Oxford University

OUCS Annual Report

7. Humanities

The Humanities Computing Unit (HCU) is a special service of Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS), recognised as one of the University's core activities in the OUCS Review of 1996/7. The HCU has the following objectives:

Figure 57: Humanities Computing Unit Activity

Training Hours delivered


Humanities Newsletter distribution


CTI Textual Studies general enquiries


CTI Textual Studies Web site hits


CTI Textual Studies distribution list


OTA general enquiries


OTA Web site hits (including mirrors)


OTA Files downloaded by users


OTA Orders processed (by hand)


JTAP Web site hits


All HCU activities are monitored by a sub-committee of the University's IT Committee, the Committee for Computing in the Arts, which is also responsible for ensuring proper deployment of University funded activities and resources within the Unit. The Unit has a high national and international profile as a centre of excellence for information and dissemination activities and for leading-edge research in the general field of humanities computing. Some statistics on levels of activity can be seen in figure 57.

7.1 Centre for Humanities Computing

CHC provides IT support and consultancy for all humanities faculties within the University of Oxford, and is also home to the HUMBUL gateway. The CHC provides expert advice, IT teaching and training and comprehensive IT facilities for students and staff of the University and visiting scholars.

The HCU website was redesigned and reorganized following the start of HCU services on a new server. The CHC pages were also given a new look. Co-ordination of local humanities IT Support Staff continues, via the ITSS Working Party and the HumIT mailing list. A bid for research funding to the British Library was unsuccessful, though the bid may be resubmitted. Stuart Lee was seconded to the Libraries Board for half of the year to lead a Scoping Study of library digitisation projects; the Report has been published and can be seen at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/scoping/.

7.2 Oxford Text Archive

Established and funded by Oxford University (starting in 1974), and now a service provider for the national Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS), the OTA is a repository for several thousand electronic texts produced in more than two dozen languages, ranging from electronic editions of individual works, standard reference texts and dictionaries, to large-scale literary and linguistic corpora.

The Oxford Text Archive's new website (http://ota.ahds.ac.uk/), with much improved searching and delivery facilities, went live at the end of the year, and is now a major component of the AHDS integrated catalogue. OTA staff have been much occupied by the preparation of the "Guides to Good Practice" and other AHDS commitments. Funding for an additional new post was obtained from the AHRB.

Notable accessions during the year included the Lampeter corpus, and the Perseus project (which it is planned to mirror at Oxford from September 1999).

7.3 Humanities Computing Development Team (HCDT)

The HCDT works on a project-by-project basis in collaboration with Oxford humanities academics to develop IT-based research and teaching projects such as learning resources, web-based text and multimedia tutorials, research databases, textbases, and other software.

The team was set up following very positive responses to a survey of humanities academic staff in March 1998. The survey proposed the establishment of a group that could work with academics to help them realise IT-based research or teaching projects, and asked for indications of possible projects. OUCS then committed reserve funds it had from sales of humanities software developed some years ago, to underwrite the operation of the Team in 1998/99.

Projects were selected on the basis of academic merit, feasibility, spread across disciplines, and similar criteria. In addition to those projects selected, others were identified as being suitable subject to some modification, and limited consultancy was offered in the case of others. A small group made up of representatives of the Committee for Computing in the Arts together with OUCS staff was set up to review subsequent calls, which it is planned be issued every six months.

The following projects were selected in the initial round:

Further information about the HCDT and the projects it has completed or is engaged upon can be found at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/acdt/.

It is hoped that the HCDT may become self-financing. Early experience, however, suggests that the lead-time to build up sufficient income to become self-financing is far too long to enable this to happen next year. This is because of the dearth of suitable sources of funding for humanities projects, especially teaching ones, and the lack of experience in exploiting those opportunities that are becoming available (eg the new AHRB). Funding was therefore sought and obtained from the General Board to underwrite the operation of the HCDT for 2 more years.

