Part of the VRE Rapid Innovation Programmer (VRERI) of the Joint Information System Committee of the United Kingdom (JISC), gMan was a short-term collaboration (January 2010 – July 2010) between the Centre for e-Research at King’s College London (KCL) and the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow (BDM-USTRATH), a partner of the D4Sciene consortium. The project investigated and demonstrated the use of gCube services in support of data-driven research in the Humanities, particularly the infrastructural approach to Virtual Research Environment (VRE) definition and operation which underpins the design of gCube. The core motivation for its activities is the observation that the target domain has embraced the notion of Virtual Research Environment but lacks to date general-purpose, scalable, and cost-effective solutions to VRE definition and management. At the same time, the information and knowledge management functionalities available in gCube seem ideally suited for application-level requirements that arise in the Humanities. Specifically, the project focused on use cases related to the organisation of the information for research and on ‘active reading’ processes supported by advanced search, browse, and annotations services in gCube. In this context, the project integrated in a VRE of the D4Science infrastructure a selection of independent yet semantically related data sources, such as: the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis (HGV) der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Aegyptens, a database of metadata records for some 55,000 Greek papyri, mostly from Roman Egypt and its environs; Projet[sic] Volterra,a database of Roman legal texts, and associated metadata, from various sources (epigraphic, papyrological, or literary); and the Inscription of Aphrodisias, a corpus of about 2,000 ancient Greek inscriptions from the Roman city of Aphrodisias in Asia Minor.
The project goals and partnership ensured an obvious and tight collaboration between gMan and D4Science-II. The University of Strathclyde, in particular, acted as a mediator between the project and the D4Science-II consortium in its function of technology provider. In particular, Strathclyde was responsible for mapping the application-level requirements associated with the target use cases onto the technical and administrative expertise available within the D4Science consortium. King’s College acted instead as a mediator between the project and key representatives of the target user community. In this role, King’s College was responsible for the definition of the target use cases, the synthesis of functional requirements from the use cases, and the evaluation of gCube facilities vis-à-vis the identified requirements. The collaboration proved beneficial to D4Science for it disseminated its technology to new application domains, testing and refining its services against requirements that deviate from those associated with its current communities of adoption. The collaboration proved beneficial to KCL and the user community that it represented within the project, for it offered insights into the suitability of gCube to serve its needs for modern and data-driven research.
The primary output of the collaboration was the definition and daily operation of a Virtual Research Environment, the gMan VRE, in the D4Science infrastructure (initially in the Ecosystem VO and subsequently in a dedicate VO). This subsumed regular import, indexing, presentation-oriented and administrative activities, where key D4Science-II partners (CNR, NKUA, CERN) were called upon to offer the required support. Regular knowledge transfers ensured that the technical and administrative know-how related to defining, managing, and using a Virtual Research Environment expertise flowed back to King’s College for increased autonomy of operation.
As an exploratory and short-term investigation, the project did not face strict requirements for service provision. A proof-of-concept VRE that collects positive feedback from dissemination activities was rather the pre-condition for the production-level deployment of gCube technology in the target application domain. The precise identification of this deployment context was outside the scope of the project and concerned plans for the future (see below).
The collaboration between projects was based on regular exchanges in dedicated mailing lists and phone conferences. Central to these exchanges were the analysis of the target data collection (structure and semantic), the design of data import and indexing procedures that align with requirements that emerge from the target uses, and the use of VRE membership and data management tools available within gCube. In the context of D4Science Service Activities, project partners were regularly updated on the status of the VRE, particularly in relation to system upgrades or other interruptions of service. A face-to-face meeting at the University of Strathclyde included a vide conference with key members of the technical team from CNR and NKUA to discuss progress and to walk-through the use of advanced management tools in gCube. A second face-to-face meeting took place at the end of the project.
In the reporting period the article “Deploying general-purpose virtual research environments for humanities research” by Blanke, T., Candela, L., Hedges, M., Priddy, M. and Simeoni, F. was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 2010, 368, 3813-3828 (http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/); and a presentation titled “From research data repositories to virtual research environments: a case study from the Humanities” was given at the OR2010 International Conference on Open Repositories, 6th-9th June 2010, Madrid, Spain; moreover relevant dissemination opportunities was exploited, like the HASTAC2010 Grand Challenges and Global Innovations Conference, 15th-17th April 2010, Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science , University of Illinois, USA.
Presentations and details are of the project activities can be found in the project's own blog site
Plans for the future
The final phase of the project is characterized by a tight dissemination schedule aimed at assessing the technological and funding channels that are available for production-level deployment of gCube technology in the target domain. The KCL team has already successfully showcased the gMan VRE in key in the Humanities, including OR2010 and DH2010. A promising deployment scenario is the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH), which is partially funded by the EU (ESFRI) and in the preparation of which KCL plays a lead role. In particular, there are plans to present the gMan VRE as a demonstrator for the UK at SDH2010. KCL is also considering the exploitation of gCube technology for a number of future projects already in their portfolio, while a collaboration for augmenting gCube with provenance-centric functionality is planned for the short-term future.