text intimately…”. Quite.

I based my character Wolfram von Eschenbach on Roy – his courtesy, his interest in scholarly texts and new ways of interpreting them and telling them, and his insistence of what another colleague termed “copper-bottomed research”.  He may or may not have wiggled his eyebrows in the way that my Wolfie does.

Roy, it was an honour knowing you.

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