2.2 Description of activities

N.B. Full text of the minutes and reports related to the activities described below are available via the web site, http://www.uib.no/acohum.

Aims and objectives

The network primarily aims at the development of effective coordinated mechanisms in the future of European undergraduate and graduate (taught Masters) curricula in the Humanities by integrating advanced computing.

The first year have mainly been an effort of organizing the network with a view of working towards these aims. The main outcomes of the first academic year (1996 -1997) consist of the establishment of a project office, a management structure and an information structure including a website. Initial meetings were held (see part 2.1) and a survey was carried out (see below).

The first year was also one of creating awareness among our partners as well as within a larger circle of institutions with common interests. ACO*HUM succeeded in presenting the main priorities within our theme, which were immediately recognized as important ones. The participation in the activities of the network was enthousiastic.

Organizational approach and structure

Although several professional organizations exist in the area of Advanced Computing in the Humanities (such as as EACL, ALLC-ACH, AHC and CHArt), none of these represents a unified approach to the problem from the viewpoint of educational needs. An new network structure needed to be put in place.

A Steering Committee was composed of the following experts: Daniel Apollon, Dino Buzzetti, Harold Short, William Vaughan and the project coordinator. The committee had its first meeting on December 19 in London. At this meeting, it was agreed that the TNP should secure the cooperation of existing international associations for computing in various areas of the humanities (ALLC-ACH, EACL, CHART, AHC). All of these associations have in the meantime committed themselves towards ACO*HUM.

In order to make the network activities manageable, four pilot projects were created within the network For each pilot project, a working group was created.

  • Computational linguistics and language engineering. The working group consisted of Bill Black (Manchester), Walter Daelemans (Tilburg and Antwerpen), Laurence Danlos (Paris), Joakim Nivre (Göteborg), Koenraad de Smedt (Bergen, chair), Hans Uszkoreit (Saarbrücken), and Felisa Verdejo (Madrid)
  • Textual scholarship and edition philology. The working group consisted of Lou Burnard (Oxford), Lisa Lena Opas (Joensuu), Espen S. Ore (Bergen, chair), Wilhelm Ott (Tübingen), Harold Short (King's College, London), Chris Stevens (Oxford), and Andrea Tabarroni (Udine).
  • History and historical informatics. The working group consisted of Dino Buzetti (Bologna), Peter Denley (Queen Mary and Westfield, London), Ingo Kropac (Graz), Andrew Prescott (London, Guildhall), Jan Oldervoll (Bergen, chair), Manfred Thaller (Bergen & Max-Planck, Göttingen), and George Welling (Groningen).
  • History of art and aesthetic disciplines. The working group consisted of Britt Kroepelien (coordinator), Will Vaughan (chair), Anthea Peppin, Hubertus Kohl, Gerhard Nauta, and Trish Cashen.
  • The structure based on these small working groups was regarded as fruitful to start moving in the initial phase. However, in order for the organization to have more extended contact between the working groups and with all partners, we also began planning larger events a conference is being planned in 1998, and a policy symposium is planned in the fall of 1997.

    Pedagogical and didactic approaches based on action priorities

    The realization that the humanities is in need of a common approach to new technologies which is critically different from that in other areas of study, is the starting point for our pedagogical and didactic approach. This fits in a wider perspective based on the recognition that new technologies are having a different impact on different scientific disciplines. The resulting desirability of diversification by discipline-specific methodology implies, in the case of the humanities, that the standard commercial tools for word processing and image handling are totally insufficient for learning and teaching at university level. In dealing with language and culture, humanities scholars need very refined computing tools which are able to handle sound and meaning, words and images, logic and art.

    This approach will be pursued horizontally (with respect to various methodologies and roles of advanced computing) as well as vertically (with respect to the various humanities disciplines).

    Vertically, with respect to disciplines, the four above-mentioned working groups cover discipline-related areas within the Humanities which have been selected as initial focal points.

    On a horizontal line, the four working groups have concentrated largely on the same priorities and followed similar lines of action. Starting from an assessment of the present quality of cooperation in the relevant areas and the current state of curricula and recent curriculum development activities, a discussion was generated on how to improve teaching methods, by curriculum innovation as well as the use of advanced computing tools. This discussion, which was conducted within the working groups by means of meetings and among all partners by means of a survey, was aimed at paving the way for joint course and programme development as well as international cooperation in the development and exchange of advanced computing tools. The working groups also identified libraries, museums and archives as important external partners toward achieving project goals.

    The groups had initial brainstorming meetings between October 1996 and February 1997, and set up Web pages. The main pedagogic issues discussed were the following.

