Thursday, July 12, 2007

"A Professional Reading Environment, Modeled for a Renaissance English Knowledgebase"

Presenter: Ray Siemens. English, University of Victoria.
Time: Thursday, July 12, 2007. Location: 1:45 PM - 2:45 PM in SFUHC Canfor Policy Room)

Ray Siemens is the Canada Research Chair in Humanities Computing and Associate Professor of English, as well as President [English] of the Consortium for Computers in the Humanities / Consortium pour ordinateurs en sciences humaines (COCH/COSH) at the University of Victoria. Abstract:

Ray Siemens reinforced the importance of scholarly reading environments in his discussion of how the Renaissance English Knowledgebase (REKn) – the collection of digital representations featuring primary literary and artistic works, as well as secondary materials - is by being accessed through the portal TAPoR. He makes the case that by extending beyond simple access and search functions, open access projects provide public and scholarly benefits.

Of great interest is the notion that the platforms encourage close, expert reading and we look forward to seeing how this will play out in the fields of future research inquiry and public readership.

Siemens provides some key thoughts and applications with respect to the formation of the project and the future of Digitized Humanities, representing the intersection of computational methods and humanities scholarship.

History: The REKn project is actually 20 years in the making and Seimens credits Ina Lancashire’s work around bilingual dictionaries as the starting point. He reminds us that as Humanities is enjoying a greater on-line presence, it is critical to maintain the momentum and serve professional needs. Siemens calls the REKn project the 'big bucket' approach, as it archives literature, acts as a text analysis tool, and looks for synergies of information. The idea of combining primary and secondary resources is that professional reading exists in the perusal and analysis of original work, as well as the responses and reviews of said material. Siemens believes that the digitized access enhances our experience in interacting with the representation of Renaissance work.

How REKn functions: REKn integrates advanced computing searches, conceptual and thematic, and fosters the users’ ability to identify and analyze the connections between the works, the reviews and the contexts. The system allows a hypertextual trail through the use of word-form, word, group of words, tag, or phrase search. What this means is that through open citation lists, anyone can trace the topic history, understand the meanings of words, and track the influences on the works and the writers. Another useful feature is being able to search both primary and secondary resources without having to rely on indexing features alone; the archived materials can be combined for accessed for research and research training. In terms of degree of openness, out of the 13,000 primary and 80,000 secondary sources, 1500 are available for public use, while the rest are privately accessed via institutions. Currently, REKn currently uses the hybrid model of pay per view and open access.

How it benefits: Naturally, scholars and students will benefit from this resource, as will the public. Digitized archived materials preserve collections and provide access in a model that speeds workflow, while providing a convenient, yet deeper handling of resources. Moving back to the notion that interactive reading through electronic access brings about a deeper, broader sense of the work and context, Siemens points to the ability to move between multiple databases and indexes. As the model evolves, new ways of representing and delivering information will emerge, keeping the model current and innovative. The goal is for digital humanties to bring the medium to the larger community while serving scholarly needs.

Key Points: There are 3 elements in the field of using computers to knowledge transfer that Siemens sees as being inseparable and interrelated.

  • Representation of archival materials
  • Analysis of critical inquiry generated from original materials
  • The communication or sharing of scholarly reflection and results

As Siemens looks at the practical issues and parameters as well as the theoretical possibilities. he outlines how reading environments can integrate the innovative products that groups, like the PublicKnowledge Project (PKP), the Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR), Synergies, and the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN), provide.

Future Focus: Plans to integrate further with the above groups will also feature in check-ins for feedback with the community and stakeholders, including publishers and amalgamators. Seimens also wants to see further development in interface data handling, underlying dataset, and scale. He also speaks to the importance of using the knowledge gained from taking down and rebuilding models.


Ray Sieman’s presentation resonates with the issues that sparked the open access movement, such as the principle of communicating knowledge and the values of scholarly committment with respect to inspiring and contributing to innovation. A novel, efficient model of researching and archiving, with a tiered access model for institutional and community users, REKn promises to balance the dissemination of public knowledge with the type of sustainable economic model that Paul David and Yochai Benkler recommend. The sense of a collective intent on disseminating previously exclusive materials through an electronic platform, speaks of the benefits in preserving and archiving historical scholarly data for current and future researchers, but also to provide public access for interested students and members of the community. As an interface for professional reading and scholarly research, REKn serves as a prototype and an inspiration for future ventures. As with most projects, collaboration and partnerships are vital, so it is important to recognize the funding, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, as well as the technical gateway partner, TAPoR, the support host, the University of Victoria, and of course, the dedicated team and the founder, Ray Siemens.

1 comment:

David said...

This project looks very promising to someone in the English Lit. discipline. The sciences are currently far ahead of English and other humanities in open access online resources. This resource appeals to me as an English student because of the combining of primary and secondary reading materials. It is certainly highly useful to have both readily available to gain greater understanding of a text. The idea of opening the resource to general users, and potential having a tiered access where institutions pay, sounds like a good way to make the money to sustain the project, since it appears to rely on the scanning and digitizing of real materials, rather than on creating digital communities of knowledge alone, a model that requires less manpower, I think.