Q- What is the Centre for Humanities Computing and what do you do?
A- The Centre for Humanities Computing has been going since 1988, I think. There was a need to have somewhere central for the Arts lecturers to come to and use computers, and as there is no Arts Faculty as such, they set it up here at the Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS). We are part of the Humanities Computing Unit (HCU) now. Our focus is just the University service, we run two user rooms, with a mixture of Macintoshes and PCs, and we also organize most of the training courses for the graduate students. We take all the new graduates through a two hours introduction to computing course on the first term, and then we run specialized courses later on in the term or in the next terms.
Q- So you were born as a users' help facility. Do you also help undergraduates?
A- We let undergraduates come in, but there are so many that we don't encourage them to do it. The OUCS itself isn't for undergraduates.
Q- What kind of user comes here? What do people want to do?
A- Print, basically. Print and type. Many of them use strange fonts, like ancient Greek or Japanese. Some people do e-mail, others do scanning... It gets really busy during terms.
Q- Can you tell us a bit more about the training courses?
A- Yes. In most cases they're compulsory for the graduates. It's a one session basic introduction to IT resources here at Oxford. Then we talk about the Internet: what it is, how to use it, how to search the web, where they can get e-mail
, and then we take them through the network resources we have at the University and the libraries. We also tell them about bibliographic software, and we finish up with word processing, viruses and backup. So this is the basis every graduate student gets, and for some of them we have extra talks on electronic texts and text analysis, like the Modern Language and English students. Next term we'll do talks on spread sheets and databases for the History students, because they are interested in that.
Q- How many students are coming to the courses? If it's compulsory you must get lots.
A- In five weeks we do about 60 hours of teaching, which isn't much, but this is not a teaching unit as such. We've had about 220 graduate students, and this is quite good. We also try to get the faculties involved, for example, if the talk is about resources network they should look up, the librarian of the Faculty usually comes to talk about that.
Q- What is the Humanities Training Day?
A- That has been running for nine years now, it happens twice a term and we take about 50 people on each. Most years we do four a year, so we get about 200 people, which was the only voluntary training the graduates had, but now we try to encourage staff to come as well. We go through all the things that could be of interest to Humanities academics, so a lot of it is what we do on the training courses, but we throw in Multimedia and other things as a kind of presentation so that they come to more specialized courses or to use our computers. Apart from that, we have designed a more structured course on Humanities Computing for the next term and the summer term.
You also publish a Newsletter...
A- Yes, we give it out every term to nearly four thousand people now. There are printed copies and we also have it on the web. Itīs meant to keep people up to date with what we have been doing. We also have subject specific publications in our web page, that we do for every faculty. It gives them basic information about what they can read and research.
Q- What about the bulletin board?
A- We started that last year, and it's not being used very much, to be honest. We thought students would want a forum to discuss, but they don't.
Q- The CHC is also involved in a series of research projects, can you tell us something about the JTAP Virtual Seminars for Teaching Literature?
A- That was a project that ran from October 1996 to October 1998. It was myself and PaulGroves. We answered a national call for projects which showed how to use technology for teaching. I had already done a website to teach one poem of the First World War, and from that we designed four online tutorials. There is also a digital archive of manuscripts, photographs and other material, with a feature added that allows the user to create a path through the material. It won two awards, one here at Oxford, and a National Award for Teaching using the web.
Q- I want to ask you about that educational application called "The Dream of the Rood".
A- I worked in that project from 1992 to 1994, I think. It was another government call for projects. There were some things there, like a book on Multimedia that went up in the web later. But the main thing was to develop a shell that would allow people to create hypertext editions easily. And then we did a sample one on the Old English poem The Dream of the Rood. It was very easy, users wouldnīt need to know anything about computers, but only basic things like how to save a text file and an image file, it was all through filling up boxes. We tried to get funding to do a web version of that because it would be excellent, but finally didnīt.
Q-What else do you do at Oxford? Are you a member of any Faculty?
A- Apart from the CHC, the other thing that takes up much of my time is the University Committee I run to decide what network resources to buy, together with a dozen librarians. This is a very interesting job. I am a member of the Faculty of English. What I teach regularly there is a series of lectures on Electronic Publishing every Hilary Term. At Continuing Education I teach Old English, I do summer schools at Cambridge, and now Iīm teaching First World War Poetry.
Q- Your last project is called "Scoping the future of Oxford's digital resources"
A-Yes. It was a nine month study funded by the Mellon Foundation, and I was at the Bodleian library all this time. We wanted to look at all the digitization projects that were going on in Oxford, and then see what we could do to take this forward, to try and make it a bit more structured. The University has got lots of really rare collections prime for digitization, and up to now the only way to do it was to get national grants. But if we want to be a bit more in control of that, we have to look at what we need, not only hardware, but also to know how to look at the hundreds of collections and decide which is to be done first. The Scoping study tried to do this, and it has recommended the setting up of a special service dedicated to the digitization purpose.
Q- Do you think the University will agree to create this special Department or Unit?
A- Yes, I think so. The library sector is pretty keen on digitization, because for example the photographs of documents or master images can be used by a lot of people without further damaging the original document. And it can be done on-line.