Transcribe Bentham’s second anniversary

By Tim Causer, on 14 September 2012

On 7 September 2010, Transcribe Bentham was officially launched upon an unsuspecting public, with the aim of recruiting volunteers from around the world, whatever their background, to help transcribe the unpublished manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham. Our initial progress was steady, if not necessarily spectacular: by the end of our testing period on 8 March 2011 (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council), 1,009 manuscripts had been transcribed or partially transcribed, of which 569 (56%) were complete. The end of April 2011 also saw the cessation of our twelve-month AHRC grant, and the project’s future did not look particularly promising.

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article (citing a paper by TB staff published in Literary and Linguistic Computing earlier this year), notes our finding that had the two full-time members of staff employed for Transcribe Bentham instead been devoted to transcription alone for twelve months, then they could have produced around two and-a-half times as many transcripts as volunteers would have done in the same period. This finding is certainly true of the state of play at the end of the testing period, but due to the vagaries of academic publishing schedules, it by no means represents what TB and its volunteers have done since, nor the current state of progress. After the testing period ended, Transcribe Bentham won a major international award, its ‘Transcription Desk’ software (developed by the University of London Computer Centre) was released on an open source basis for others to reuse and customise, and (we hope) the project has helped to promote scholarly crowdsourcing and Bentham studies over the past two years.

Most impressive of all, however, has been the sheer volume of work carried out by (an admittedly small core of) TB volunteers, despite the project being run on minimal funding for the past eighteen months, and having rather less staff time devoted to it than is ideal. As 7 September 2012, 4,255 manuscripts have been transcribed or partially transcribed. 4,033 (94%) of these transcripts are now complete. This means that they are of the required standard for uploading to UCL’s digital repository, and for use, ultimately, in the production of future volumes of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham.

This means that volunteer transcribers have achieved yet another landmark, having completed over 4,000 transcripts (or over 2.1 million words, plus extensive XML markup). There are often worries about the quality of the products of crowdsourced tasks, but we are delighted to report that despite having to deal with Bentham’s handwriting, syntax, style, and occasional habit of almost obliterating a page with deletions, marginalia and interlineal additions, the work of transcribers is of an extremely high standard. The amount of effort, care and attention that TB volunteers put in to ensure that their work is accurate is second to none. They are also transcribing at a faster rate than one full-time member of staff could manage if she or he were devoted solely to transcribing; an unlikely scenario, given our multifarious duties! We are very lucky that they have chosen to participate, and that they continue to do so.

So, where next for the intiative? Transcribe Bentham will at the heart of the Consolidated Bentham Papers Repository, a project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which begins officially on 1 October, and is funded for two years. This will see much of the UCL Bentham Papers digitised and made available for transcription and research, as well as all of the Bentham material held by our new partner institution, the British Library. Significant improvements will be made to the transcription interface to make the process more straightforward for volunteers, and we will be consulting with transcribers as to what kind of improvements they would find useful (this software will, again, be released on an open source basis for other projects to utilise). We hope this new interface will prove to be more attractive to current and potential volunteers, and further increase the rate of transcription. We have also received some further exciting news, and look forward to talking about that in the coming months.

As ever, we end by thanking our volunteers as without them, there would be no Transcribe Bentham. We remain hugely grateful for their time and efforts, and think that the work they do should be celebrated. You can keep up to date with the progress of Transcribe Bentham at the project’s blog, and register to participate at the Transcription Desk.

Jeremy Bentham’s third head

By Tim Causer, on 23 July 2012

Of those who know something of Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon—his preserved skeleton, dressed in his clothes, which sits in a box here at UCL—a few will be aware that Bentham originally planned that his real (preserved) head would form part of the display. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your point of view—the result of the preservation process was decidedly unpleasant; those brave enough can have a look at the real thing in this Bentham Project video. Though the real head used to be displayed in a box of its own, on top of the auto-icon cabinet, it is no longer on public display as it has been classed as ‘human remains’. The head is extremely fragile (don’t believe those myths about students kicking it around like a football), and is now stored in environmentally-controlled conditions at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Access to it is very rarely granted, as even the slightest motion can cause hairs to fall off.

Bentham’s auto-icon, with Bentham’s first head

The preserved original head has never been part of the auto-icon. Since the process went so awry, a second head was created and it is this one with which most will be familiar. It wears Bentham’s hat, and some of his real hair was threaded into the wax. This second head is apparently an extremely good likeness—Bentham’s friend (Lord) Henry Brougham suggested that it was ‘so perfect that it seems as if alive’—and is certainly far less disturbing than the first.

