At Kings College, London, a decision was made when the College merged with two smaller colleges and when the Computing Centre was reorganized, to provide support for humanities users by setting up a division within the Centre responsible for Humanities and Information Management. At present, the division is headed by Harold Short, assistant director of the Centre, with seven advisers and a trained operator for a Kurzweil 4000 scanner.
Although this may not seem large compared to the Norwegian Computing Centre for the Humanities, it is far greater than most U.K. universities, where support for humanities computing is generally confined to one support person, if that, within the Computing Centre. Even at King's College London, the Humanities division cannot spend its time exclusively in supporting humanities users, since all members of the division must participate in Computing Centre activities as a whole,which can take up beetween 40% and 75% of their time.
Most of the members of the division have degrees in humanities subjects, including English, Frensh, Classics, Politics, and Archeologi. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons the division has been so successful in its contacts to the humanities departnents. Many humanities users are still very timid of the computer, and the approaches towards overcoming this initial fear, and seeing how the computer might aid them, can be more successful when the adviser understands the tradions of learning and background which characterise humanities academics and students. Morever, understanding the dicipline is unvaluable when assesing what applications are relevant.
We have also set up alabaratory dedicated to humanities computing.This serves several purposes: providing a focus for the humanities computing users, providing a symphatetic environment for those who want it, and installing software deemed specifically useful to the humanities.An unplanned, but welcome, result of the lab has been the fostering of cross diciplinary communication among our regular users.
At present the lab contains three IBM PS/2 microcomputers, three Macintosh SEs and one MAC II, an opus AT compatible linked to a KUrzweil 7320/30 desktop scanner, and an Apple CD-ROM for use with the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. Software includes Word, MacWrite, and Nota Bene, Ventura and PageMaker, MacDraw, Excel, Ingres, Status, AskSam, and Hypercard, Pandora, micro-OCP, Tustep and WordCruncher, some on all machines, some only on selected ones.All microccomputers are linked to the College VAX mainframe by Kermit.An Apple Laser-Writer II NT is connected via AppleTalk for printing.A Kurzweil 4000 scanner is not on open access, but work can be scheduled to it.
The lab is too small for a College with c. 1500 humanities staff and students, but is augmnted by other Macintosh and IBM or compatible laboratories open to all the members of the College. As such open access laboratories increase, which is planned whwn money become available, the role of the Humanities Computing Room will probably shift to a place for specialised (and expensive) facilities which cannot be made available elsewhere in the College.
Although we have some humanities staff in the College who already use computers in many aspectsof their research and teaching,the number is not that large. It is possibly accurate to say that mastered word processing, but in general not one of the better word processing packages (e.g. one that will do atomatic footnote renumbering, allow sorting of bibliocrafic references). Our activities tend to fall into three main categories: teaching, documentation and and project support.
Many humanities staff and students are either somewhat shy of using a computer or ignorant of how a computer might be useful to them. In the past, visits to departments were not overly successful at attracting people to come down to the Centre, in part because of the perception of the Centre as "foreign" and the equipment as incomphrensible. In any case, humanities are accustemed to taking course to learn somthing new, so it is course we run.We tempt them most often by personal contacts, and gradually the word is spread by colleagues who have attended.
We keep the course small, mainly because out teaching labs eight Macintoshes and nine IBM PC/2s respectively, try to target them to groups of humanities users only, and ensure that all the teaching examples are from the humanities diciplines. The course are introductory, providing basic exposure to IBM and Macintosh microcomputers, and one or two three-hour sessions on wordprocessing (Word), spreadsheets (Excel), databases (Ingres), textual analysis (WordCruncher), and communications (e-mail, filetransfers, bulletinboards). Although introductory, they are not samplers, but course intended to introduce the basics of each application.Handouts always provide information on how to use each package and where to get further information.
Such course are run for history undergraduates, humanities postgraduates, and humanities staff. Ideally it would be desirable if we had staff and facilities to run more dicipline-specific course, but this is not possible. In fact, we have had little problem in mixing humanities diciplines, and are gradually building up teaching datasets, so that an individual modul can be slanted depending on the composition of the class. The cross diciplinary nature has also been of interest to many of the participents, espcially students who can rearly fit incourse in other diciplines due to the tight scheduling in their degree structure.
These course are entirely voluntary and not examined, but beginning in 1990 we will be involvedin teaching new degree courses combining humanities diciplines with computing.
In addition to handouts for the course,we provide documntation on using most of the facilities in the Humanities Computing Room, and more is always in preparation. The computing Centre newsletter also has a regular humanities column in which members of the division try to write articles they feel will interest humanities users. This newsletter is distributed to all staff and postgraduates registered on the mainframe and any others who request it; however, since most of the humanities users do not use the mainframe, these articles often miss those for whom they were intented. Here the activities of the Humanities Computers Users' Commitee, made up of representatives from each humanities department, is useful in directing people towards courses and articles of interest.
The grant funding bodies in U.K. are increasingly inclined to fund work involving computing in a humanities project. These projects are generally f several years' durtion, and often include provision for a reasearch assistant and equipment. The division helps as much as possibly when these projects are in planning stages, and to set up the application, although the pressures on staff means the number of such projects is limited. Projects at King's which the Division is assisting at present include a prosopography of Roman Egypt, a prosopographyof the Byzantine Empire, the Fontes project of a bibliography of sources of Anglo-Saxon texts, a corpus ofcontemporary Spanish and Latin American studies.The amount of time available for development work is unfortunatly limited. However, King's has been looking at video disk applications in humanities diciplines. Considerable time has been spent liaising with depatments to inform them of possible applications, and a pilot disk is under preparation.
DOES IT ALL WORK?
Computer literacy in the humanities will not occur over night.However, even in the past years we are beginning to see the fruits of the labour, as more and more staff and dtudents come on courses, then use the facilities of the Humanities Computing Room, and gradually work more and more on their own. These people in turn inform their collegues. Interest in computing applications also has increased, with a noticeably high turnout from King's College London at the university-wide Seminar in Humanities Computing.
Nevertheless, the constraints of the staff can devote to purely humanities computing activities and the facilities we can offer have limited the inroads we could make into computing applications in the humanities diciplines. We in general can only support and report on the existing, rather then developing new ways to tacle humanities problems.We would like to provide more software and hardware review, but time rarely permits.
Susan Kruse is an Analyst/Adviser in the Humanities Division of the Computing Centre at King's College London.