Melissa Terras

Melissa TerrasI completed my DPhil in Engineering Science in 2003. It was a fabulous learning experience for me, and I had a lot to learn, given I had come from a background in History of Art and English Literature, followed by a conversion course in Computing Science. My doctoral work was on applying advanced imaging methods and artificial intelligence techniques to try and help read damaged and deteriorated documents from the Roman fort of Vindolanda, on Hadrian’s Wall. I had a great time at Christ Church, The Department of Engineering, and the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, learning a lot from both the classicists, papyrologists and robot vision teams.

After finishing my thesis I worked for a year at the Royal Academy of Engineering as a policy officer, helping to coordinate responses to the Government on issues of science and engineering. I didn’t expect an academic job, as interdisciplinary roles were very rare, but when a lectureship in the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies at UCL came up which specialised in the use of digital resources in the arts and humanities, I thought “why not?” and was delighted to join UCL in 2003.

Since then I have been working in the area which has since been called Digital Humanities - the application of computational techniques in the arts, humanities, culture and heritage, to allow research and engagement that would otherwise be impossible. I’ve worked on a variety of projects at UCL in interdisciplinary teams that explore this area. These include Transcribe Bentham, the crowdsourcing project to get volunteers to help read the writings of the 18th Century philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham. Recently, we’ve built a multi-modal digitisation suite which will allow us to concentrate more on the area of imaging of damaged and deteriorated documents, and I enjoy collaborating with computing and engineering scientists at UCL on the development of new approaches. We recently helped read the Great Parchment Book, an important documentary record of Ireland which was damaged in a fire in the 1700s, working with London Metropolitan Archives to help reveal its contents.

I’m now the Director, and co-founder, of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, and was promoted to Professor in Digital Humanities in what is now UCL Department of Information Studies in 2013. My time at Oxford gave me both the technical, academic, and personal skills to work well in a fast moving interdisciplinary field, and it is fascinating to be working in applying computational methods to cultural and heritage issues. Indeed, I was recently asked to join the Board of Curators of the University of Oxford Libraries, specifically to advise them on matters of digital developments, and its lovely to be able to contribute back to the University in this way.