Father Roberto Busa is credited with being the inventor of the hyperlink.
Father Roberto Busa was born on November 28, 1913, in Vicenza, Italy, and died in August 2011. He entered the seminary in 1928, joined the Jesuits in 1933, and was ordained a priest on May 30, 1940. He studied philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and his thesis on “the Thomistic terminology of interiority” was published in 1949.
His thesis, however, was not his most important work on Aquinas: Father Busa is also the author of the famous “Index Thomisticus:” a work in 56 volumes, of almost a thousand pages each.
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That’s quite a resume on its own. But Father Busa, in a classic Jesuit fashion, went further: besides being a professor of Thomist philosophy (and a polyglot who mastered Latin, Greek, German, French, English, and Spanish in addition to his native Italian) he is also considered the father of hypertext.
Stefano Lorenzetto, a journalist from L’Osservatore Romano, summarizes Busa’s work stating that “if you browse the internet, you owe it to him; if you go from one site to another by clicking the links marked in blue, you owe it to him. If you use your PC to write emails and text documents, you owe it to him.”
Once Busa finished his Index Thomisticus (a job that took him about 50 years, covering nine million words, as explained in this article published by the Venezuelan Jesuit SIC Magazine), he met with the founder of IBM, Thomas Watson, in order to produce a digital version of the Index in which a researcher could effectively search for related concepts in Aquinas’ work. Watson told Busa that the computers they had back then could not relate the contents included in the Index in any way.
Busa, of course, insisted.
This conversation gave birth to the hypertext project: a structure for sharing and linking information between different sources, through links. Next time you click on a link like this one, well, thank Busa!