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Funding boost for SAS research in ‘Big Data’ transformation

School of Advanced Study, University of London

Three 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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