Alan Batson in Memoriam

September 3, 2020

IATH is sorry to be sharing news of the passing of Alan Batson, Professor Emeritus of the UVA Computer Science department, this past Saturday, August 29. Due to the pandemic, there are no plans for a memorial service at this time, but we will pass along any information if that changes.

As many of you know, Alan Batson played an important role in the founding of IATH, as well as in the development and accessibility of computers science to all parts of the University. When he first came to UVA with a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Birmingham, there was no such thing as a Computer Science department or degree. During his more than 35 years here, he helped bring the first computers to UVA, co-established the Department of Applied Math and Computer Science (later split into two separate departments), supervised UVA's first Ph.D. in Computer Science (awarded to Bill Wulf in 1968), was the first director of Academic Computing, and co-founded University's first computer center in 1985. In his spare time, he was also, CS Chair and long-time colleague Kevin Skadron noted, a "masterful squash player, thrashing players many years his junior" and a valuable mentor to both faculty and students.

When IBM approached UVA with a proposed $1 million equipment grant, Alan, along with Bill Wulf and Kendon Stubbs, worked with the University administration to find the space and money to create a new humanities-focused institute that would explore how advanced technologies could enhance and further humanities research. Both John Unsworth and Jerry McGann have spoken of Alan's influence on the early shaping of IATH, describing his belief that IT resources could offer tremendous benefits to humanities faculty who have the time and effort to invest in understanding and engaging with new technologies, and can then apply that understanding profitably to their research. John wrote to the Humanist Discussion Group in 1997 on Alan and Bill's role in establishing IATH, and commented that "meaningful collaboration and cross-disciplinary understanding is possible, but (as with all good things) it depends more on the character and vision of individuals than on institutional structures or formal initiatives." Alan's work empowered a new group of faculty to explore and use what may sometimes feel like alien tools and methodologies, and his sympathy for a wide range of scholarship had a deep influence on IATH's mission.

We are grateful that we were able to benefit from both his character and vision, and we extend our sincere condolences to his wife, family, and friends.