7.4 CTI Centre for Textual Studies

Established in 1989, the Computers in Teaching Initiative (CTI) Centre for Textual Studies is one of 24 subject-specific Centres funded by the UK higher education funding bodies to promote and support the use of computers in university teaching. It provides national support for a wide range of humanities subjects including: literary studies, drama, theology, classics, philosophy, and film studies.

The whole CTI was reviewed during the year, and it was decided to replace it with an expanded programme, with a remit to address teaching issues more generally, not just IT-related ones; it is to be called the Learning & Teaching Support Network (LTSN). The CTI Textual Studies is thus scheduled to terminate on 31 December 1999. At the request of the English Faculty, HCU Staff assisted in the preparation of a bid from the Faculty to host the new English LTSN Centre.

Work on completion of the Resources Guide is ongoing. CTI Staff participated in a CTI Colloquium and exhibition at Stockton, and also a very successful Arts and Humanities Workshop in Durham.


This is a nationally funded TLTP3 project to support the use of electronic resources in small group teaching. It is managed by the University of York, with CTI Textual Studies as a partner. The Aster project has already published a Report, in advance of any of the other current TLTP projects. Further details can be found at http://cti-psy.york.ac.uk/aster/.


The Humbul Humanities Hub provides access to quality Internet resources for teaching and research in the humanities. Based on the long-standing Humbul Gateway, the Hub evaluates and catalogues resources for literature and language; history, archaeology, and classics; philosophy and religion. JISC has set up a national distributed Resource Discovery Network (RDN), and the HCU was successful in bidding for Humbul to become the humanities component; this will formally commence on 1 August 1999. See http://users.ox.ac.uk/~humbul/.

7.7 Text Encoding Initiative

The TEI is a major international research project, the object of which is the production and dissemination of standardized "Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange" (TEI-P3). The European editor of the guidelines is also manager of the HCU, and staff are able to offer expert help on preparing and using TEI-conformant texts.

During the summer vacation 1998, our second Text Encoding Summer School was organised (see http://users.ox.ac.uk/~tess/). A very successful international conference was run on Teaching and Language Corpora (TALC98) was also run (see http://users.ox.ac.uk/~talc98/).

A preliminary beta test version of the revised TEI Guidelines was produced in June 1999.

7.8 British National Corpus

Distribution and maintenance of this unique 100 million word annotated corpus of written and spoken modern British English is carried out by the HCU on behalf of the BNC consortium. The BNC is freely available under license throughout the EU, together with SARA, a special-purpose, text-retrieval system also developed at the HCU.

The BNC Sampler CD was published in May 1999. Sales have been reasonably satisfactory - around 350 CDs were sold by the end of summer. It is planned to produce a revised second edition of the full BNC next year.


Funded by JISC/CEI through the eLib programme, and under the overall direction of CURL (the Consortium of University Research Libraries), the Cedars project aims to provide guidance for libraries in best practice for digital preservation. Further details of the Cedars Project can be seen at http://www.leeds.ac.uk/cedars/.

7.10 Virtual Seminars for Teaching Literature

This project (now complete) was funded under the JISC Technology Applications Programme (JTAP) and sought to investigate the preparation and delivery of research materials via the latest technologies. The experience and results of this award winning project have been disseminated widely via published reports, workshops, and conference presentations.

The JTAP Project (see http://info.ox.ac.uk/jtap/) which lead to the establishment of the Wilfred Owen Digital Archive was completed in October 1998, receiving a large number of very positive reviews, including a lengthy report in the THES. It won first prize in Oxford's Internet Teaching Awards run by OxTALENT, and went on to win the annual national UCISA awards.


This project is funded by the European Union, and aims to create online catalogue records of manuscripts from major European libraries. The HCU is one of six partners in the project, which is led by De Montfort University. The major contribution of the HCU so far has been in the definition of a TEI-conformant "dtd" for the project (see http://www.hcu.ox.ac.uk/TEI/Master/Reference/).

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Last updated: 29-May-00.
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