Reminiscence from Richard Jenson

Dartmouth’s librarian in 1969, Edward Connery Latham, wanted to compile a concordance of all of the poetry written by Robert Frost to accompany the complete collection of Frost’s poetry which Latham had just published (SBN: 03-072535-6). A concordance is an alphabetical list of all the individual words used by Frost in ALL of his poetry. Each instance of a usage is accompanied by the line of poetry in which it occurred together with the title of the poem and the page where it could be found in Latham’s collection.

For example, the entry for “PROMISES” appears like this:

    BUT I HAVE PROMISES TO KEEP……………255 (page number)…STOPPING BY WOODS (poem title)…..14(line number of where it appears).

Latham engaged John Kemeny to direct this project, and Kemeny somehow connected with me to do the programming of the task. I’d taken lots of computer science classes with Kemeny, so it wasn’t such a mystery how we connected. I think he sought me out in the spring of ’69 and it was for that reason that I stayed in Hanover during that summer. It was memorable: moon landing and Woodstock. Hanover in summer is like paradise.

To do this involved as you can guess, obtaining computer readable text of all of Frost’s work (indexed by where it appears in Latham’s collection), then chewing up all of the “important” words in this dataset (i.e. NOT “is”, “the”, etc.) and tagging each word with information about where it could be found in Latham’s book. Finally we alphabetized these entries and formatted them for print out. More than anything it was a project of enormous proportions (for the day), and as you can imagine, our process hiccuped at several places in the work.

Kemeny was a genius and I cherish the fact that I was able to work with him on this. This project was no doubt a “pee-hole in the snow” as far as he was concerned, compared to what he usually worked on, but I remain impressed by the clarity and vision he had in directing my programming, and the manner in which he brought me along on the project.

The concordance has ISBN:0-03-091225-3 if you’d care to look it up.

Richard (aka Dick) Jenson

The book


Loved reading this, Dick.

My fondest memory of Kemeny --- other than being exposed to his remarkable mind --- was, ironically, an academic-life-passing-before-my-eyes moment.

I took Math 6 as a freshman, and on the first hour exam I had trouble working a problem. I kept at it, the little train that could, but went rolling backward to doom. I spent so much time in a failed effort to solve that one problem that I didn't finish the test and got the lowest grade on it in the entire class. The entire, Spaulding-housed class! Of 252!

I did well for the rest of the term, especially on the final. But the panic on that exam, and the fact that I survived it, stuck with me much more than the curriculum did.