8. Humanities Computing

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:
  • to provide advice and training in the uses of information and communications technology (ICT) within the Humanities disciplines at Oxford, with particular reference to their teaching and research needs;
  • to facilitate and promote access to a variety of high quality scholarly electronic resources; to advise upon and (where appropriate) assist in the creation and preservation of such resources; and to encourage their integration into the teaching and research activities of the Humanities disciplines;
  • to carry out research and development in the application of ICT to the Humanities disciplines, in collaboration with academic staff at Oxford and elsewhere;
  • to maintain and build upon the University's national and international reputation as a centre of excellence, by disseminating the work of the Unit both within and beyond the University.

8.1. Centre for Humanities Computing

Throughout the academic year of 1999-2000 the CHC offered 54 distinct courses, covering 163 hours of teaching, with 873 attending (in total). Although figures for the 1998-1999 year are not readily available, this is undoubtedly a considerable rise in the CHC's teaching commitments and profile.

For JTAP, the web site again had about 52,000 hits this year.

Dr Lee was seconded to the Libraries Board to work on the Mellon-funded scoping study on digitisation projects within the university. Once this was successfully completed, his report was published on the Web at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/scoping/, arousing considerable praise both within and ouside 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 digitisation projects was organised to reap further benefit from the Report.

8.2. Oxford Text Archive

Established and funded by Oxford University in 1976, 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.

During the period covered by the OTA's latest Annual Report (1-Apr-99 to 31-Jul-00), there were 109,077 distinct visits to its homepage; from there 18,250 resources were downloaded. OTA also continued to provide an ordering service for restricted material held offline, and dealt with 162 orders representing requests for 460 texts.

Through the AHDS, the OTA has become heavily involved with advising and evaluating applications to create a range of digital resources with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board. In practice this has meant extensive consultations with some 40 applicants from HE institutions around the UK, and the technical assessment of almost 100 applications for funding.

The OTA has also continued its extensive programme of outreach activities, presenting papers at several national and international conferences (everything from the `National Conference on Orientalist Library Services' to `Digital Resources in the Humanities 1999'), as well as playing a central role in the HCU's programme of Summer Seminars. The OTA's first Guide to Good Practice was published online to very favourable reviews, and is currently in press with Oxbow Books, whilst the second is due for online release in Autumn 2000.

8.3. Humanities Computer Development Team

The Humanities Computer Development Team (HCDT) was set up to develop the use of technology in humanities teaching and research at Oxford University. It is currently receiving special General Board funding to establish itself and the need for such a service. It calls for bids for projects to develop from academics in the humanities disciplines, and is guided by a group set up by the Committee for Computing in the Arts in its selection.

The HCDT was officially launched at a high-profile event in the Divinity School on 13-Mar-00, which was well-attended.

Projects currently under development include the Sphakia Survey for Archaeology and LitHum, the Cook Collection site for the Pitt-Rivers Museum and a project on interactive aural comprehension materials for Modern Languages. In addition, two new projects have been selected for work to begin in July, one for the Law faculty (a Web site to provide automated assessment of key research skills), and one for the Theology faculty (the `Virtual Faculty', a project which may interest other faculties when it is completed). For details of these and other projects, see the Website at /acdt/

A third development officer was recruited towards the end of the year to address demand for projects which could not be supported under the criteria by which the Steering Group must judge them, but for which funds are available. The next deadline for project proposals to the HCDT will be in October 2000. The CCA encourages colleagues and faculties to consider submitting project proposals for each bidding round.

The HCDT is particularly keen to receive applications from those faculties which have had little or limited input from the HCDT to date. The HCDT also is prepared to organise a short seminar about the its activities for any faculty that may find this useful.

8.4. Resource Discovery Network - Humbul

Dr Fraser, formerly Manager of the CTI Centre for Textual Studies (see below) was appointed head of the new Humbul Hub which is part of the new national Resource Discovery Network launched in August 1999. The core of the Hub is its gateway to humanities Internet resources and a fairly substantial gateway was up and running by early 2000. Data-providers are 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 other ways of collaboration are being discussed. Discussions have also been held 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).

A key task is that of identifying a Humbul contact in every UK HEI.

The RDN as a whole was launched in November 1999. Humbul had an exhibition stand and gave a presentation. The Hub sent around 130 invitations to humanities-related individuals and organisations around the UK.

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

8.5. CTI Centre for Textual Studies

The CTI Centre for Textual Studies was one of the 20 Centres that made up the national Computers in Teaching Initiative. It closed at the end of January 2000, along with CTISS (also hosted by OUCS — see section 9), when the national programme was replaced by the Learning and Teaching Support Network, based in the Institute for Learning & Teaching at York. Work on completing the Centre's outstanding commitments was completed successfully, in particular the 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; unfortunately, the bid was not successful.

8.6. ASTER

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 project funds some staff resources at Oxford. Further details can be found at http://cti-psy.york.ac.uk/aster/" (out of date).

8.7. Text Encoding Initiative

The TEI is a major international research project, the object of which is the production and dissemination of standardised `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.

8.8. 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.


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. A project officer concentrating on Metadata specification for archived datasets is employed at Oxford. Further details of the Cedars Project can be seen at http://www.leeds.ac.uk/cedars/

8.10. MASTER

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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