Gerhard Brey, 25 August 1954 – 8 February 2012

Gerhard Andreas Brey, our friend and until recently colleague here at DDH, died peacefully on the night of 8 February 2012 after a short battle with cancer. Gerhard was a Senior Research Fellow in the Department, having worked with us since 2004, and was a valued colleague and collaborator until September 2011 when he became a casualty of recent redundancies.

There was a private funeral for family and friends in February; we plan to hold an academic celebration of Gerhard’s life later in the year. In the meantime there is a page for donations to Cancer Research UK in memory of Gerhard at

Gerhard was born in Laufen, Bavaria, into a home shared with his close extended family. He attended primary school in Laufen, and secondary school in nearby Freilassing. He was not very academic as a child, leaving school at sixteen to take up an apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory technician, but he returned to education a few years later, and the experience gave him the academic bug. He completed his first degree (M.A. in German Philology, Romance Philology and History of Science) part-time at the University of Munich. He also worked for a number of years as a research associate at the Institute for German Philology and the Institute for the History of Science at the University of Munich.

While enrolled on a PhD programme, he became one of the key players at the Munich Institute of the History of Science in promoting the then new study of Humanities Computing.

He moved to England with his wife, Gill, in 1996, where he worked for several years as an independent scholar and freelance IT consultant. He developed contacts at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine and King’s College London, before eventually joining the Centre for Computing in the Humanities (as it was then) as a full-time Research Fellow in 2007.

Gerhard’s contributions to the Department included introducing expertise in areas that were previously under-represented, such as text mining, natural language processing, statistical analysis and authorship attribution, corpus linguistics, both western and oriental digital manuscript catalogues, in particular Arabic manuscript studies, and research methods in the history of science.

He was involved in both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, including designing an introduction to tool design and construction for the joint honours BA, and running the Tools and Resources module at MA level. He was also responsible for the introduction of the teaching of Python as a first programming language for DH students.

Overall, Gerhard’s work in the department combined both outstanding and innovative technical expertise in the informatic side of digital humanities, and a very keen interest in many aspects of history and manuscripts, including his own long-standing interest in the history of science, medicine and alchemy. He was a generous colleague and a warm friend. He will be remembered and missed by us all.

Some of the projects in which Gerhard played a major role included:

  • Wellcome Arabic Manuscript Cataloguing Partnership, a collaborative JISC-funded project between the Wellcome Library (London), the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria, Egypt) and King’s, to create an online catalogue of the Arabic manuscripts held in the Wellcome Library.
  • He worked on the digitisation and publication of Nineteenth-Century Serials Editions, an online edition of nineteenth-century serials and newspapers. He later took part in a collaborative project between a group of researchers at the University of Osaka (Japan) and King’s, funded by the British Academy and the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science to explore novel ways to apply multivariate statistical analysis techniques to the study of this corpus.
  • Greek Rhetoric Authorship Attribution, a collaboration with the Institute of Classical Studies (School of Advanced Study) to explore the applicability of non-traditional authorship attribution techniques to ancient Greek texts, in particular to speeches by the Attic orators Lysias, Isaeus and Isocrates.
  • The application of text mining methods and statistical natural language processing techniques to explore and complement textual analysis for the FORESIGHT, a project at the Department for War Studies at King’s that “aims to understand under what conditions warnings about the escalation of violent conflict are noticed by policy makers and acted upon”
  • Prosopography of the Byzantine World, a database of biographical information and primary sources relating to people in the Greek-speaking world controlled by Constantinople in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
  • He provided external consultancy for A Study of Sanskrit Manuscripts of the Woolner Collection, Lahore (ca. 9000 mss), a project at the University of Vienna, Austria.
  • Gerhard was also involved in the application by the Department of War Studies for funding for the ImpactTracer project, which he learned at the beginning of this year had been successful, but had not yet started work on.

Gerhard’s publications include:

  • ‘Überlegungen zu einer Prosopographie der Rechenmeister’ (2011). In: Kaufmanns-Rechenbücher und mathematische Schriften der frühen Neuzeit, ed. Rainer Gebhardt, Annaberg-Buchholz (Adam-Ries-Bund) 2011, (Schriften des Adam-Ries-Bundes Annaberg-Buchholz, 22), pp. 81–85
  • ‘Panel Report: Scientific Manuscripts in the Digital Age’, Digital Proceedings of the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age, 1.1 (2009). Available:
  • ‘Edit Distance with Combinations and Splits and its Applications in OCR Name Matching’ (2009). Co-authored with Manolis Christodoulakis. In International Journal of Foundations of Computer Science (IJFCS) 20, pp. 1047–1068
  • ‘Evaluation Of Approximate Pattern Matching Algorithms For OCR Texts’ (2009). Co-authored with Manolis Christodoulakis and Rizwan Ahmed Uppal. In Proceedings of the 4th Advances in Computing and Technology Conference (AC&T), University of East London, January 2009, pp. 35–42
  • ‘Edit Distance with Single-Symbol Combinations and Splits’ (2008). Co-authored with Manolis Christodoulakis. In Jan Holub and Jan Zdárek, editors, Proceedings of the Prague Stringology Conference, Czech Technical University, Prague, September 2008, pp. 208–217
  • Articles ‘Antimon’, ‘Arsen’, ‘Eisen’, ‘Salmiak’ (‘antimony’, ‘arsenic’, ‘iron’, ‘sal ammoniac’) (1998) In: Alchemie. Lexikon einer hermetischen Wissenschaft, eds. Claus Priesner and Karin Figala, München (Beck).
  • ‘Deutsche mathematische Texte des 15. Jahrhunderts’ (1997). In: Editionsdesiderate zur frühen Neuzeit. Beiträge zur Tagung der Kommission für die Edition von Texten der Frühen Neuzeit, Amsterdam (Rodopi) (CHLOE. Beihefte zum Daphnis, 24), pp. 817–827
  • Cosmographica et Geographica. Festschrift für Heribert M. Nobis zum 70. Geburtstag. (1994) Co-edited with Bernhard Fritscher; 2 vols., München (Algorismus, 13).
  • ‘Ibn-as-Saffars Traktat über das Astrolab in der Übersetzung von Plato von Tivoli’ (1994). Co-authored with Richard Lorch, Stefan Kirschner and Christoph Schöner; in: G. Brey, B. Fritscher (eds.), Cosmographica et Geographica. Festschrift für Heribert M. Nobis zum 70. Geburtstag, München (Algorismus, 13), vol. 1, pp. 128–180
  • ‘Zur Rezeption der Alchimiekapitel aus Georg Rollenhagens “Froschmeuseler” (1989). In: Germanica Wratislaviensia 88 (Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis, No. 1227, Microfiche 8, Wrocław 1989), pp. 11–28
  • ‘Zwei deutsche Cisiojani’ (1989). In: Germanica Wratislaviensia 85 (Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis, No. 1164, Microfiche 7, Wrocław 1989), pp. 88–104

