8. The Humanities Computing Unit (HCU)
The HCU expanded considerably both in size and remit over the period covered by this report. The Unit was originally set up as a special core service, providing specialist services to departments and faculties which have been historically disadvantaged with respect to their provision of IT support. Its activities, overseen by the Committee for Computing in the Arts, include provision of specialist support and facilities, nationally funded services, and leading-edge research projects. It employs over 20 staff, over half of them on externally-funded projects and services. Two major JISC funded services within the Unit are the Humbul Humanities Hub (section 8.1. Humbul Humanities Hub) and the long-established Oxford Text Archive (section 8.2. Oxford Text Archive); the Unit also acts as home for a number of other smaller research projects and services (8.3. Other projects).
During the course of this year, a reorganization of the Unit was carried out, bringing together and re-focussing its activities in support of teaching and learning throughout the University as the Learning Technologies Group (see section 7. IT Training, and Appendix B).
The Humbul Humanities Hub is a national service with local Oxford
University roots. As part of the Resource Discovery Network, Humbul finds,
evaluates and catalogues online resources in the humanities. Its
searchable database of resource descriptions supports lecturers,
researchers, and students, as well as library information staff both in
Oxford and across the UK. The principal means for delivering this
information is through an Internet interface
which is visited on an increasing basis. Humbul is a featured resource on
the National Grid for Learning. Between 1 August 2000 and 31 July 2001,
more than 25,000 individual searches were made through Humbul's online
interface, with more than 1,200,000 web pages served.
Humbul has also been active developing and hosting online tutorials specifically for students in the Humanities. At present 8 separate tutorials are hosted, forming the Humanities section of the Resource Discovery Network's Virtual Training Suite. The tutorials are used extensively by colleges and institutions of higher education as a means of introducing students to the challenges and opportunities of online resource discovery and use. Raising awareness and developing skills is an essential component of Humbul's service. Humbul has provided workshops and seminars on online resource discovery and evaluation for Oxford University, as well as teaming up with the Arts and Humanities Data Service to provide a national series of workshop entitled Arts and Humanities Online.
The Humbul Humanities Hub has an executive committee drawn from senior managers and library staff at the University of Oxford. In addition, it has an advisory committee of subject specialist, publishers such as Oxford University Press, and information professionals from across the UK. At present Humbul employs 5 FTEs inclusive of the Head of Humbul, Dr Michael Fraser.
The Oxford Text Archive is a major component of the Humanities Computing Unit, and since 1996 has been funded as part of the UK's national Arts and Humanities Data Service to provide support for the creators and users of digital resources within the subject domains of literature and linguistics (for all languages, periods, and genres).
Between 1st August 2000 and 31st July 2001, more than 64,400 individuals visited the OTA website (http://ota.ahds.ac.uk) and downloaded over 38,000 electronic texts. Thanks to a grant of £31,839 from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (rolled over from 99-00), the OTA was able to employ a trained cataloguer to create or revise more than 1900 catalogue records for the OTA.
OTA staff continued to make a major contribution to other activities at the University of Oxford, serving on bodies such as the IT and Equipment Committee of the Faculty of Literae Humaniores, and the Bodleian's Digital Library Resources Group. The OTA also played a part in the establishment of the Oxford Digital Library, and through that association has gone on to provide vital input to Oxford's part in the $9M Early English Books Online project.
- 2001 saw the close of the three-year
HEFCE-funded ASTER project, in which we collaborated with the
Universities of York and Surrey in an investigation of the
effectiveness of C&IT-based methods in small-group
teaching. The results of this multi-disciplinary project
were well received and are available at
http://cti-psy.york.ac.uk/aster/(out of date).
- British National Corpus
- A second edition of this unique 100 million word language corpus was released in January 2001. This was the first edition to be made available worldwide, and has proved to be very popular. Monthly income from sales of the CD currently averages over £4000, and shows no sign of falling off [figure Figure 25, BNC sales 2000-2001].
- In collaboration with the Libraries, HCU contributed an assessment of metadata requirements to this JISC-funded project led by CURL, the aim of which was to explore issues and recommendations in the area of long term digital preservation.
- This three-year project funded under the EU Libraries Programme was concluded successfully in June 2001. Co-ordinated by De Montfort University, this project defined and tested an XML standard for the production of detailed manuscript descriptions. HCU contributed expertise in standards building, prepared a demonstration XML database system, and participated in extensive training workshops in its use around Europe
- Text Encoding Initiative
- The HCU is one of four academic sites worldwide now hosting the TEI Consortium which was set up in January to maintain the TEI Guidelines, the de facto standard for scholarly work in electronic text creation. During the period of this report, substantial work was carried out in adapting the Guidelines to use XML, in setting up a new website (at http://www.tei-c.org), and in recruiting new members to the Consortium.