Humanities Computing Unit Annual Report 1996-7

During this second year of its existence, the HCU has continued to build on the combined strengths of its constituent units. This year we have jointly organized a new course on Creating Using and Analysing Digital Texts and succesfully held our first three day summer school, while maintaining a full programme of other teaching and support activities, as further described below.

Preparations for the second major international conference on Digital Resources in the Humanities, to be held at St Annes in September, have taken up much of the summer, with HCU staff playing a major part in co-ordinating the conference programme as well as taking responsibility for local arrangements.

At the start of May, the HCU organised a one-day colloquium entitled Beyond the Library at Jesus College (following on from last year's Beyond the Classroom) which was attended by over 50 delegates from throughout the UK and the proceedings of which are to be published on the Web. The TESS summer school, held in July, was massively over-subscribed, with over thirty applicants for an advertised twenty places. The selected participants came from Belgium, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, UK, and the US, with an equally wide spread of disciplines. The DRH Conference, to be held in September, is also already massively over-subscribed. During the course of next academic year, we therefore plan to organise a similar range of a activities.

There were a few significant changes in staffing during the year. In September, Christopher Stephens was appointed Humanities IT Support Officer in the CHC, replacing Paul Groves, who trasferred to the post of Project Officer for the JISC-funded Virtual Seminars project, described below. The post of HCU Administrative Assistant became vacant following resignation of Marie Gill in February, with much-needed administrative help being provided by temporary staff during the summer. Interviews for a new administrative assistant were held in July 1997, and Abigail Cooke was appointed with effect from mid-August.

Centre for Humanities Computing

The support activities of the Centre for Humanities Computing continued to expand during the year. The main focus was on the move to the basement premises of 13 Banbury Road from the old location at 7 Banbury Road. Although this move affected all of the HCU it was particularly important for the CHC as staff had to accommodate new procedures for registering users and cope with an expansion of the facilities on offer. Because of the move the CHC had to be shut to users for two weeks during Hilary term and this naturally affected demand for its services. 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 1997 but staff expect that demand will increases dramatically during the 1997-98 academic year.

As well as overseeing the smooth transition of the move, Grazyna Cooper played a major role on the OUCS Advisory Working Party IT Committee, and assisted in the teaching of Humanities Training Days. From September 1996 Christopher Stephens has assisted her in providing support for the CHC and for the faculties. He has also upgraded the HUMBUL web site, and has run two OUCS courses on the Web-authoring software HotMetal. Mr Stephens replaced Mr Paul Groves who in turn took up the post of Project Officer for the JISC-funded Virtual Seminars for Teaching Literature Project. This £50,000 project, under the auspices of JISC's Technology Applications Programme, is developing web-based tutorials for the teaching of World War I poetry

In addition to its major role in shared HCU teaching activities throughout the year, the CHC organised an extensive programme of workshops and courses. These included:

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 maintained, though Dr Lee's participation in several University committees, notably his chairmanship of the Datasets Working Party and membership of the English Faculty's IT Committee.

Staff development activities have included participation at the IT Support Staff Conference held at St Catherine's College (26th June) and attendance at the Hypertext 97 Conference (Southampton University, April) and the ACH-ALLC conference (Kingston, Ont., April).

Oxford Text Archive

Collections Policy and Deposits

In common with the four other national Service Providers of the Arts and Humanities Data Service, the Oxford Text Archive now has a clear mission statement; namely "to collect, catalogue, manage, and preserve digital text data of interest to textual scholars, and to distribute these data and encourage their scholarly re-use in research and teaching".

Significant deposits during the year included the Gertrude Bell Archive (a collection of diaries and letters held and transcribed by the Robinson Library at the University of Newcastle), and a corpus of New York news items and newspaper advertisements (1777-1779), collected as part of the Oxford English Dictionary Project in the US. During the reporting period, the OTA processed 164 personal orders (representing the dissemination of 1195 individual electronic texts) and approximately 38,000 files were downloaded from our public FTP archive.

