Welcome to Transcribe Bentham

By Tim Causer, on 27 March 2013

Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham

‘Many hands make light work. Many hands together make merry work‘, wrote the philosopher and reformer, Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) in 1793.

In this spirit, we cordially welcome you to Transcribe Bentham, a double award-winning collaborative transcription initiative, which is digitising and making available digital images of Bentham’s unpublished manuscripts through a platform known as the ‘Transcription Desk‘. There, you can access the material and—just as importantly—transcribe the material, to help the work of UCL’s Bentham Project, and further improve access to, and searchability of, this enormously important collection of historical and philosophical material.

This is an exciting opportunity to make a genuine difference to research and scholarship by contributing to the production of the new edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, and to help create for posterity a vast digital repository of Bentham’s writings.

We warmly invite you to take part in this endeavour: no special skills are required, you do not require approval to participate, and every contribution—no matter how small—is of great value to Transcribe Bentham.

Please consult the Transcribe Bentham FAQ for more details on taking part.

You can also read more about Jeremy Bentham, his thought and his importance, and consult resources on deciphering historical handwriting.

Find out more about the team behind Transcribe Bentham, and some of our talks and publications.

Transcribe Bentham is also now part of the EU-funded Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents (READ) project.  The READ project is focused on making archival material more accessible through the development of Handwritten Text Recognition technology.  We are in the process of teaching a computer to help us decipher Bentham’s handwriting!

Transcription Update – 14 October to 10 November 2017

By Louise Seaward, on 14 November 2017

Hello and welcome to the latest statistics update from Transcribe Bentham.

We’re happy to report that our volunteers have been contributing transcripts steadily across the past four weeks.  We need to take this moment to say a huge thank you to everyone who has spent some time working on the site!   We are also planning some forthcoming improvements for our Transcription Desk, which will hopefully make it more user-friendly.  These developments are based on the results of our recent user survey and the ideas generated at the Bentham Hackathon we hosted in assocation with IBM.  More information coming soon!

Back to the statistics – these are the latest statistics as of 10 November 2017.

19,249 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed. Of these transcripts, 18,478 (95%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 113 manuscript pages. This means that an average of 28 pages have been transcribed each week during the past month.

Check out the Benthamometer for more information on how much has been transcribed from each box of Bentham’s papers!

Project update – presenting the results of our latest user survey

By Louise Seaward, on 31 October 2017

During the summer we conducted an online survey of our super-transcribers; the most active of our volunteers who have contributed around 90% of the finished transcripts on Transcribe Bentham.  We wanted to reach out to this group to get an idea of their motivations, experience and ideas: what keeps them coming back to Transcribe Bentham and is there anything that they would like to change about the site?

Having been invited to give one of the lectures at an international conference on crowdsourcing, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to showcase the huge amount of work done by our volunteers and discuss the results of this survey.

Le Crowdsourcing: pour partager, enrichir et publier des sources patrimoniales at the Université d’Angers brought together crowdsourcing projects from France and elsewhere in Europe to share experiences and discuss best practice.  Have a look at the conference hashtag on Twitter to follow what went on.

006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We heard from projects such as Itinera Nova in Leuven where volunteers help to conserve, digitise and transcribe historic registers of local alderman. The local archivist Marika Ceunen revealed that this is a vibrant volunteer community which holds regular meetings and even brews it’s own beer!

Volunteers at the City Archives Leuven

Volunteers at the City Archives Leuven

There were also presentations on new crowdsourcing projects under construction.  The team behind the Testament de Poilus project gave us a sneak-preview of their bespoke interface to transcribe and tag wills written by French soldiers in World War One and Mia Ridge from the British Library described the thinking behind In the Spotlight, the library’s forthcoming project to transcribe over 200,000 printed playbills.  Ridge talked about the sometimes difficult balance between productivity and engagement in the crowdsourcing world –  user enjoyment is crucial for productivity!

Mia Ridge (The British Library) speaking on balancing productivity and engagement in crowdsourcing

Mia Ridge (The British Library)

Transcribe Bentham was represented twice at the conference.  The first presentation was delivered by Anna-Maria Sichani, a former transcription assistant at the Bentham Project who is now working as a researcher at the Huygens Institute in the Netherlands.  Anna-Maria discussed questions of efficiency and productivity in Transcribe Bentham and displayed some impressive statistics to suggest the quality and cost-effectiveness of crowdsourced transcription.  These results are due to be discussed in a forthcoming article by the Transcribe Bentham team.

When it came time to present my paper, I decided to focus on the opportunities and challenges of user support and motivation in Transcribe Bentham.  Crowdsourcing projects are nothing without their loyal and engaged users and so user support is a vital part of sustainability in crowdsourcing.

