Use this section to find out about:
- About Main Page
- What are the Digital Humanities?
- The Digital.Humanities@Oxford Initiative
- The OeRC Team
- Humanities at OeRC
- History of Oxford Digital Humanities
- Virtual Research Environment
This site has been developed by the Oxford e-Research Centre, with help from IT Services, the Bodleian Libraries, and the Humanities Division, with essential funding support from JISC and the Oxford University John Fell Fund.
History of Digital Humanities at Oxford
Humanities computing has a long tradition in Oxford. By 1975 there were a number of projects, mostly in Classics, History and Oriental Studies, where concordances and databases were being used. In an attempt to create a focus for these and to promote more awareness the University created a post initially called Teaching Officer for Computing in the Arts based in the Computing Service (OUCS), which was taken up by Susan Hockey in early 1975. In 1976 the Computing Service appointed Lou Burnard as a programmer for humanities computing.
Initially the COCOA program from the Atlas Laboratory was used for concordances, but when support for it was withdrawn by Atlas, the Computer Board, which then provided funding for university computing, asked OUCS to develop a replacement after conducting research into user needs. The project was jointly funded by what was then the Social Science Research Council and carried out towards the end of the 1970s. The Project Director Susan Hockey and programmer Ian Marriott visited almost all the universities that were in existence at that time to canvass user needs. The resulting application, the Oxford Concordance Program (OCP), was distributed to almost all Computer Board-funded institutions and sold to approximately 100 other institutions around the world. A PC version (Micro-OCP) was later published in Oxford University Press.
Meanwhile, Lou Burnard began to develop database applications and also founded the Oxford Text Archive in an attempt to prevent electronic texts being lost when their original creators had finished with them. The database facilities on the ICL mainframe computer could model much more complex information than the old tape-based flat files and encouraged more historians and archaeologists to take up computing. The Text Archive developed into an internationally known service where users could deposit texts or acquire versions of texts. In the early 1980s, the Text Archive gained extra support when it became one of the nodes in the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS).
With Computer Board support, OUCS also took on two other national roles for humanities computing at the beginning of the 1980s. The first was a pioneering OCR service managed overall by Susan Hockey using the Kurzweil Data Entry Machine (KDEM), one of the earliest OCR devices, offering the possibility of text entry without the need for keyboarding; its software had a facility to “learn” the typeface of a particular text in a so-called training phase before text entry began. The second service was a Monotype Lasercomp typesetter which provided very high quality camera-ready copy in a variety of typefaces and scripts. In the days before word-processing and the Internet, the Lasercomp facilitated publication of scholarly material in the humanities. OUCS developed software to enable users to prepare material for the Lasercomp and the service acquired users in a number of other universities.
The Oxford facilities began to be known on the international as well as the national scene. Members of staff presented papers at the annual conferences on computing in the humanities and Oxford hosted the conferences in 1976 and in 1992. Lou Burnard and Susan Hockey were among the twenty invited participants at a meeting on text encoding at Vassar College, New York in 1987, out of which grew the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) which developed a common encoding scheme for humanities electronic texts. Lou Burnard has been one of the editors of the TEI since its inception and Susan Hockey twice chaired its Steering Committee. The TEI was one of the very earliest uses of structured markup (SGML and XML) and its influence has been far-reaching, with input to the World Wide Web Consortium’s XML standards and to the wider XML community.
Oxford also received support from the Computers in Teaching Initiative (CTI), a funding programme in the 1980s. The CTI supported two staff who developed a front end to OCP and other software to make it easier to search texts online. The second phase of the CTI was the establishment of a number of national subject-specific support centres. The CTI Centre for Textual Studies was based in Oxford under Susan Hockey’s direction. It ran workshops, produced a newsletter and generally acted as a focal point. Marilyn Deegan managed the centre, aided by some support staff. The CTI Centre acquired additional support in late 1990 when it was asked to take on the Office for Humanities Communication after its Director, who was based in Leicester, retired.
Another humanities computing research project also began in the late 1980s with the appointment of Peter Robinson as a Research Officer with funding from the Trust. This developed a very successful manuscript collation programme called Collate.
OUCS was also a partner in the development of the British National Corpus together with Oxford University Press, the University of Lancaster and other publishers. This project produced a 100 million-word corpus of English which is used for language research and teaching and dictionary-making world-wide.