    Computational linguistics and language technology

    This working group draws significantly on expertise in European cooperation and curricula. A meeting was held in Brussels on Dec. 4, 1996 and another one on July 7, 1997. It was established that the area should seek active contact with international organizations (EACL, ALLC-ACH, FOLLI, ELRA and ELSNET) and national and regional organizations. Initial plans were made to gather experience by launching in basic international courses in computational linguistics and experimenting with WWW-based delivery. The following desirable activities were identified as useful towards the TNP goals: awareness spreading, building inventories and repositories of computational resources, requirements gathering and building an infrastructure for international placement (internship).

    Textual scholarship and edition philology

    A meeting was held in London on Dec. 2-3, 1996. The meeting expressed its concern that the different educational systems and degree structures currently make it difficult to work on elements of pan-European curricula. However, there was a consensus that the fields to be covered under the name textual scholarship and edition philology should include at least the following: text encoding, text repositories, hypermedia, stilometrics and other text statistics, and image processing (a.o. facsimile manuscripts). Work on country profiles and on cataloguing textual resources will support scholarship at a European level. Plans for ODL-pilots are identified as desirable towards the TNP goals.

    History and historical informatics

    The group met in Bergen on October 25-27, 1996, discussing the strategy of how to further teaching of historical informatics and computer based teaching of history. A major task will be to make sources and other teaching material available on the Internet or in other digital form, to develop Internet-based teaching strategies, to set up support network and to develop actual teaching. In the course of the project, a bibliography will be compiled and put on the net and a sample CD-Rom with teaching resources will be offered. Experiments in WWW-based teaching will be carried out and a support network will be offered to people wanting to make teaching material and sources available on the net. A model will be created for a European degree in historical informatics.

    History of art and aesthetic disciplines

    The group met in Bergen on February 15, 1997, raising the following issues: development of IT skills for teachers as well as students, compatibility of course structures, establishing databanks, access to sources, copyright problems, and problems of compatibility of image formats. As far as teaching was concerned, the committee members were emphatic that it is important to introduce students to IT integrated into the working methods of their subject, not just generic introductions to IT. The committee put together an agenda comprising resources, tools, standards, training, delimitation of the area, identification of participant groups, and communication. The committee recommended seeking active contact with museums and art collections. Contact has been established with CHArt (Association for Computers and History of Art).

    Open and distance learning

    All working groups identified distance learning modules as an important instrument for joint course and programme development crossing national boundaries. Web-based course delivery is rapidly becoming a feasible and practical alternative to other ODL media. However, it was also established that the various humanities disciplines require specialized multimedia presentation modules for the rendition of language structures, special graphics, sound manipulation, and other multimedia. Such modules are as yet not available for integration in Web-based delivery. It was established that further international cooperation efforts, e.g. within the SOCRATES ODL action, should be directed towards such necessary presentation modules.


    The large size of the network, combined with practical and financial restrictions, made it necessary to rely on the Internet via e-mail and Web in order to supplement physical meetings of persons involved. During this first year of the TNP, major efforts were devoted to setting up an Internet-based infrastructure for communication. A website was created at http://www.uib.no/acohum. This site offers a summary of the project, a comprehensive project description, a searchable list of partners, and contact details; separate subsites were established for the four working groups and the steering committee. Finally, the project results, such as survey results, are made accessible here.

    At the end of February 1997, a survey was conducted by Internet among all partners in order to gather factual information and get feedback on problems, experiences and ideas. HTML forms with CGI scripts were used to gather responses. However, this method needed to be supplemented by the use of e-mail which was manually processed and entered in a database. Our experience proved that the use of the Internet for such surveys is efficient only in theory. In practice, a substantial amount of manual processing is involved. Furthermore, the response to the survey was rather low.


    In its first year, the project was still at such an early stage in its lifetime that any formal evaluation effort was deemed to be premature as well as unjustified with respect to resources involved. However, subjective experiences with early activities show the desirability of involving the wider group of partners more directly in information gathering and the exchange of viewpoints. Although the use of the Internet is to some extent practical, we evaluate it as insufficient without possibilities for personal contact.


    Due to the novelty of ACO*HUM as well as the novelty of the TNP concept, some effort was devoted to spreading the word in relevant academic circles. The website was used for dissemination, but needed to be supplemented by additional efforts. Brochures and posters were printed and mailed to all partners and relevant outside institutions. At academic events, public relation efforts were conducted in the form of oral presentations, poster presentations, distrubution of brochures and stands at exhibits. The network was represented at the following externally organized events:

    A qualitative description of the outcomes of the project

    As mentioned above, the project is still at such an early stage in its lifetime that any expectancy with respect to the outcome of the project is premature, at least with respect to outcomes which can be objectively assessed. On a more subjective basis, ACO*HUM has demonstrated so far that a large number of institutions are very positive towards the theme of the network and regard it as a central one in developing humanities education in the next century.