Recent conference presentations:

  • 12-14 Sep. 2011: Osaka Symposium on Digital Humanities, University of Osaka: “Automatic Generation of Topic Hierarchies Using WordNet”
  • 8 Jul. 2011: Dickens, Journalism, Forms of Publishing. A Postgraduate Training Workshop, Institute of English Studies, University of London Invited panel presentation: “Digital Humanities / Humanities Computing”
  • 17–22 Jun. 2011: Digital Humanities 2011, Stanford University (USA) Poster presentation: “The Wellcome Arabic Manuscript Cataloguing Partnership”
  • 15 Apr. 2011: Kaufmanns–‐Rechenbücher und mathematische Schriften der frühen Neuzeit, Wissenschaftliches Kolloquium, Adam-Ries-Bund, Annaberg‐Buchholz Invited talk: “Überlegungen zu einer Prosopographie der Rechenmeister”
  • 28 Mar. 2011: Fihrist and Beyond: Opening up Access to Islamic Manuscripts, Clare College Cambridge Invited talk: “The Wellcome Arabic Manuscript Cataloguing Partnership”
  • 11 Dec. 2010: JinMonKon 2010 – Computers and the Humanities Symposium, Tokyo Institute of Technology Invited talk: “The Wellcome Arabic Manuscripts Cataloguing Project”
  • 21 Mar. 2010: 2010 Osaka Workshop on Digital Humanities, University of Osaka Invited talk: “Before we begin. Data preparation for textual analysis”
  • 20 Mar. 2010: 2010 Osaka Workshop on Digital Humanities, University of Osaka Invited talk: “Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts in the Digital Age”
  • 18 Mar. 2010: EIRI-CCH Conference on Digitization in the Humanities, Keio University, Tokyo Invited talk: “Sanskrit & Arabic manuscript digitisation: some problems and strategies”
  • 22–25 Jun. 2009: Digital Humanities 2009, University of Maryland (USA). Presentation: “Text Analysis of Large Corpora Using High Throughput Computing”
  • 30 Jan. 2009: JISC Roadshow, London (UK) Invited talk: “Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts in the Digital Age”
  • 24–25 Oct. 2008: 1st Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age On the Nature of Things: Modern Perspectives on Scientific Manuscripts, Philadelphia (USA) Organisation and moderation of panel discussion: “Scientific Manuscripts in the Digital Age”
  • 24–29 Jun. 2008: Digital Humanities 2008, Oulu (Finland) Presentation: “How to find Mrs. Billington? Approximate string matching applied to misspelled names”
  • 28–29 Apr. 2008: International Workshop Crossing boundaries: History of Science and Computational Linguistics, Bari (Italy) Invited talk: “Text mining, computational linguistics and the history of mathematics”

5 thoughts on “Gerhard Brey, 25 August 1954 – 8 February 2012

  1. This is very sad. I met Gerhard briefly in 2009 trying to launch R workshops at KCL. He was such an enthusiastic and kind person. I am very impressed, though not surprised, to read here about his broad interests. I wish I had got to know him better.

  2. It’s so sad. He played a chair person when I gave a paper at Osaka Symposium on Digital Humanities last September. I wanted to make contact with him, searched his email address on the Internet, and found the unbelievable news that he had passed away so suddenly.
    He was such a generous person and an enthusiastic scholar. I wish I could have met him again and learnt more from him. But I thank God that I could get acquainted with him in my life.

  3. Gabby kindly suggested that I leave a short message here as a brief update.

    I recently closed Gerhard’s Donate In Memory page on the Cancer Research website. Donations came from all over the world and a total of £2305.31 was raised plus £363.00 of gift aid. As many are aware, Gerhard’s cancer was particularly aggressive and diagnosed far too late for anything to be done. Your donations may well help prevent this happening in the future.

    I cannot thank you all enough for this overwhelming response and for the very kind and generous words left in tribute to Gerhard. I know that he would have been embarrassed by them (such was his nature), but I was deeply touched to know that he was loved and respected by so many others.

  4. I was deeply saddened to find out that Gerhard Brey is no longer with us. I met him in 2010 at King’s College and he generously gave his time to discuss with me digital humanities and Avestan manuscripts. I was about to email him in connection with a project on the Digital Yasna which I am hoping to undertake and instead found this sad notice. My thoughts go out to his family with sympathy. We, his colleagues, will miss him sorely

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