Root, trunk, and branch: institutional and infrastructural models for humanities computing in the U.K.

multipaper session
  1. 1. Willard McCarty

    King's College London, Centre for Computing in the Humanities - King's College London, Department of Digital Humanities - King's College London

  2. 2. Lou Burnard

    Oxford University, Computing Service - Oxford University, Humanities Computing Unit - Oxford University

  3. 3. Marilyn Deegan

    De Montfort University

  4. 4. Jean Anderson

    University of Glasgow, School of English - University of Glasgow

  5. 5. Harold Short

    King's College London

Child sessions
  1. Individual statements (in the order of presentation), Lou Burnard, Jean Anderson, Harold Short, Marilyn Deegan
Work text
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Root, trunk, and branch: institutional and infrastructural models for humanities computing in the U.K.
Willard McCarty
King's College London
Lou Burnard
Oxford University
Marilyn Deegan
De Montfort University
Jean Anderson
University of Glasgow
Harold Short
King's College London
Keywords: institutional humanities computing

The question
In the half-century since humanities computing began, with the work of Roberto Busa, the activities grouped under this rubric have grown in number, sophistication, and institutional importance. They have developed from a loose collection of techniques, often applied as "mere tools" in the pursuit of seemingly unrelated research questions, to what at least some argue is a coherent academic field with its own role to play in research and training of students. Although full- and part-time academic posts are as yet very rare, and dedicated support units in the field are still by no means the norm, academic institutions throughout the world are beginning in a serious way to identify humanities computing as part of their basic mission and institutional profile. Humanities computing plays a major role in the planning of professional associations and international academic bodies such as the British Academy and the American Council of Learned Societies. At this stage it is not entirely clear, however, how the field should best be organised, or indeed how it should be defined and related to the other disciplines and to the support activities with which it is associated.

How institutions within the U.K. are dealing with these issues is the broad question this panel seeks to address. It is an important question because good models, which we are in process of discovering, are an invaluable aid to others who wish to bring the benefits of computing, intelligently applied, into their departments and disciplines. Institutions are under considerable pressure to get whatever they do right the first time; this is, as always, truer for the application of technology in the resource-poor humanities than in other disciplines. Proven models are therefore badly needed.

The scope of the panel is limited to the U.K. for practical reasons, but the intention is very much to contribute to an international discussion. Its aim -- ambitious enough -- is a coherent view of what may be possible for humanities computing within one country. The U.K. in fact makes a good case in point, since it is sufficiently small and centralised yet institutionally diverse to form the basis of a manageable study.

From within the U.K., three universities with long history of activity in humanities computing are represented -- Glasgow, King's College London, and Oxford -- together with national initiatives, such as the Office for Humanities Communication (OHC), the Computers in Teaching Initiative (CTI), and the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS).

Attention to the institutional issues surrounding humanities computing is possibly as old as the field itself; such issues were, for example, the basis for the creation of Humanist in 1987 and have continued to be among the revisited topics. Panels devoted to the subject have become a regular feature of ACH/ALLC conferences. This panel follows directly, however, from a Colloquium on Humanities Computing, convened in September 1996 by the STELLA Project (Glasgow), King's College London, and De Montfort University to discuss the nature and purpose of the field. Position statements and notes from the Colloquium were put on the Web shortly after the event, and there are immediate plans to use these as stimulus for discussion on Humanist, and thence in further publications. This panel is intended as one means among these others of advancing the discussion.

Structure of the panel
Based on the outcome of discussions preceding the Conference, panel members Burnard, Anderson, and Short will be asked first to address the fundamental question of what humanities computing is, then to describe its form at their home institutions and how they see it evolving, with particular attention to the problems and opportunities of their particular model. Deegan will then describe the supra-institutional means in the U.K. for coordinating activities among institutions and representing these both to national agencies and to the international community. McCarty, as chair, will introduce the issues and discussants and following their presentations, sum up and lead a discussion with members of the audience.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at Queen's University

Kingston, Ontario, Canada

June 3, 1997 - June 7, 1997

76 works by 119 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ALLC (9), ACH/ICCH (17), ALLC/EADH (24)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC