[Humanist] 22.432 John Bradley receives Mellon Award

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jan 9 07:45:55 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 432.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 09 Jan 2009 06:24:40 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: John Bradley receives Mellon Award

John Bradley receives Andrew W Mellon Foundation 'Award for Technology 

A computer software tool developed by a King’s College London academic 
has won a Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration. John Bradley of the 
College’s Centre for Computing in the Humanities was awarded $50,000 for 
creating Pliny, a scholarly annotation tool.

The Mellon Awards honour not-for-profit organisations for leadership in 
the collaborative development of open source software tools with 
application to scholarship in the arts and humanities, as well as 
cultural-heritage not-for-profit activities.

Pliny is a software tool which facilities note-taking and annotation 
while a person is actually reading (a key element of Humanities research 
for many scholars), and furthermore allows readers to integrate their 
initial notes into a representation of an evolving personal 
interpretation. Pliny has components that go beyond annotation to help 
manage and organise the notes, even if there are thousands of them to 
work through. It can be used with materials in both digital (web sites, 
images and PDF files) and non-digital (books, printed journal articles) 
format. It may be downloaded at http://pliny.cch.kcl.ac.uk/. Pliny was
first presented at the Digital Humanities conference in Paris, 2006,
where it won the Poster Prize.

The software is named after the classical Roman author, naturalist and 
military commander Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), who was famous for 
expressing his curiosity about all things by constantly recording notes 
about them. According to his nephew, Pliny the Younger, he left behind 
160 books in very small handwriting.

In making the award to John Bradley, at an event in December in 
Washington DC, Vint Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist 
of Google, a man often called the ‘Father of the Internet’, said in his 

‘Within the crowd of scholarly annotation tools, Pliny stands out for at 
least two reasons. First, it can handle both direct annotation, marking 
up content which the scholar is permitted to modify, and indirect 
annotation, storing annotations separately from content. Second, and in 
contrast to many annotation tools, it has received widespread praise for 
working in ways that humanists actually work. Our Committee also praised 
Pliny for its re-use of widely available open source technology, the 
Eclipse project, as a foundation.’

John Bradley is Project Leader and Senior Analyst in the Centre for 
Computing in the Humanities (CCH), The primary objective of the CCH is 
to study the possibilities of computing for arts and humanities 
scholarship and, in collaboration with research partners across the 
disciplines, to design and build applications which implement these 
possibilities, in particular those which produce online research 
publications. In the recent Research Assessment Exercise CCH was ranked 
either first or as equal second within its sector.

John Bradley said: ‘We at CCH are very aware of the huge potential of 
computing methods and tools for Humanities research, with much of this 
potential still to be realized. I very much hope that Pliny can help to 
promote fundamentally new thinking about how computing can help scholars 
in the actual conduct of their research.’

Harold Short, Director of CCH, said: ‘The Mellon Award is richly 
deserved. It can be seen not only as just recognition of the 
intellectual innovation that underlies the Pliny software, but also as 
marking in a symbolic way his exceptional contribution to scholarship in 
the Digital Humanities over many years.’

One of the CCH‘s Professors of Humanities Computing, Willard McCarty, 
has been using Pliny intensively in preparation for study leave, and has 
this to say: ‘Pliny is one of those very rare software programs that 
embodies a profound understanding of the human activity that it enables. 
It is designed in the best tradition of computing, not to automate human 
work but to augment human intelligence. The particular activity it is 
designed to enable is one of the most ancient scholarly acts, perhaps 
also the most essential: the making of commentaries. The scholar's 
central role is to mediate between cultural artefacts and the society of 
which he or she is a part. Commenting is how the scholar does that. 
Pliny is the best tool for the job I have ever encountered --and I've 
been looking for decades.’

The awards event marked the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s third annual 
Mellon Awards for Technology Collaboration (MATC) competition, in which 
a total of $650,000 was awarded in prizes to ten not-for-profit 
institutions. The panel that decided the awards included Sir Timothy 
Berners-Lee (Director of the World Wide Web Consortium and inventor of 
the World Wide Web), Mitchell Baker (CEO, Mozilla Corporation), John 
Seely Brown (former Chief Scientist, Xerox Corp.), John Gage (at the 
time, Chief Researcher and Director of the Science Office, Sun 
Microsystems, Inc.; now, Partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and 
Byers), and Tim O'Reilly (Founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media).

Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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