'Big data' projects involving Oxford academics are to receive funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as the government seeks to strengthen the UK's position in the field.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts has announced £4.6 million of funding for 21 projects at institutions across the country on the theme of Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities.
Among the projects to receive funding is 'Proteus: Capturing the Big Data Problem of Ancient Literary Fragments', led by Dr Dirk Obbink of Oxford University.
Dr Obbink, of the University's Faculty of Classics, said: 'The funding will widen access to ancient archival resources and facilitate public volunteer participation in serious research in the humanities through digital means and the world wide web.'
The project forms part of the Oxford-based 'Ancient Lives' initiative, which launched in 2011 and has been asking volunteers for their help in decoding hundreds of thousands of online images of Greek papyri fragments.
Oxford is also part of the AHRC-funded 'Standards for Networking Ancient Prosopographies: Data and Relations in Greco-Roman Names' (SNAP) project led by Dr Gabriel Bodard at King's College London.
Sebastian Rahtz, Director (Research) of Academic IT at Oxford, is co-investigator of the project. He said: 'We will be working on the large amounts of data available about people in the classical Greek and Roman period, and looking at a number of questions.
'Those questions will also be of great interest, and difficulty, for web scientists studying the contemporary world, given the proliferation of social networks and of different accounts, usernames, handles and URLs associated with the users of the web, and of databases containing personal information about celebrities, authors, creators and historical figures.
'One of the starting data sets for SNAP will be the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, a major research project which has been running at Oxford since 1972. It aims to collect and publish all known ancient Greek personal names within the period, from the earliest Greek written records down to, approximately, the sixth century AD.'
Mr Willetts 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.'
Professor Andrew Prescott, Leadership Fellow for the Digital Transformations theme at the AHRC, added: '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. They cover an amazing range of subject areas, from classical history and more efficient retrieval of information about music to the use of online gambling data for more accurate political analysis. 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.'
The projects have been funded under the £4.6 million 'Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities: Big Data Research' scheme funded by the AHRC with support from the Economic and Social Research Council.
Oxford University has also received £6 million from the Medical Research Council (MRC) for medical bioinformatics. The research funding will be used in Oxford's Big Data Institute to develop methods for bringing together and analysing large, complex clinical datasets of different types.
The Big Data Institute forms part of the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery, a new initiative in big data and drug discovery that was launched in May last year. The new funding announced by Mr Willetts is one of five major strategic awards from the MRC totalling £32 million and forms part of the research council's initiative to tackle big data challenges for the advancement of medical research.