HCU Report, Michaelmas 1999

Major activities

Following its very successful first year of operation, the General Board has now agreed to underwrite the costs of maintaining the current staffing levels within the Humanities Computing Development Team for the next two years. Demand for the HCDT's services continue to expand; a brief report on its recent activities is attached below

The CHC's programme of seminars and courses continues to expand, in particular those which are offered jointly with arts faculties. Full details of courses available for this and next term are available from the CHC's web pages at http://www.hcu.ox.ac.uk/chc/. This year we are also for the first time offering a series of modules forming an integrated course in humanities computing. The increase in demand has meant that we have had to divert some CHC staff resources to satisfying this need rather than direct support of users and IT support staff.

As noted previously, the CTI Centre for Textual Studies will close at the end of January 2000. Work on completing the Centre's outstanding commitments has dominated the summer, and is now well advanced. It is planned to organize a valedictory event early next year, on publication of the Centre's Resources Guide. At the request of the English Faculty, HCU Staff assisted in the preparation of a bid from the faculty to host one of the new LTSN Centres; the outcome of this bid will not be known until the end of November.

Dr Lee's secondment to the Libraries Board to work on the Mellon funded scoping study on digitization projects within the university was successfully completed, and his report has now been published (at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/scoping/), arousing considerable praise both within and outwith the University. HCU staff are also involved in the workgroups charged by the DLRG Committee with implementation of the report's proposal. A series of lunchtime seminars introducing local digitization projects has been organized for this term.

The Oxford Text Archive has set up a new web mirroring facility, partly in a bid to reduce the cost to the university of accessing key web-based resources located in the US, and partly to improve knowledge of such resources within the University. This now hosts several unusual resources in Old English, and it is currently planned to expand this to include major databases in several European languages. The OTA has also just completed a substantial review of its collection, and worked intensively on its "Guides to Good Practice". It continues to provide AHRB grant applicants with advice on all aspects of text preparation projects. Although current AHDS funding is due to finish at the end of the current academic year, a bid to continue funding at no less than the current staffing level has now been submitted and looks highly likely to succeed. The OTA has also been awarded funding by the AHRB for a new post in collection improvement, to which it is hoped to appoint very shortly.

Following our successful bid to the JISC, funding for the Humbul Gateway began in August. Dr Fraser was appointed head of this new service, to be launched as part of the national Resource Discovery Network later this month. More information about this new venture is provided in a brief report below.

Research and Outreach activities

Due to lack of take-up, this year's Text Encoding Summer School was cancelled, leading to a decision to review the scope of this annual event. Several HCU staff participated in the organization of the annual major conference on Digital resources in the Humanities, hosted this September by Kings College London; Dr Fraser was appointed as next year's programme chair.

Work on the ASTER (Assisting Small-group Teaching by Electronic Resources) TLTP 3 Project continued over the summer, and the project is well on course to complete its deliverables within the next 18 months.

Work on the EU-funded Master (Manuscript Access through Standardized Electronic records) project has also continued, with a series of meetings culminating in completion of the first major project deliverables in October. The project which involves several major European libraries and other institutions has a further two years to run and its progress to date was judged excellent by the EU reviewers meeting in Luxembourg in October.

Work on the CEDARS (CURL Exemplars for Digital ARchiveS) project has continued, involving several meetings with project partners at Leeds, Cambridge, and elsewhere. Oxford's work on defining metadata requirements has made considerable progress

The HCU received its usual large number of visitors over the summer and advised a number of external projects, in particular staff from three large text preparation projects who had hoped to attend this year's TESS.. We welcomed Dr Geoffrey Rockwell from McMaster University as Distinguished Visiting Fellow during the summer; we were also pleased to host two EU-funded researchers working in areas of interest to the Unit: Adriano Solidoro from the University of Genoa, and Susana Tosca from the University of Madrid.

University Committees

The following HCU staff serve on University committees:

Staffing changes

There have been a small number of changes in staff at the Unit over the summer.

