6. Humanities Computing Unit
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 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
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, but focussed on needs
in teaching and learning, 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 external 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.
6.2Centre 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:
some of the results are shown in Figure 29, 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 the one member of staff
dedicated to direct support of Oxford humanities IT. A series of visits was carried out to a
total of ten humanities 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
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 one member chairing
the Datasets Working Party and attending the Committee on Automated Library Services.
The same member is also a member of the English Faculty IT Committee. Staff development
activities have included participation at the 'Supporting the Users' Conference, held in April at
Durham University, and attendance at the CETH International Summer School, held in New
Jersey in August 1996.
6.3Oxford 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 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 took 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 2,016 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 British Library 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 the Unit actively participated in a major international workshop
at Warwick University, organized by UKOLN and OCLC, on the problems of standardizing
resource description for networked access.
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, 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 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 an appointed was made in August 1996.
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. A new appointment was made to work on this new two-year project,
starting in August 1996.
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
The Unit gave a total of 8 lectures on Text Encoding and related issues at various places in
Europe during the year: these notably included TEI workshops at the Universities of
Groningen, Bergen, and Gothenberg. There was also involvement in the EAGLES workshop
on corpus encoding standards in January.
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.