Three new grants fund Big Data research in the Arts

Published: 5 February 2014

Researchers have been awarded grants to fund three major arts research projects that will help to analyse and evaluate ‘big data’

Researchers from the University of Glasgow have been awarded grants to fund three major research projects to help analyse and evaluate ‘big data’.

A pilot for the first comprehensive Historical Thesaurus of the Scots Language, a unique teaching resource to aid phonetic training and new software to enhance lexical searches within texts, have all been funded as part of a funding package announced today by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities projects call.

 The three projects being led by academics at the University of Glasgow are:

  • A Pilot Historical Thesaurus of Scots – Dr Susan Rennie
    • The first stage of compiling the first ever comprehensive Historical Thesaurus of Scots (HTS), which will classify every word in the Scots language from earliest records to the present day.The
  • Dynamic Dialects’ project – Professor Jane Stuart-Smith
    • Create online resources that show the hidden movements of the tongue and other organs inside the vocal tract during real speech, using latest anatomical imaging and digital techniques. Designed to aid phonetic training, language teaching and learning, and speech therapy.
  • Semantic Annotation and Mark Up for Enhancing Lexical Searches– Dr Marc Alexander
    • Delivering a system for automatically annotating words in texts with their precise meanings, enabling a step-change in the way we deal with large textual data. This will then be used to begin to analyse the meaning of every word uttered in Parliament over the past two hundred years, as well as almost all the books and pamphlets published in English before 1700.

The term ‘big data’ refers to the unprecedented amount of information that we are generating and storing through emerging digital technologies. In order to engage with and use all this information it is necessary to develop new tools and methods that are capable of searching and sharing it in a meaningful way.

The awards were made as part of a joint AHRC/ESRC funding package to address the challenges of working with big data and make the information more accessible and easier to interpret by a lay audience. 21 projects in all were funded through the £4million fund with the University of Glasgow securing the greatest number of projects out of any university.

Professor Murray Pittock, Vice-Principal of the University of Glasgow and Head of the College of Arts, said: “I am delighted that the University has been successful in securing three projects, which represents the greatest success out of any university involved.

“I believe that this not only indicates the value of the research currently being undertaken in our College of Arts, but is testament to the opportunities for development and collaboration that we offer.”

Professor Jeremy Smith, Head of the School of Critical Studies, said: “This great news confirms Glasgow's leading position in Digital Humanities, where we are quite simply second to none in the UK.  Although obviously I am particularly pleased for my own School, which will house these three exciting projects, I am also very conscious of the depth and breadth of expertise across the whole College which will have demonstrated to AHRC our seriousness about this approach to arts and humanities research.”

Professor Andrew Prescott, the AHRC’s Digital Transformation theme Leadership Fellow, said: “The exciting projects announced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council illustrate how the arts and humanities can help exploit the opportunities offered by these vast data resources.

“By developing better tools for the visualisation and analysis of data, these projects will have significant impact beyond the arts and humanities and will assist the UK in grasping the economic and social opportunities offered by big data.” 

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Notes for editors:

  • 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.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.


First published: 5 February 2014