Training activities

We undertook a detailed review of HCU staff needs for training and career development during the summer, and also reviewed the HCU strategic plan.


Report from the Humbul Hub

As noted above, Dr Fraser was appointed head of the new Humbul Hub which is part of the new national Resource Discovery Network in August The core of the Hub will be its gateway to humanities Internet resources and it is hoped that a farily substantial gateway will be up and running by early 2000. Data-providers will be drawn from a combination of departments, libraries and individuals within Oxford, the UK, and beyond. Oxford University Press has agreed to promote the Hub from its own web site and we are currently discussing other ways of collaboration. We are also in conversation with the New Dictionary of National Biography, OCLC, and the American Theological Libraries Association (ATLA) as well as a number of individuals.

The Hub was part of a series of bids submitted to the JISC by the RDN to develop Z-Portals (bringing together Z39.50 services, particularly those funded as part of the DNER but also others, e.g. OCLC FirstSearch) and to support teaching/learning activities (through the creation of guided tutorials for English and History). If both are successful, then the humanities Z-Portal will be developed at King's College London and installed here when complete and funding for the development of tutorials will be available from Jan 2000.

Over the next three months our plans include finalizing contracts with funded data-providers, solidifying our relationship with the Library Services, completing the Hub's business plan, launching a basic ROADS gateway, finalizing the membership of the Advisory Committee (and holding a meeting in Jan/Feb 2000), and identifying a Humbul contact in every UK HEI.

The RDN as a whole will be launched on 19th November 1999. We will have an exhibition stand and give a presentation. The Hub sent around 130 invitations to humanities-related individuals and organisations. Each person on the invitation list will also receive an information pack.

The Humbul Humanities Hub's Web site is at http://www.humbul.ac.uk.

Report from the Humanities Computing Development Team

The HCDT has launched three new projects that are being used by students for the first time during Michaelmas Term. Two projects in the Faculty of Theology were launched to first year undergraduates at the beginning of term. The first provides important texts for a core course (Mark) for students to read, download or print from a choice of two image file formats. The second project provides the student with a set of over a thousand words of Greek vocabulary and their translations into English. The system allow the student to test him/herself on their knowledge of vocabulary and to build up a set of 're-test' vocabulary based upon the words which they got wrong. The third project is the History Faculty's Gunpowder, Compass and Printing Press project which was demonstrated to students during second week. A database is used to organise a collection of materials which are of central importance to the 'Gunpowder' course. This includes early printed maps from the Bodleian's Map Room, photographs of objects from the Museum of the History of Science, and transcribed texts from early printed books. We are encouraging feedback from tutors and students using the new projects by encouraging project partners to publicise their projects within their faculties, and by using online forms to collect feedback from end users. We are considering whether to use a small prize as an incentive to users to spend some time to give us their feedback.

Information about these projects is available from the HCDT web site at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/hcdt/

Demand for the HCDT's activities continues. Three new projects from the faculties of Modern and Medieval Languages (Stephen Parkinson), the Faculty of English (Emma Smith), and jointly from the faculties of Literae Humaniores and the Institute of Archaeology (Simon Price and Lucia Nixon) have been selected to begin development in the next phase. In addition, the HCDT will being work in earnest upon the Pitt Rivers 'Cook' collection project.

The HCDT has had enquiries from several project leaders in many subject areas who are considering bidding for funds for the development of their project, and who wish to write the HCDT's technical expertise into their proposal. We are very pleased with this situation and hope that demand for the HCDT on a paid basis will continue to grow (particularly where external grants are involved). However, this does potentially lead us to a situation where we will have more work than we can undertake with our current staffing levels. To take on the IT development for these projects (some of which are large and staff-intensive) without having sufficient staffing would mean that the other, free projects would suffer as a result. Neither is it desirable to turn away these possibilities for additional funding and so lose the opportunity to further broaden our expertise. We would like to be able to fund a third Project Officer post by drawing upon income generated by project development, but this may not be feasible under our current General Board funding arrangements.