Funding boost for SAS research in 'Big Data' transformation

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Big Data © DARPAThree innovative research projects supported by member institutes of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, which will transform how we work with large datasets, have received a significant boost thanks to Big Data funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

One of the grants supports Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities (BUDDAH), led by Dr Jane Winters, reader in digital humanities at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), in partnership with the British Library, and the Oxford Internet Institute.

Drawing on a set of archived UK websites covering the period 1996-2013, the BUDDAH team will develop a theoretical and methodological framework in which to study this data. In addition, working with individual researchers across the arts and humanities, it will contribute to the development (at the British Library) of a public user interface to allow users to exploit the data to the full.

A second grant supports Traces through Time: Prosopography in Practice across Big Data. Led by The National Archives, the project will produce a methodology and supporting toolkit that identify individuals within and across historical datasets, allowing people to be traced through the records and enabling their stories to emerge from the data.

Dr Winters said: ‘These two projects, one focusing on the recent past and the other on British history from the middle ages to the 20th century, bring big data approaches to bear on important questions for the humanities. However, they also provide a valuable opportunity for the humanities to inform scientific data analysis, notably in the field of ethics. Interdisciplinary collaboration of the kind supported by the AHRC in its Big Data call is enormously rewarding, and promises to be genuinely transformative.’

Big Data for Law, the third SAS project receiving funds, is a collaboration between the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), The National Archives and a range of partners from the commercial and public sectors. It aims to develop a ‘big data toolkit’ to help researchers analyse and map the vast amount of new or modified legislation which is added to the statute book every month.

Co-led by Helen Xanthaki, Professor of Law and Legislative Drafting at IALS, and director of the Sir William Dale Centre for Legislative Studies, Big Data for Law will also attempt to establish ways of making the statute book more accessible and easier to research in its entirety. 

Professor Xanthaki said: ‘This is a revolutionary project that can inform and transform the manner in which legislation is drafted and published in the UK and beyond. This is one of the most exciting and promising opportunities for legislative drafting reform, and it is an honour and a privilege to be part of the team.’

The three SAS research initiatives are among 21 awarded financial support from a £4.6m investment by the AHRC (with support from the Economic and Social Research Council), in ‘Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities: Big Data Research’

Announcing the funding David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: ‘Getting quality data out of the hands of a few and into the public domain is an important goal for this Government.

‘This funding will help to overcome the challenge of making vast amounts of rich data more accessible and easier to interpret by the public. These 21 projects promise to come up with innovative long-lasting solutions.’

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Notes for editors:

1. For further information and to request an interview please contact Dee Burn at the School of Advanced Study at or +44 (0)20 7862 8670. Images available on request.

2. The Institute of Historical Research (IHR), founded in 1921, is one of 10 member Institutes of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. It is home to two important research centres and a major open access library, hosts over 60 seminar series and offers doctoral supervision in a wide range of historical subjects. It has a substantial publishing programme, hosts a number of innovative digital research projects, administers fellowships, runs specialist research training programmes and organises a variety of conferences and workshops each year.

3. The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) was founded in 1947 as a national academic institution serving all universities through its national legal research library. Its function is to promote, facilitate and disseminate the results of advanced study and research in the discipline of law, for the benefit of persons and institutions in the UK and abroad. Its areas of speciality include arbitration and dispute settlement, company law, comparative law, economic crime, financial services law and legislative studies and law reform, and the legal profession and delivery of legal services. The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies is a member institute of the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS) at the University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and facilitation of research in the humanities. The School brings together 10 prestigious research institutes to offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. The member institutes of the School are the Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies, Classical Studies, Commonwealth Studies, English Studies, Historical Research, Latin American Studies, Modern Languages Research, Musical Research, Philosophy, and the Warburg Institute. The School also hosts a cross-disciplinary centre, the Human Rights Consortium, dedicated to the facilitation, promotion and dissemination of academic and policy work on human rights.

5. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

6. Digital Transformations aims to exploit the potential of digital technologies to transform research in the arts and humanities, and to ensure that arts and humanities research is at the forefront of tackling crucial issues such as intellectual property, cultural memory and identity, and communication and creativity in a digital age.

7. The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages. 

8. The National Archives is a government department and an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). As the official archive of the UK government and England and Wales, it looks after and makes available to the public a collection of historical records dating back over 1,000 years, including records as diverse as Domesday Book and MI5 files. Its 21st-century role is to collect and secure the future of the record, both digital and physical, to preserve it for generations to come, and to make it as accessible as possible. It does this by devising technological solutions to ensure the long-term survival of public records and working to widen access to its collection. The National Archives also advises on information management across government, publishes all UK legislation, manages Crown copyright and leads the archive sector. It works to promote and improve access to public sector information and its re-use.

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