The second head: the official version

Much less well-known is Bentham’s third head, though it is far less official than the other two. It is another (much cruder) wax head, this time dating from the 1980s. One suspects that Lord Brougham would not have been so taken with this likeness, which is more country squire than utilitarian philosopher. Housed in a wooden box of its own, it was on display at the Jeremy Bentham pub—located just a quick walk from the auto-icon, on University Street—until a few years ago, when the pub underwent renovation works. The head was going to be disposed of and was salvaged by the Bentham Project, and had been stored in Room 112 at 26 Gordon Square (currently my office) ever since.

The third head: a little too long out in the sun

We are currently in the process of moving offices, and there will be no room for the third head in my new room. Fortunately, UCL’s Student Union is providing it with sanctuary, and it should ultimately be displayed there. We are very glad that it is going to a good home, and look forward to seeing it on public access again. (I must admit that I won’t miss its orange visage staring out at me from its box).

Update, 21 May 2013: If you want to see Bentham’s third head, it is now on display in the Huntley Bar at UCLU.

Latest Collected Works volume: ‘On the Liberty of the Press’

By Tim Causer, on 1 June 2012

The latest volume of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham has been published by Oxford University Press. Edited by Catherine Pease-Watkin and Philip Schofield, and entitled On the Liberty of the Press, and Public Discussion, this volume of essays by Bentham illustrates his attempts to influence the direction of political and constitutional change in Spain and Portugal during the early 1820s.

For more information, please visit the OUP website.

Bentham in China

By Tim Causer, on 22 May 2012

Dr Michael Quinn reports on a recent trip to China:

On 12 and 13 May 2012, what was almost certainly the first Chinese conference dedicated to the study of Jeremy Bentham was hosted by the Law School of Zhengzhou University. Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Michael Quinn from the Bentham Project were joined in attending by Professor David Lieberman from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Gerald Postema from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Dr Emmanuelle de Champs from the University of Paris VIII and the Centre Bentham.

Attendees at the Bentham Conference, Zhengzhou University, 12 and 13 May 2012

The conference proved to be a stimulating intellectual exchange, as both Chinese and Western scholars presented research on Bentham, before an audience of academics and students. Professor Schofield contributed both a lecture on Bentham’s critique of natural rights, in which he constructed a Benthamic response to contemporary critics of utilitarianism, such as John Rawls, and a paper based on his current editorial work on Bentham’s disinclination to regulate in matters of taste, particularly sexual taste. Professor Lieberman lectured on the idea of the mixed constitution, and read a fascinating paper on the connections between Bentham’s enthusiasm for codification and his democratic theory. Dr de Champs revealed the extent to which the early Bentham self-identified as an active citizen in a European Republic of Letters, and Dr Quinn discussed some of the tensions involved in responding to the pains experienced by an illiberal majority in consequence of the proposed decriminalization of ‘harmless’ actions to which they objected. The Chinese audience responded enthusiastically to the lecture by Professor Postema on ‘The Ethos of Law’, which stressed the individual and collective responsibility for creating an environment in which power, public or private, was held consistently to account. Dr Chen Jinghui presented a paper on Hart’s ‘Content-Independent Reasons'; Professor Guodong Xu explored the connections between Epicureanism and Utilitarianism; Dr Hongguo Chen investigated Bentham’s treatment of William Blackstone; Dr Danhong Wu painstakingly reviewed Bentham’s exhaustive discussion of the law of evidence; Professor Yanxin Su revealed the extent to which Bentham’s legal thought was influenced by his knowledge of Roman law; Professor Honghai Li sought to rehabilitate common law, in opposition to Bentham’s pejorative appellation ‘dog law'; and Professor Xiaobo Zhai presented a ground-breaking paper on Bentham’s ‘natural arrangement’. Professors Schofield, Lieberman and Postema were appointed honorary professors of Zhengzhou University, and Professor Schofield took part with the President of the University in inaugurating the new Bentham Centre at the University, under its Director Professor Xiaobo Zhai.

Professors Gerald Postema, Philip Schofield, and David Lieberman receive honorary professorships from Zhengzhou University

Inauguration of the Bentham Centre, Zhengzhou University

 

A fulsome tribute and accompanying thanks must be paid to the superb hospitality afforded by Zhengzhou University. All the foreign guests left harbouring wonderful memories of their time in China, and with the firm intention of broadening and deepening the new relationships forged during the trip. Their only regret concerned the recognition that they might never again be able to eat Chinese food in Europe or America: it’s just not the same as Chinese food in China!

We feel sure that Jeremy would be happy to know of the developing interest in his thought in a country with one fifth of the world’s population, and would be anxious to promote the translation of his works into Chinese.

Bentham artwork to be installed at UCL, 18 April 2012

By Tim Causer, on 16 April 2012

An artwork by Shirin Homann-Saadat has been installed alongside the Auto-Icon here at UCL, and will be on display for the next month. The piece is entitled ‘The Third Bentham Box‘ – after the first (containing the Auto-Icon), and the second (which contains Bentham’s head).

 

© 2010 Shirin Homann-Saadat

 

© 2010 Shirin Homann-Saadat

For those unable to visit the Auto-Icon, below is a translation of the German writing in the interior of the box:

Since 1850 a strange mahogany box has been located in the South Cloisters of University College London. It contains the stuffed skeleton of Jeremy Bentham in his original clothes, with his cane and glasses. Only his head was “reconstructed”. His real head is to be found in a second box in the College archives.

In his last will Bentham decreed that his friend Dr Southwood Smith should “auto-iconise” his body for posterity. Experts still debate whether Bentham’s wish to be “auto-iconised” was a case of exaggerated self-importance or the practical joke of an eccentric.

However, Many years later a female philosopher and passionate enthusiast of Bentham’s support for animal rights, women’s suffrage and the abolition of the monarchy commissioned a third box…

The third Bentham Box

On 28th November 1973 the female philosopher attended a lecture on Bentham’s panopticon and prison reforms at the Collège de France. Using Bentham’s panopticon drawings she carefully pointed out some inaccuracies in the panopticon interpretations of the French lecturer. The French lecturer, a man called Foucault, is reported to have answered:

“Mais Madame, who will check Monsieur Bentham’s little Panopticon drawings? I reason and I talk, parce que I am interested in Auto-Iconisation!”

The female philosopher realised that the Frenchman had a point, so she left Paris. Back in London she immediately commissioned a third Bentham Box:

She decided to carve in stone what she felt was Bentham’s most important question. And she arranged to place the stone box next to Bentham’s wooden auto-icon for posterity

 

Shirin Homann-Saadat and two Bentham boxes

 

This is the interpretative text which will also be displayed with the box:

This work asks us many questions. At UCL we simply stroll past the auto-icon, it’s part of the furniture which we stop seeing. Instead, we are now invited to reflect not only on just what Bentham is doing here, but on space, and how we live in it, on what makes us us, and not some body or some thing else, and on how the spaces we inhabit inform our self-perception. Bentham and Foucault disagreed about all these issues. What do you think?

We are thoroughly delighted to be hosting this work, and look forward to reading your comments upon it – and Bentham’s Auto-Icon – in the space below.

New addition to this year’s Bentham Seminars

By Tim Causer, on 23 January 2012

A new paper has been added to this year’s Bentham Seminar series, for 13 June 2012 when Professor James Murphy of Dartmouth College will give a paper entitled ‘A Commentary on the “Comment”: Jeremy Bentham on Custom‘.

Please see below for the full schedule:

29 February 2012

Dr Emmanuelle de Champs (Paris VIII), Bentham in the Twentieth Century: A Survey of the Times Literary Supplement

7 March 2012

Dr Tim Causer (UCL), Jeremy Bentham’s and Alexander Maconochie’s Theories of Punishment

14 March 2012

James Shafe (UCL), Utilitarian Public Reason

21 March 2012

Professor Claire Grant (University of Leicester), Law and Oppression

13 June 2012

Professor James Murphy (Dartmouth College), A Commentary on the ‘Comment': Jeremy Bentham on Custom

All of the seminars will be held between 11am and 1pm in the Committee Room in the School of Public Policy at UCL (Rubin Building, 29/30 Tavistock Square).

For further information, please contact Phil Baker (philip.baker@ucl.ac.uk). All are welcome!

Journal of Bentham Studies relaunched

By Tim Causer, on 13 December 2011

The Bentham Project has recently been working in association with UCL Library Services on the JISC-funded EPICURE project (E-Publishing Infrastructure Capitalising on UCL’s Repositories), which has introduced a model for e-publishing across the college.

Our open-access forum for debate and discussion of all aspects of Bentham’s life and thought, and utilitarianism more generally, the Journal of Bentham Studies, was selected as the pilot publication for this project. Work was carried out to reformat all of the articles published since the journal’s inception in 1997, and transfer them to new, more attractive home. The Bentham Project are delighted to say that this work is now complete. The Journal can now be accessed via http://ojs.lib.ucl.ac.uk/index.php/jbs, and its archive from http://ojs.lib.ucl.ac.uk/index.php/jbs/issue/archive.

This year’s volume (vol. 13) contains the following papers:

If you have any queries or comments regarding the journal, please contact Tim Causer (t.causer@ucl.ac.uk).We are very grateful to the generous funding from JISC which made this work possible.

