The Oxford Digital Humanities Project

Elizabeth Frye




There were quite a few good examples of technological resources in the humanities, which could have never existed in previous decades that I came across while searching around. People are truly lucky today to have the access to information via the internet and as a result of advanced technology that they never would have dreamed of in the past. Information and important pieces of past knowledge can be shared, analyzed, and even preserved digitally. It can be looked at and analyzed in ways they have not before through specially developed software. One very interesting example of technological advances in the field of humanities is the Oxford Digital Humanities project at Oxford University. This project, “…aims to support researchers and support and contract staff, promote collaboration and exchange, provide a basis for planning, and raise the internal and external profile of Oxford's Digital Humanities activities.”[1] Oxford’s digital humanities project is truly an incredible example of how technology has changed how we access, analyze, and preserve information. I had not heard of this project before and it was interesting to look into all that they have been doing.

The Oxford Digital Humanities site offers an excellent description of exactly what the digital humanities are and how important this advancement in technology is to the humanities field, “Digital technologies have the power to transform humanities research, making it easier and more efficient, enabling new ways of working, opening up new questions and creating new knowledge, or answering existing questions more fully and systematically.”[2] Through technology data can be looked and analyzed in ways they never have been before. An important point that this site stresses when discussing how technology has influenced the humanities is how it has increased access to research materials for researchers. Technology has also allowed scholars to process, represent, and connect various sets of data that they have. Some of these data sets would have just been too much to take on before. New technology like this resource also is conducive to collaboration between the scholars, helping to build a community feeling between scholars in the same areas that would have not been as easily developed in years past without such technological advancements.[3] As has been seen with some of the other technologies out there, such as collaborative wikis dedicated to different humanities topics, technology has been very important to fostering this cooperation.

The Oxford Digital Humanities project is truly an incredible project. Reading through some of the background of this on their site, they have been on of the forefront when it comes to the development of advanced technologies for the humanities and also the use of digital tools and resources for research in the humanities for years. They were involved in such projects going back to the 1970s.[4] Oxford University has been lucky to receive several grants over the years to help pay for some of these highly expensive projects that many such libraries or colleges may not have been able to afford taking on. The Virtual Research Environment, “for the study of documents and manuscripts (VRE-SDM) is a project supported by the Humanities Division at Oxford, hosted by the Oxford e-Research Centre, and funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). “[5] The VRE helped in addressing the documentary, textual and manuscript scholars through their pilot project that Oxford supported, improving being able to search data sets and supporting collaboration between researchers. Oxford has been working to improve collaboration and working with data, which they are continuing to do through their current Digital Humanities project. This project is nowhere near being finished though, as they have a line-up of projects that they are still working on and adding to their website. The list of finished projects is searchable as is the list of projects that they are still working on that have not been posted as well as the people working on this project.

I decided to look through some of the projects to see what kinds of things there have worked on in the past and are currently working on now. There were many subject areas represented including English Languages and Literature, Linguistics, Modern Language, Music, and Visual Arts to name a few. I selected the English Languages and Literature subject area to explore the projects in this area to see what kinds of things they have been working. When I chose this subject as my search criteria and hit go it took me page to a listing with all the projects that Oxford has done so far. The projects that weren’t done yet were not linked anywhere to any other page yet, but you could see the person responsible for working on them at the moment and topic. One project that was completed was First World War Poetry Digital Archive & The Great War Archive. Those who worked on the project were listed as was a description of the overall project. Another interesting thing that I noted was that they listed the methods that they used when working on the project such as collaboration, data analysis, data capture, and data publishing and dissemination.[6] It was interesting that they took the time to list this on the project page, as some people looking through the site at the projects might not care. However, it was interesting to someone exploring an unfamiliar resource like this like myself. Also listed were other groups and universities that helped and collaborated with the Oxford people on the project, so though not a collaborative wiki, this website and the projects on are definitely collaborative projects. On the project description page there was an access point to the finished project website on the project summary page. I explored the website for the Poets of the Great War topic that I selected.