Teaching, User Training, Conferences and Meetings

The OTA has made a major contribution to the teaching events organized by the HCU, such as the "Creating and Using Digital Texts" course (run at OUCS in the Michaelmas and Hilary terms), and the first Text Encoding Summer School (9th-11th July 1997). The OTA also gave four papers at major national conferences, and was represented at a further seven such events. Staff of the OTA attended several key meetings throughout the year, including the "Loch Lomond Colloquium on Humanities Computing", and the Fourth UKOLN/eLib sponsored MODELS workshop "Integrating Access to Resources Across Domains". Other events organized at OUCS by the OTA include an "SGML Orientation Day" for JISC-funded archival projects, a half-day session as part of the Oxford/Tübingen Graduate Seminar programme, and a joint-venture SGML training course in conjunction with a firm of Oxford-based SGML consultants (CSW Informatics).

Under the auspices of the AHDS and UKOLN, the OTA organized a timely and crucial meeting on "Creating Metadata for Electronic Texts". This was part of our commitment to the AHDS' intention to create a pilot, integrated online catalogue of all the Service Providers' holdings (based on Z39.50 and use of Dublin Core metadata) by spring 1998. This project has been identified by JISC and others as being of international significance.

The official public launch of the AHDS took place at King's College London on January 16th 1997, and the OTA organized a significant HCU presence at this one day conference (inviting CTI Textual Studies, the JTAP Virtual Seminars project, and the British National Corpus project). As part of our obligations to the AHDS, staff of the OTA have attended four Service Providers' Forums throughout the past year, which have tended to focus upon key AHDS activities and concerns, for example a service-wide Rights Management Framework, the development of a co-ordinated Collections Policy, and the creation of an integrated catalogue.


The OTA has contributed two dedicated sections to the most recent issues of the CTI Textual Studies' newsletter "Computers & Texts" (no.s 13 and 14), provided a number of items for the local "Humanities Computing in Oxford" newsheets, and made regular contributions to the nationally-distributed "AHDS Newsletter". We have also been planning the production of three "Guides to Good Practice", which will be published in 1998 as part of a series of such booklets produced by the AHDS.

Internal Technical Developments

The withdrawal of the VAX service at OUCS, has meant that the OTA has had to transfer its entire holdings to sable. Despite the effort involved in such a major task, this has provided us with a valuable opportunity to review and redesign the internal organization of the Archive. For example, as part of our commitment to the long-term preservation of materials deposited with the OTA, we have arranged with OUCS to become a fully-fledged user of the archival services offered by the Hierarchical File Server (HFS).

With the appointment of Jakob Fix as Computing Officer to the OTA (on 1st November 1996), we have been able to begin some much-needed development work. A pilot implementation of an Access database to replace TOMES has been written, which offers much better document management, workflow tracking, and improved user profiling; it is planned that this new database design will be implemented on a more powerful Unix-based machine (such as firth) during the forthcoming year, subject to AHDS plans to develop a service-wide user registration system. The OTA's web pages have been redesigned in accordance with AHDS guidelines, and significant additional effort has been spent on developing improved methods to access the OTA's holdings (either directly via an improved online catalogue, or through a Web-to-PAT gateway which makes the texts fully searchable).

CTI Textual Studies

The CTI Centre for Textual Studies organised 5 full-day workshops during the year, covering subjects such as Text Analysis Tools, Electronic Text Strategies, and Multimedia. They ran a one-day conference on Computer-Assisted Film and Drama Studies at St.Anne's College, which was attended by sixty delegates, and well received. Papers from the Conference are to be published in the journal Literary and Linguistic Computing in September 1997. They also contributed to the one-day colloquium Beyond the Library held at Jesus College. The Centre attended and gave papers at a number of other conferences, including the Comparative Literature Conference at Luton, and the Hypertext Conference at Southampton.

In response to invitations, the Centre made visits to seven other UK HEIs, giving a range of presentations and hands-on sessions to academics in relevant disciplines. They also visited a number of institutions for less formal discussion and advice,

Three issues of Computers and Texts were produced, and circulated to a mailing list of over two thousand. The online version was also continued, and well used. The Centre's web site has been expanded, with the Guide to Digital Resources updated, a search engine for the entire site implemented, and a new section for FAQs added.

