On-demand Virtual Research Environments: a case study from the Humanities

Mike Priddy (King’s College London)

Digital Classicist and Institute of Classical Studies Seminar 2010

Friday July 23rd at 16:30, in room STB9, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Many specialised Virtual Research Environments (VREs), that integrate digital repositories with tools and services, have been developed to address specific tasks in various humanities disciplines. For example, the Virtual Environments for Research in Archaeology (VERA) address data integration in archaeological excavations, while the VRE for the Study of Documents and Manuscripts developed services for sharing and annotating manuscripts. The TEXTvre project is concerned with the integration of institutional repositories and VREs. Building on the experiences of these VREs, we are addressing how to move beyond support for specific, focused tasks, and instead build services and environments that enable more general-purpose humanities research activities.

In the gMan project we set out to investigate how (digital) repository content can be delivered to humanities researchers more effectively, independently of the location and implementation of that content, and with special means provided for customising the retrieval, management and manipulation of this information. Our starting point was D4Science, a production-level infrastructure serving mainly scientific communities, but which is not biased towards any particular discipline and has great potential for meeting the needs that we have identified for building VREs by combining repositories resources. gCube, on which the infrastructure is based, is a distributed, service-based system designed to support the full life-cycle of modern research, with particular emphasis on application-level requirements for information and knowledge management. In gCube, VREs can be interactively designed and configured on demand. gCube application services offer a full platform for distributed hosting, management and retrieval of data and information, and a framework for extending state-of-the-art and on-demand indexing, selection, extraction, description, annotation and presentation of content. Each VRE, generated using gCube, makes available a grid-based repository to store, share and access information, a grid-based computing environment to run data analysis services and a reporting tool to publish and share information.

As initial test datasets for our experimental scenarios, we are using the three following resources:

  1. The Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis (HGV) der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Agyptens, a database of metadata records for some 55,000 Greek papyri,
  2. Projet Volterra, a database of Roman legal texts, and associated metadata.
  3. The Inscriptions of Aphrodisias (IAph), a corpus of about 2,000 ancient Greek inscriptions from the Roman city of Aphrodisias in Asia Minor.

These three datasets were selected because of the diversity of their implementations and because, while originating from quite different research projects, there is a significant overlap in their contents, both in terms of places, time periods and people. They thus allow realistic cross-resource searches and queries. The supplementary resources provide useful domains for annotations and inter-object links, as there are numerous potential connections with the first three datasets. The use cases were various, but concentrated primarily around heterogeneous cross-collection text-centric searches, annotations (including annotation searches), reporting and publishing.


The seminar will be followed by wine and refreshments.

Audio recording of seminar (MP3)

Presentation (PDF)