The site for this particular project was an amazing digital archive of, “over 7,000 items of text, images, audio, and video for teaching, learning, and research.”[7] The features on the site that were put together as a result of the project were truly amazing. One could really imagine all the hard work and collaboration must have gone into this. This is a fabulous resource that features not only digitalized collections of some of the most prominent poets of the period, but also multimedia artifacts from the Imperial War Museum and even educational exhibit using the three dimensional Second Life. I’ve seen websites for various topics and individual authors with all their works listed on the website and some of their manuscripts. However, most of them do not feature any technology beyond that. The First World War digital archive offered so much more than some of the other digital archives that I have seen before. This WWI website put together by the Oxford project really utilizes some amazing technologies that no one would have thought of utilizing in the past. I looked through some of the other projects in the literature subject area and some the websites that were put together a result of other scholars’ collaboration didn’t have as much, but they were nice websites that would be a good resource for students and other scholars.

I looked through some of the other subject areas as well to see the summary pages for other projects that Oxford has worked on and the other websites put together. Some of those that I viewed didn’t have website listed yet on the main page. I thought that maybe some of them did not yet have the websites completed because they were mid project still. It was interesting to browse through the projects that were done already and to see all the amazing work that has been done. There really were many diverse resources digitalized and offered in the other subject areas with resources like maps, old tablets, and even an archive of Shakespeare quotes available. The site has even had projects in the field of library and information science, including some on ancient libraries. This Oxford Digital Humanities website truly is amazing resource.

A final thing that I thought was interesting to note about their search page was that you could search by the ICT methods that went into working on the project and putting together such as data analysis and data capture, which as I mentioned were things listed on the page when first open the project. If you just wanted to find a project that was put together using a certain method than you could search that. If you are unsure what they are talking about in regards to these forms of methodology, the site even offers a page offering definitions of the ICT methods.[8] Also in the search options was doing a search by the people who worked on the project if you happened to know who it was working on an individual project or were interested in one project that they worked on so wanted to see some of the other things they did.
The Oxford Digital Humanities website is truly an amazing resource and example of how technology has helped to organize and share research and resources in ways that were once not possible. People working on the project at Oxford could collaborate with people at other universities and working on similar projects in other places. The collaboration that went on this project was truly amazing and could not have gone on without all the advancements in technology that there are now. Oxford University has done some amazing work here with the grants and other funding that was awarded to them. Years ago, this information and data could not have been put together, analyzed, and digitalized the way it has been through this and other digital humanities projects. It is interesting to see all the information that is available and the websites that have been built just from the work of people on this project on this alone not just when it comes to the humanities, but also in other fields too.

Bibliography
University of Oxford, Digital.Humanities@Oxford, http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/Default.aspx (accessed October 22, 2011).



[1]University of Oxford, Digital.Humanities@Oxford, http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/ (accessed October 21, 2011)
[2] University of Oxford, Digital.Humanities@Oxford, http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/About/whatarethedh.aspx (accessed October 21, 2011)
[3] University of Oxford, Digital.Humanities@Oxford, “What Are the Digital Humanities?” http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/About/whatarethedh.aspx (accessed October 21, 2011)
[4] University of Oxford, Digital.Humanities@Oxford,, “About” http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/About/About.aspx (accessed October 21, 2011).
[5] University of Oxford, Digital.Humanities@Oxford, http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/VRE/VRE.aspx (accessed October 22, 2011).
[6] University of Oxford, Digital.Humanities@Oxford, http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/ProjectProfile/Project_page.aspx?pid=50 (accessed October 21, 2011)
[7] The First World War Poetry Digital Archive http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/ (accessed October 21, 2011)
[8] University of Oxford, Digital.Humanities@Oxford, http://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/Methods/ICT-methodology.aspx (accessed October 21, 2011)