ACO*HUM Advanced Computing in the Humanities

Fourth meeting of the ACO*HUM Steering Commitee

Bergen, September 29, 1998.

Steering Committee members present at the meeting: Daniel Apollon, Bente Opheim (secretary), Dino Buzzetti, Harold Short, Koenraad de Smedt (chairman).
Absent: William Vaughan.
Other partners present: Manfred Thaller.

Minutes of the third meeting

The minutes of the third meeting are approved.


At the time of this meeting, the Commission has notified the project that they recommend continuation, but no contract has been received yet.

There will be a change in the project administration. Bente Opheim, who has administered the project in a 50% job, will take a different fulltime position outside the project. The Steering Committee wishes to thank Bente Opheim for her good work in the project and especially for the preparation of the conference. From October 1, the project will be administered from the Centre for Humanities Information Technologies (HIT) at the University of Bergen. Eldbjørg Gunnarson will be contact person and administrator. The HIT centre will provide additional technical support through its technical staff if needed. The project office contact information on the web pages is being changed accordingly.

Evaluation of the Conference

The Steering Committee is pleased with the conference held in Bergen, Sep. 25-28, 1998. Despite adversity in the form of very short time for planning, the conference was a success. The audience of about 200 participants was richly varied and showed good international coverage. Many academic fields in the humanities were represented. In addition there was sufficient participation from humanities related organizations, companies and decision making levels, although representatives from the European Commission were conspicuously absent. There was good interactivity, good common understanding and a low level of 'selling campaign marketing'. The conference was a unique event in its way to transcend displine boundaries, national boundaries and professional boundaries at the same time. Thus, the event could, perhaps for the first time, focus on important meta-issues in the humanities and come to a redefinition of humanities in the digital age.

Nevertheless, the conference should not be regarded as a final point, but rather as a beginning. The conference was characterized by testing and example-based thinking. The humanities community has a long way to to in terms of a wholistic and Europe-wide perspective. The changing society in the digital age will continue to require adaptation of academic environments and societal partners such as archives, libraries and museums. Although the projects presented were in touch with the real world, there are at present no convincing industrial applications ('killer' applications) which fully show the kind of integration needed.

From the viewpoint of organization, the conference was run in according to the plan and went smoothly. All speakers in the final program showed up. There were minor technical problems, but no disasters. The social program was a success and allowed participants to communicate in a friendly setting.

The conference will require a lot of follow-up work. The conference will be reported in the final project report 1997-1998 to the Commission. The conference will be evaluated by an e-mail survey to the participants, who will also be thanked for their attendance. An address list will be provided on the web site. Live audio recording of the sessions will be provided as well. The workshop report will be made accessible. A publication of selected papers from the conference must be given consideration. In that case, the publication must be under the auspices of both projects involved. An application for complementary measures must be considered. A possible planning is that papers will be received by the end of December.

TNP structure and functioning

The working group on History of Art is not functioning well. William Vaughan, who has coordinated this working group for a year, resigns in his 'caretaker' role. Harold Short and William Vaughan will together look for a new working group coordinator and report to the TNP coordinator. It is unclear if William Vaughan also wants to resign as a Steering Committee member.

Other working groups are running well. They have participated actively towards the conference and the workshops.

Focus of third year activities: Publication of a book

The focus of ACO*HUM activities in its third and final year, as proposed in the reapplication, is the publication of analyses and recommendations. This will take the form of a book structured in six main chapters, one for each working group. The book will be a self-contained but must at the same time be placed in the context of long-range ongoing activities. It will be a snapshot but will have strategic importance for the future by pointing out how the goals of the network can be realized. The goals of the book are: The book will present analyses, proposals and recommendations based on facts and overviews. Part of the analysis has already been carried out by the working groups, who of course already have considerable expertise, but it needs to be supplemented by more fact finding to reach representativity and European coverage. In the publication, a discussion of the role of learned societies and professional associations should not be forgotten.

Fact finding will be the first step. HIT, through Manfred Thaller, will assist in finding out about people and activities active in the humanities computing field, but this is projected as a 2-3 year exercise and will therefore be of limited value to ACO*HUM. The ALLC wants to sponsor information gathering as well. Information gathering should be incremental and the information should be accessable early. The fact gathering phase should not be an isolated activity but must be integrated in the network activities as a whole. Findings need to be written down in a carefully chosen language. What has been collected must be seen and presented as part of a longer term process.

The book writing project will receive an overall coordination by the TNP Coordinator (Koenraad de Smedt). Co-editors for each chapter will be appointed by each working group. By default, the working group coordinators will be the editors of the chapters. The process will be run by a work package approach with deliverables and milestones. In the course of November, a concrete plan will be proposed to the working groups by Koenraad de Smedt. Each chapter will be based on a common template. Originally, the publication plan would draw from experience gained in a language technology survey in Belgium and The Netherlands. However, this survey does not prove to be useful since it concentrates on research, not education.

Preparation of other TNP-wide actions

Impact assessment and evaluation must take place now that the conference is over. A blueprint from the Euroliterature will be used as guidance. The participation of the learned societies and professional associations will be used.

Preparation of WG actions

Each of the working groups will focus on the writing of a chapter for the book (see above), for which they will have a large degree of responsibility. However, secondary goals and corresponding activities for each working group are listed in the workplan specified in the application.

The working group on History and historical informatics has submitted a change to their workplan. In Jan Oldervoll's letter of September 29, 1998, it proposes the organization of a series of retraining courses aimed at Ph.D. students and junior staff. The goal of the courses is to teach the use of IT in teaching. Four of these courses are planned in 1999 at different universities of Europe, covering different subtopics. The network is asked for a contribution of NOK 40K in travel money. The steering committee conditionally agrees to this, provided that the rules for eligibility and the overall project goals are respected. The focus of activities of each working group must be still be the writing of analyses and recommendations. The organization of retraining courses must not be considered goals in themselves, but must be considered test cases to be reported on in the analysis and recommendations. Courses and all other activities must be reported on in detail, by pointing out needs and expected benefits, European perspective, infrastructure proposals, pedagogical value, best practice, recommendations and test results.

The future under Socrates 2

Since ACO*HUM has started on its third and final project year, the afterlife of the project must be considered. The current project has been a reflection on Advanced Computing in the Humanities, with the goal of providing understanding and paving the way for future work. Subsequently, the environment should be shifted towards the development and implementation of Therefore, ACO*HUM should, in its publication, identify vital areas for followup. The following actors should take up the project from where it will leave off: Associations like the ALLC and other ones involved in the current project should consider integrating some of the results and activities of the project into their own strategic plans, and proposing and hosting the next generation of thematic network projects.

Koenraad de Smedt, October 25, 1998