Humanities Computing Unit

Oxford University Computing Services

HCU Report for CCA, October 2000,


1. Summary

Key events since the last meeting include the launch of the Humanities Hub live cataloguing system; the launch of several HCDT projects; awarding of new funding to the OTA; and satisfactory progress on several key HCU research projects.

The last meeting requested a discussion paper on Divisionalization, and its implications for HCU funding. A brief summary of the points to be addressed by such a document is attached. Comments and suggestions from the Committee are very welcome.

The HCU is currently carrying out an internal strategy review, in response to changes in the environment since the Unit was set up. Again, any comments on future directions and priorities which the Committee may wish to make would be very welcome.

2. CHC

New equipment for creating and editing digital video has been installed in the Centre and is already proving popular. The HCU is sponsoring a competition for creative use of this technology jointly with B&H.

CHC staff spent much of the summer preparing for Michaelmas term teaching, despite staffing problems due to the fact that Chris Stephens left the CHC in August to take up a post at HUMBUL. A new IT Support Officer has now been appointed and will be starting 13th November.

The CHC teaching load for Michaelmas term was further increased by a training session for new Law graduates given in 0th week (numbers attending were nearly 70) and a new workshop for Slavonic Studies. Training sessions for the main humanities faculties have now mostly been completed/ We are also working with the ETRC on presenting a session later in the term on Digital Video.

CHC staff continue to provide direct support to some faculties. Jonathan Miller spent a week with the Ruskin School of Art in August to help sort out their Macintosh computers and has now replaced Chris Stephens on their IT committee. He also visited the History of Art to help out with some continual problems one of their staff members was experiencing. Stuart Lee has been assisting the English Faculty in covering for the continued absence of Karen Wikander. Notably he has been co-ordinating graduate assistants to help with their web site. We have also held a pre-term meeting with all the humanities IT officers to discuss issues and will hold a second one towards the end of term. In the light of this Stuart Lee has been liaising with Ralph Brown and Anne Bowtell re the possibility of hiring in assistants for both posts.

Dr Lee stepped down as Chair of the Datasets Committee but continues to serve on the committee. He has also been appointed Deputy Manager of the HCU and has also been asked by Alex Reid to co-ordinate OxTALENT, with effect from the start of term. As part of this new responsibility, this term's Digital Projects in Oxford seminar series focusses on teaching applications across the University.


The summer and early autumn have been a busy time for the HCDT as the team is winding up several projects that are nearing completion. The Sphakia Survey Internet Edition will be officially launched at the Magdalen Auditorium on Friday 27th October; all members of the CCA should have received invitations to attend this meeting. The Pitt Rivers Museum Forster web site will be completed in the next month, and the Modern Languages Interactive Aural comprehension is available in a pilot form, and awaiting feedback from the language teaching staff in the Faculty. The second phase of the Chinese language web project has also begun with the aim of delivering a cd-rom version of the complete site at Christmas.

The Team has already begun research and preparation for three new projects: the Theology Faculty Virtual Faculty project; the Law faculty Automated Assessment project, and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri web site. New project proposals have also been received for the next phase of new projects and will be assessed by the Project review group on 26 October.

In July, the HCDT was glad to welcome a new member of staff, Dr Paul Trafford, so that the team now has three technical officers.

The HCDT is currently considering its strategy for the next three years; funding from the General Board for the HCDT will come to an end in September 2001 and several different scenarios for on-going activities or expansion are being considered. We would be very glad to have feedback from the CCA on the desirability of the various options which include:

4. OTA

The recommendations of the Review of the OTA, conducted by Professor David Robey of Reading University, were accepted by the Steering Committee of the Arts and Humanities Data Service. This means that OTA is likely to receive up to approximately 70k p.a. additional funding to support linguistics. There is also the possibility of an equivalent sum being made available to support Philosophy and Theology. A budget request for the years 2001-2005 has been submitted the AHDS Executive, seeking funding of approximately 160k p.a. rising to 190k p.a. by 2005 (and includes the figure for linguistics).

Sheila Anderson has accepted the post of Director of the Arts and Humanities Data Service, and took up her new position on the 1st September 2000. She visited the OTA on the 24th October to meet with Professor Robey (now Acting Chair of the OTA's reconstituted Advisory Board), and Michael Popham (Head of the OTA), to discuss further the recommendations of Professor Robey's Review, and to begin discussions on the development of a Service Level Agreement which will define and formalize the relationship between the OTA and AHDS.

Over the summer, the OTA played a central role in the HCU's series of Summer Seminars, with staff teaching on four out of the five days (with demand being such that the OTA's seminar on Creating and Documenting Digital Texts was run twice). We also gave papers or attended at several key international humanities computing conferences, including ACH-ALLC'00 and DRH2000, and carried out the technical assessments of almost fifty applications for Arts and Humanities Research Board funding under its Resource Enhancement Scheme.

5. Humbul Humanities Hub

Following the appointment of Chris Stephens as technical officer in August, the Humanities Hub now has a full integrated cataloguing system in place, together with a web interface for collection of records. Several key policy and strategy documents have been drafted, including a detailed work plan up to March 2001. Draft contracts for contributors have been finalised, with the help of the University's legal advisors as well as the RDN. This took rather longer than anticipated, which contributed to the first year's underspend, part of which has been used to fund an additional cataloguing officer post.