The Centre gave advice on a range of Oxford, UK, and overseas enquiries, ranging from details of digital resources available for Classics, to advice on seeking funding for an online poetry research project. They also collaborated with the CHC by taking part in the Humanities postgraduate training days, and the Creating and Using Digital Texts OUCS course.

Other Research Projects and Activities

British National Corpus

Despite continued funding difficulties, work on development and distribution of the BNC continued throughout the year. A further twenty copies of the corpus were distributed, bringing the total to over a hundred. Demand for the corpus outside the EU continues to increase, and we are trying to find ways of making this possible. As a first step, we have now set up a simple web-based query interface, which enables anyone with an internet connexion to search the corpus subject to some restrictions. Work on the SARA search software continued, and a major new release is planned for the beginning of the next academic year, together with the distribution of the sampler.

An introductory textbook the BNC Handbook aimed at language learners wishing to use the corpus has been accepted for publication by Edinburgh University Press, and is due to appear early next year.

Several presentations on the corpus and the access tools developed for its use at OUCS were given by Dr Warwick and Mr Burnard, notably at the International SGML96 conference in Boston in December, at Aston University, at the MAVAT5 conference in Wuerzburg Germany (March), at PALC97 in Lodz Poland (April), at the ICAME conference in Chester (May), and at a Corpus workshop in Soria, Spain (July). The HCU was invited to host the international Teaching and Language Corpora conference to be held in July 1998.

JISC Technology Applications Programme (JTAP)

Following the success of the Isaac Rosenberg tutorial on the Web which as nominated as Oxford's Web-based Teaching site for the 1997 UCISA awards, money was put forward by the JISC Technology Applications Programme (JTAP) to develop three more tutorials, again built around the idea of teaching WWI poetry. These tutorials will each explore different methods of literary study and of delivery. The project also involves building up an archive of material relating to the War, which lecturers and students will be able to use across the Web, creating their own tutorials or on-line essays. As with the Rosenberg project, this is a free, publicly available service. Funding has been provided for two years (Oct 1996-Oct 1998), with Paul Groves as the Project Research Officer and Dr. Stuart Lee as the Project Manager. The Project is also being steered by an advisory group including: Prof. Jon Stallworthy (English Faculty, Oxford), Mrs Jane Carmichael (Imperial War Museum), Dr Barrie Paskins (King's College, London), Mr Richard Gartner (Bodleian Library), Mr Michael Popham (Oxford Text Archive), and Dr Michael Fraser (CTI).

So far the Project has:

A series of reports from the project has also been made available on the Web.

Other activities

The HCU Manager was invited to give the keynote speech at the Belgium Luxembourg SGML Users Group in November. The paper (SGML on the Web) has been very popular, and is to be published in a future edition of Computers and Text. In January he visited a number of US universities to lecture and investigate electronic archiving practices (see the report at

He participated in an influential meeting on the encoding of manuscript descriptions held at Studley Priory in November. Work in collaboration with Bodleian library staff on the definition of a TEI compatible set of extensions for this purpose continued during February and March, and is due for publication later this year.

Mr Burnard assisted the Refugee Studies Programme both in securing a major Mellon Foundation Award for the digitization of its collections, and in the subsequent appointment of the project officer due to take charge of this major new university project. He also advised a number of external projects, including a European initiative on code-switching corpora and the Lampeter Corpus of political tracts. He also taught a week-long TEI training course at the University of Bologna in May. In July, the HCU was awarded a contract by the European Language Resources Association (ELDA) to report on strategies for corpus validation: this work is being carried out in collaboration with the University of Lancaster.

Sample Statistics

This year, it has proved difficult to collect reliable figures for the number of enquiries handled by all HCU staff. During March, the CTI Centre logged the number of enquiries of all kinds handled, with the following results:


In the CHC, the number of enquiries of all kinds (in person, by phone, or by email) were logged for four distinct weeks, with the following results:

13 Jan 1997145
24 Feb 1997150
17 Mar 1997227
28 Apr 1997302

It should be noted that the February figure above is unusually low, since this was the week following the CHC's move to new premises.