The aim of this paper is to review the concept of the virtual research environment (VRE) in the light of its development over the past five years, and assess its applicability to the arts and humanities disciplines.
Evidence from a number of case studies exemplifying the VRE approach is reviewed, and the case of a VRE in archaeology, the Silchester Roman Town project, is discussed in detail. The interpretive implications of using computers as a means of dealing with artistic and humanistic data, are highlighted.
There is a critical comparison to be drawn between VREs in the sciences and the humanities/arts. This is caused by the “fuzzy” nature of data and workflows in the latter, as compared with the more formal and definable research practice in the former. It is proposed that, to deal with this, the plan of any project which seeks to set up a VRE in the humanities should consider the research process under three headings: processes which the VRE seeks to introduce, existing processes which it seeks to undertake digitally, and processes which will be unaffected by the VRE.
In order to progress “the VRE” from being an artificial construct, driven by dedicated project funding, towards being an embedded part of research practice, those concerned with developing VREs need to consider the nuances of those research practices. This paper seeks to review those nuances by synthesizing data and experience from existing projects, thereby facilitating that embedding process.
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