Transcribe Bentham and the 2011 Digital Heritage Award

By Tim Causer, on 8 December 2011

Hot on the heels of Transcribe Bentham‘s Award of Distinction in this year’s Prix Ars Electronica, the world’s premier digital arts competition, we learned in mid-October from Dr Melissa Terras, of UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities and part of the TB team, that the project had been nominated for the 2011 Digital Heritage Award. This award was to be voted on and presented at the Digital Strategies for Heritage conference in Rotterdam, from 6 to 9 December.

The other nominees for the award were as follows:

The award focused specifically upon crowdsourcing projects, and it was a great honour to be nominated among such exalted company – any of these four would be more than worth winners.

Melissa, who is giving a full paper on Transcribe Bentham at the conference today, presented the project to the conference attendees to a warm reception. Here is an extract from Melissa’s blog:

Yesterday was a fairly big day: Transcribe Bentham was one of the 5 international projects nominated for the Digital Heritage Award 2011 (you can see our specific nomination here). I had to give a 3 minute pitch in front of the entire crowd on behalf of the project team, bright lights and all, in the opening plenary session, followed by manning an information booth, above, in all the breaks to solicit votes. You can see the voting system above – people had to place a sticker on our sheet. By the end of the day we had filled quite a few of these – fantastic to have such support, and I talked to a lot of very interesting and interested people about the project. The winner of the award was Digital Koot, well done all! – a little bird tells me we came a close runner up. But to be honest, having the opportunity to pitch to such a large audience, and meet so many interesting people, was wonderful, and it was an honour to be nominated. All good fun.

A hearty well done to the Digital Koot team from all here at the Bentham Project and Transcribe Bentham, and congratulations to Melissa for running it so close! Many, many thanks too to all for the support shown to the project.

ISUS XII: Call for Papers

By Tim Causer, on 21 November 2011

The 12th Conference of the International Society for Utilitarian Studies (ISUS) will be held from 8 to 11 August at the Stern School of Business, New York University, 40-44 West 4th Street, New York.

ISUS XII welcomes proposals for papers and sessions on all subjects related to utilitarianism, including moral philosophy, economics, psychology, political theory, intellectual history, environment, law and jurisprudence.

Proposals should be submitted as abstracts of about 400 words for a 15-20 minute paper, or of 600 words for a session of three to four papers (together with abstracts of the session papers) by no later than 15 March 2012 to isus2012@gmail.com. All proposals should include the title and subject of each paper, the presenter’s name, institutional affiliation, and any technology requests (e.g. Powerpoint, video etc).

The ISUS Committee will award a prize of £250 for the best paper presented at the conference by a graduate student.

Important dates:

  • Deadline for proposal submissions: 15 March 2012
  • Notification of accepted/rejected proposals: 1 May 2012
  • Deadline for submission of full papers: 15 July 2012

Confirmed Panels and Plenary Speakers
Opening Keynote Address

  • Roger Crisp (Oxford, Philosophy): ‘What is Utilitarianism?’

Neuroscience and Ethics Panel

  • Joshua Greene (Harvard, Psychology): Principal speaker
  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke, Philosophy): Chair

Jeremy Bentham in the History of Political Thought

  • David Armitage (Harvard, History): Principal speaker
  • Philip Schofield (UCL, Laws)

 History of Utilitarian Thought

  • James Moore (Concordia University, Political Science): Principal speaker, ‘Hume’s Influence on the Development of Utilitarianism’

Environment and Utilitarianism

  • Tim Mulgan (St Andrews, Philosophy): Principal speaker, ‘Ethics for a Broken World’

 

The International Society for Utilitarian StudiesISUS – provides a forum for scholarly debate and research on utilitarianism and its historical development, and on its present-day relevance in such fields as ethics, law, economics, political theory, and public policy.   http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/isus

ISUS also publishes the journal Utilitas, a leading international review presenting original research in all aspects of utilitarian theory and encompassing the disciplines of moral philosophy, economics, psychology, political theory, intellectual history, law and jurisprudence.

Bentham Seminar Series, 2012

By Tim Causer, on 2 November 2011

This year’s series of Bentham Seminars have been confirmed, and will take place during February and March 2012. They will be held between 11am and 1pm in the Committee Room in the School of Public Policy at UCL (Rubin Building, 29/30 Tavistock Square).

For further information, please contact Phil Baker (philip.baker@ucl.ac.uk). All are welcome!

The speakers will be as follows:

29 February 2012

Dr Emmanuelle de Champs (Paris VIII), Bentham in the Twentieth Century: A Survey of the Times Literary Supplement

7 March 2012

Dr Tim Causer (UCL), Jeremy Bentham’s and Alexander Maconochie’s Theories of Punishment

14 March 2012

James Shafe (UCL), Utilitarian Public Reason

21 March 2012

Professor Claire Grant (University of Leicester), Sex and Pleasure