Humanities Computing Unit Report, 1995-6


The Humanities Computing Unit (HCU) was established as a distinct unit within OUCS at the start of the academic year 1995-6, by combining several previously-existing projects. The new Unit is managed by Lou Burnard, and has three main components, whose activities over the last year are summarised below. The process of setting up the HCU involved some reorganization of existing resources, and the acquisition of new staff, largely funded by substantial external grants. The goals of the Unit are to enhance the services already provided to the University's arts faculties, and to build up its national and internationally recognised strengths as a centre of excellence in the applications of IT to teaching, learning, and research within the Humanities. An overall strategic plan for developing the Unit was endorsed by the Committee for Computing in the Arts at its meeting in Michaelmas term 1995, and the bulk of the year has been devoted to implementing this.

The Unit has three major components: the existing Centre for Humanities Computing continues to focus on providing high level support and advice for Arts faculties of the University, both within its premises at OUCS, and increasingly by building closer links with the faculties' own teaching and support staff. Similar advisory facilities are provided on a national scale by the CTI Centre for Textual Studies, whose academic director, David Womersley, is a member of the University's English Faculty. The third major component of the HCU is the Oxford Text Archive, which this year successfully bid for substantial funding to provide a national service supplying digital textual resources. The Unit is also home to a number of smaller research projects, some of which (such as the British National Corpus and the Text Encoding Initiative) have a high national and international profile.

Centre for Humanities Computing

The support activities of the Centre for Humanities Computing continued to expand during the year. An informal assessment of the demand for the CHC's services was carried out by logging and tabulating enquiries dealt with over four separate weeks during the first quarter of 1996: results are tabulated below, and indicate a steady demand, with CHC staff handling at least a hundred enquiries of various kinds each week. In addition, a detailed survey of computing facilities within each department commissioned by the Research and Equipment Committee was delivered at the end of Michaelmas term 1995.

A second IT support officer was appointed in January to assist Dr Stuart Lee. A series of visits was carried out to a total of ten arts faculties and subfaculties in order to assess particular areas in which support was needed, following which a formal system for liaising with faculties was developed. CHC staff also provided technical assistance for four faculties setting up their own World Wide Web sites, helped organize a weekend workshop for the History faculty, and served on the ad hoc committee preparing the Bodleian's bid to host a national digitization centre.

The CHC organized an extensive programme of workshops and courses. These included:

At the start of May, the CHC helped organise a one-day colloquium entitled Beyond the Classroom at Jesus College attended by over 50 delegates from throughout the UK, the proceedings of which were published on the Web. CHC participated in several CTI related events, most notably the national CTI forum at Brookes University in April, where CHC staff provided liaison between the CTI Centres and relevant faculties at the University. CHC staff also contributed greatly to the smooth running of the highly successful international conference on Digital Resources in the Humanities held at Somerville College in July.

The CHC has published:

CHC staff have been increasingly active in assisting the recruitment and management of new IT support posts within the faculties, and in the development of IT strategy reports. Close links with other sectors of the University have been developed through Dr Lee's chairing of the Datasets Working Party and attendance at the Committee on Automated Library Services. Dr Lee is also a member of the English Faculty IT Committee; and Mrs Cooper attends the Working Party for Advisory Training. Staff development activities have included Mrs Cooper's participation at the 'Supporting the Users' Conference, held in April at Durham University, and Dr Lee's attendance at the CETH International Summer School, held in New Jersey in August.

CTI Centre

The CTI Centre for Textual Studies organized a total of six full-day workshops at various venues during the year, also collaborating with the CHC on nine local training or induction events. CTI staff continued their programme of invitational site visits, demonstrating and lecturing at eleven different British universities during the course of the year. They played a major role in organizing the annual conference on Computers and Teaching in the Humanities, held this year at Royal Holloway College in September, and in the groundwork for the DRH conference mentioned above, as well as making individual presentations at several national and international conferences. The Centre hosted over twelve working visits, ranging from the Farmington Institute to a delegation of senior academic staff from Russia, organized jointly with the CHC.

Three issues of the Newsletter Computers and Text were produced over the year, and widely circulated in both paper and electronic form. CTI staff contributed chapters to a forthcoming book on Humanities Computing in the 1990s. "Computers and Teaching in the Humanities"), published Computers & Teaching in the Humanities as the second in its occasional series, and also helped in the production of a well received OHC publication entitled Beyond the Book - Theory, Culture, and the Politics of Cyberspace. Work on a major revision of the centre's award winning Resources Guide continued over the summer. Other commissioned work included a number of reviews for journals such as the THES and the conducting of a postal and electronic survey of the potential users of the British National Corpus requested by the EPSRC.

Following Michael Popham's appointment as Head of the Oxford Text Archive, Michael Fraser took over as CTI centre manager. Dr Fraser received his doctorate from Durham University in June.

Oxford Text Archive

In the spring of 1996, the Oxford Text Archive was confirmed as the electronic text Service Provider for the national Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS). This new role represents an inward investment to OUCS of more than 200,000 pounds over the next three years, and the creation of two new posts (an Information Officer, and a Computing Officer): recruiting staff to these posts and to the new Head of the OTA occupied much of the summer.

Despite internal changes, the Archive maintained its high profile as an internationally recognized centre of excellence and expertise in the preparation and dissemination of electronic texts. A total of 254 orders for some 2016 individual titles were processed, in addition to more than 40,000 files downloaded from the Archive's free access FTP site. The holdings of the Archive continued to grow substantially, and work on automatic standardisation of their format began. A first revision of the Archive's catalogue was made in order to facilitate its publication on the web. OTA staff attended a number of preliminary meetings with other AHDS service providers, and are likely to contribute greatly to the decision making process as the AHDS develops. During the year, the Archive negotiated exchange agreements with other prestigious electronic text centres around the world.

OTA staff contributed to a BL funded workshop on the problems of conserving and preserving electronic resources in November, and a workshop on digital resources in Glasgow in January. In April Lou Burnard was an active participant in a major international workshop at Warwick University, organized by UKOLN and OCLC, on the problems of standardizing resource description for networked access.

Research Funding and related activities:

Following a presentation to the EPSRC in January, the HCU was awarded an initial one-year contract to support maintenance and promotion of the British National Corpus for the HE research community. This funding was expanded by a successful bid to the English Faculty's News International fund, enabling the establishment of a new post of Resources Development Officer, to which Dr Claire Warwick was appointed in August.

The HCU was also successful in a bid to the JISC for funds under its Technology Applications Programme (J-TAP) to carry out research into the use of virtual seminars in the teaching of English literature. Paul Groves begins work on this new two-year project at the start of Michaelmas term 1996, under the management of Dr Lee.

Final reports for the EU-funded Memoria project on navigation in the Virtual Library were completed in September: although the project has not been extended, it is probable that further EU funding of comparable activities will be awarded in the near future, as part of the ELRA project.

Lou Burnard gave a total of 8 lectures on Text Encoding and related issues at various places during the year: these notably included TEI workshops at the Universities of Groningen, Bergen, and Goteborg. He also attended the EAGLES workshop on corpus encoding standards in January, and continued to serve on the UKOLN Advisory Council.

Work on the BNC Handbook and on development of its associated software continued during the year, culminating in a presentation at the Teaching and Language Corpora conference held at Lancaster University in August.