A Virtual Research Environment for the Study of Documents and Manuscripts (VRE-SDM)

Project Description:

The VRE-SDM was funded under the VRE2 Programme by the JISC as a two year pilot project to demonstrate support for documentary and manuscript scholars. The project was led by the
Humanities Division at Oxford University and was based at and greatly supported by the Oxford eResearch Centre (OeRC).

The VRE for the Study of Documents and Manuscripts addresses the user needs of documentary, textual and manuscript scholars. Focusing in the first instance on the requirements of ancient
documentary specialists working in the fields of Epigraphy and Papyrology, the pilot has adapted Open Source tools to enable sophisticated annotation and document viewing and makes use of
existing VRE tools to facilitate communication and collaboration between scholars. As such the project provides an exemplar for the construction of Virtual Research Environments across the
broader humanities research community.

The project created a pilot VRE through which one might:

  • View, manipulate and enhance digitized images of documents and manuscripts within a portal framework
  • Search across multiple, distributed data sets, images and texts
  • Select, store and organise items from the above, in a ‘personal workspace’
  • Add annotations to these items to store personal thoughts and responses
  • Support collaboration by allowing multiple researchers in separate locations to share a common view of the workspace, in conjunction with real time communication via Chat, VoIP and desktop integration with Access Grid
  • Allow a collaborator to comment, point/highlight, discuss and annotate the items in the shared workspace
  • Gain comprehensive user requirements and expand the use of the VRE for documentary and manuscript scholars in other fields of humanities research

Although the pilot focused initially on ancient documents, it is constructed so as to be usable by textual specialists working in other languages, periods and cultures. The context has also been
extended through the potential use of the XDB Archii system by treating documents not as disembodied texts but as artefacts which can and should be related to their original physical context.
This enlarged perspective opens up the possibility of collaboration between documentary scholars and archaeologists in their respective implementations of VRE technologies. Such collaboration is not
only of benefit to both communities, but also provides a model for the integration of separate VRE implementations across related disciplines.