The use of technology to enhance research is an increasingly important part of the study of humanities in the 21st century, and Oxford University remains at the forefront of progress in this area. In recognition of this, its Humanities Division has recently been awarded around £600,000 in funding for projects to digitise the humanities.
The grant comes from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)’s Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact (DEDEFI) scheme, a peer-reviewed award which is made every year.
The funding is shared among four interdisciplinary projects across the University, benefiting the Faculties of Music, Astrophysics, Classics and Oriental Studies and the Ruskin School of Fine Art, as well as the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian Libraries.
The projects involve uploading images of thousands of original sources, texts and manuscripts onto the internet; creating teaching resources for scholars, students and the general public; and improving techniques used to read, decipher and study these documents.
Dr Andrew Fairweather-Tall, Research Co-ordinator for the Humanities Division, said: ‘Humanities research very often relies on primary source material, which may be fragile, unreadable, in another country or far away from the thing you need to compare it to.
‘Being able to use technologies that help you see things the human eye cannot, and to bring things together digitally in one virtual place and access them anywhere in the world, is really transforming the kind of research we can do.
‘Oxford University leads the way in pioneering these techniques in the humanities, and this funding will allow us to take our work in this field to the next level.’
The Music Faculty with the Bodleian Libraries and Bangor University will be able to improve their Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music (DIAMM), an expanding online archive of medieval music manuscripts.
Co-director Dr Elizabeth Eva Leach, from the Faculty of Music, says: ‘The AHRC funding will be used to purchase a faster and better camera to provide more images for some of the more important of these missing sources, as well as to enhance, expand and update the source database so as to make DIAMM the premier resource for all those interested in medieval music culture.’
Dr Dirk Obbink from Faculty of Classics says: ‘This project will utterly transform the way ancient texts are transcribed, deciphered and understood.
‘Where once deciphering manuscripts was a slow process done by a few specialists, software developed by the project will give these interested users the chance to further educate themselves in decipherment and the editing of ancient and Medieval manuscripts.’
The Ashmolean, with the Ruskin School of Fine Art and the University of Arts London, will receive money for ‘The Elements of Drawing’ project.
The project has made the collection of drawings, prints and photographs assembled by John Ruskin for teaching students available online for the first time.
The AHRC award will develop the website’s teaching resources for the general public, artists and schoolchildren, and allow users to save and share their own routes through the collection and to add their comments on the pieces.
The faculties of Classics and Oriental Studies are working with Southampton University on a reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) capture system for ancient documents.
‘It recognises the progress we have made in recent years in improving methods of imaging and will allow us to continue this innovative research and apply it to new and important collections of ancient documents and artefacts.'