The Hub's Advisory Committee, which has broad and useful representation from key areas in the humanities and is chaired by Robert Clark (UEA) met twice. Locally, Humbul continues to works closely with the library community. Records catalogued so far include resources in philosophy (with assistance from philosophy graduate student) and in humanities computing (especially text encoding). Also receiving records in history from Institute of Historical Research. In preparation for planned recruitment of more part-time cataloguers, a draft of Humbul's Cataloguing Guidelines was completed, and a mailing list (humbul-support@mailbase) has been set up.

Humbul organised a half-day workshop on Dublin Core metadata, evaluating and describing web resources (summer school). Dr Fraser gave a presentation at ALLC/ACH in Glasgow, chaired the DRH Programme Committee and attended conference in Sheffield. He is currently organising (with the AHDS) a series of workshops aimed at subject librarians and other subject-support people and about online services and resources for arts and humanities. Two tutorials (for English and History) were produced as part of the RDN Virtual Training Suite and further tutorials for philosophy, religion and modern languages are being written. The Hub is also distributing Accessing Our Humanities Collections, a JISC-funded publication detailing special collections in UK HE.

6. Staff Changes

7. Other Projects.

The HCU web site is being reorganized. The CTI Textual Studies mailing list is being checked and (where appropriate) those on it invited to join a more general HCU humanities mailing list.

ASTERNow in its third year, and mainly engaged in dissemination activities. Additional funding is being made available for HCU staff in response to their high level of activity to date.
BNCWork on production of the much-delayed second (world) edition of the British National Corpus continued over the summer, and is now almost complete.
CEDARS Metadata documentation has been completed and the demonstrator project is now more or less complete. Andy Stone (project officer) will be leaving in November. It is probable that a new appointment will be made for a successor project at Oxford; this is likely to be of a more technical nature and will be located within the ADSM team rather than the HCU.
EEBODiscussions on the extent and nature of the HCU's involvement with this large-scale text creation project are ongoing. It is probable that the OTA will carry out a pilot study, under the direction of Dave Price.
MASTER Oxford's key deliverables for this EU-funded collaborative project are now in place and were favourably received at the project review meeting in Luxembourg in September. A prototype open cataloguing system developed at the HCU has aroused considerable interest.
TEIWork on finalizing the membership and incorporation details continues. There is a continued and expanding demand for TEI training and consultancy. Steve De Rose (new N American editor) visited HCU during August.

8. Support for Humanities Computing under Divisionalization

The Humanities Computing Unit (HCU) currently provides a range of high-level support activities and services to the University and beyond, which are additional to the base line services provided by OUCS.

Approximately half the running costs of the HCU are currently covered by external grants and contracts. The Unit brings about 350k into the University annually. The remainder is funded by the University, at present out of the general grant to OUCS.

Under divisionalization, all funding for OUCS and HCU will come from the Divisions. It is expected that the bulk of OUCS grant funding will be apportioned between the divisions in some formulaic fashion, and will be treated as a form of `taxation'. It seems very likely, however, that the science divisions will not agree to fund any of the HCU activity. OUCS must therefore seek funding for the HCU activities from the relevant divisions, primarily the Humanities division, since that is where the majority of HCU services are provided.

However, at present the HCU also provides services for a number of departments and faculties in the social sciences division (notably Anthropology, Archaelogy, Law). One option would be simply to withdraw support for all departments not within the Humanities division. Another would be to arrange for departments to ‘buy in’ to HCU support by contributing to the Unit's running costs.

At the last OUCS Review, the Committee for Computing in the Arts (CCA) was charged with the task of monitoring the HCU and providing academic direction. It represents the interests of all local users of HCU services, and is thus potentially a cross-divisional committee. If however the HCU ceases to support non-Humanities departments, the managerial and oversight responsibilities currently carried out by the CCA might be better shifted to the IT committee of the Humanities division.

The HCU has internationally-recognised experience and expertise in a number of key areas, most notably in the application of IT in teaching, learning, and research and in the creation, management, and distribution of digital resources. This expertise is much in demand within the Humanities departments, but also in the sciences. The HCU is well positioned to expand its current provision of such services in response to that demand, given an adequate and flexible funding basis.

It should also be noted that half the staff of the HCU are externally-funded, and that half of its activities are subject to monitoring and review by externally-constituted advisory bodies. The HCU Manager currently has the responsibility of maintaining a balance between the recommendations of those external bodies and those of the CCA.

9. HCU services and their cost

The following table shows the distribution of current staff costs across internal (OUCS), local (other parts of the University) and external sources. Of the 20 currently employed staff, a total of 11.3 FTE are funded externally. Of that 11.3, about a third (4 FTE) comes from University sources - chiefly the General Board grant for support of the HCDT. In all 7.7 posts are funded by the OUCS budget.

Posts ExternalLocalInternal
HCU3 LB, JN, FC0.802.2
CHC 4 SL, GC, JM, MP 0 0.53.5
HCDT4 SP, PG, PT, SC 03 1
Hub3 MF, CS, AE 30 0
OTA5 MP, AM, JL, AW, KW 3.50.5 1
7.34 7.7

These figures exclude management and co-ordination, equipment, consumables, publications, travel and subsistence and other running expenses. It is estimated that half to two-thirds of these overheads are covered by OUCS, with some proportion coming from external grants and contracts not all of which are tied to the specific cost centres listed above. These figures also exclude some IT Support Staff appointed by Humanities faculties and placed on the OUCS payroll for convenience, with whom CHC staff work closely and for whom we are nominally responsible.

[Oxford University | HCU Home Page | Search OUCS Pages | Feedback ]

Last updated: 27 Oct 00.