20171019_135439

I explained how we try to maintain a connection with our volunteers by providing guidance and contact by email, feedback on submitted transcripts and recognition for the work that they undertake.  I also suggested ways in which we could build upon some of the suggested improvements made by the super-transcribers in our recent survey.  These new possibilities include an email newsletter for transcribers, more clarity about which material needs to be transcribed as a priority and the resurrection of a user forum where transcribers can share tips and ask questions.  We also have longer-term plans to make technical enhancements to the site that could make it more efficient and enjoyable for people to use.  Some of these ideas started to be developed at the Bentham Hackathon event that we held recently in association with IBM and we will be working on them further over the coming months.

Thanks go to the Université d’Angers for the opportunity – I enjoyed hearing about a range of crowdsourcing initiatives in France and beyond!

Project Update – the Bentham Hackathon, a weekend well spent

By Louise Seaward, on 24 October 2017

The Bentham Project is tired (but happy!) this week, as we spent the weekend taking part in our first Hackathon.  It was an inspiring few days and we came away hugely impressed by the useful and creative digital research tools that our hackers produced over the course of a weekend.

The Bentham Hackathon was held in partnership with the technology company IBM, along with the support of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and UCL Innovation and Enterprise.  It was designed as a collaborative and open event where participants could work together to explore how digital tools can help us to research Bentham’s philosophy.

20171021_100021

The Hackathon took place over one evening and two full days between 20 and 22 October 2017 and brought together coders, developers, computer scientists, digital humanists, humanities researchers and some of the volunteer transcribers from Transcribe Bentham.

By the Saturday morning, the participants had formed 6 teams who were ready to #hackBentham.  They were working on the following challenges set out by the Bentham Project:

  1. How can we use keyword searching to explore Bentham’s writings?
  2. Can we use technology to decipher Bentham’s difficult handwriting?
  3. Can we build a user-friendly interface for navigating and transcribing documents?
  4. Can we build a more user-friendly version of the Transcribe Bentham crowdsourcing platform?

The attendees had a large amount of data to work with: thousands of images of Bentham’s manuscripts and transcripts of their content, metadata for the entirety of the Bentham papers held both at UCL and the British Library and various printed editions of Bentham’s writings and correspondence.

IBM provided access to their Bluemix platform where the hackers could experiment with the Object Store, Watson Knowledge Studio and Node-RED applications.  IBM also used this platform to pre-process some of the Bentham data so that the participants could get to work quickly.

The teams worked diligently all weekend, with the support of members of the Bentham Project and developers from IBM.  Coding and discussion went on until 8:30pm on the Saturday evening, fuelled by pizza, coffee and Coca Cola!

On Sunday afternoon it was time for the teams to submit and present their final outputs.  IBM generously provided prize money of £1000 for the event and it was up to a panel of judges from the Bentham Project, IBM and UCL Innovation and Enterprise to award the spoils!

038

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First up was the ‘Bencharms’ team, who used IBM Cloudant to produce a more attractive version of the Transcribe Bentham Transcription Desk, with enhanced functionalities like allowing users to see more easily whether a page has already been transcribed.  They also had the idea of a mobile app where users could contribute to Transcribe Bentham by transcribing single words.

20171022_143909

Presentation from ‘Bencharms’ team.

Team ‘XScribe’ put together a searching interface for the Bentham papers, where users would be able to look for keywords but also see whether certain manuscripts have already been transcribed.  They also worked on image extraction and segmentation to make it easier for transcribers to match the line of their text transcription to the corresponding line in the image.  Again, these ideas have the potential to speed up the transcription process significantly.

20171022_145424(0)

Presentation from ‘XScribe’ team.

Two teams ‘Bentham Budds’ and ‘Benthamligraphy’ chose to work on a language model that could predict the words that Bentham would be most likely to use.  They used Tensorflow and IBM’s Node-RED software for machine learning to train a model using a sample of transcripts of Bentham material.  Such a model could increase productivity of Transcribe Bentham volunteers and Bentham Project researchers as Bentham’s handwriting is often so difficult to read.

20171022_153734(0)

Presentation from ‘Benthamligraphy’ team.

‘QSP’ was a team which included two volunteer transcribers from Transcribe Bentham and they decided to work on a sandpit area to help orientate new users of the platform.  Their ‘Box 999’ area included helpful videos and links for new transcribers and also allowed users to practice transcribing pages and get immediate feedback on any errors.  This was a fitting suggestion as we find it difficult to attract new volunteers to Transcribe Bentham, possibly because people can be daunted by the prospect of transcribing a complete page on their own.

20171022_152647(0)

Presentation from QSP team.

But the winning team was ‘Bentham’s Head’!  Their fantastic site called Locate Bentham not only has the potential to facilitate existing research questions but could also generate new areas of enquiry.  The team created an interface where users can perform keyword searches on Bentham transcripts, view a Google map of the places mentioned in Bentham’s correspondence, trace the development of Bentham’s ideas over time, examine Bentham’s social network based on his list of correspondents and even analyse Bentham’s personality using IBM Watson Personality Insights.  This was an amazing breadth of resources, embedded in a functional and attractive interface.  Well done team!

20171022_154626

Presentation from ‘Bentham’s Head’ team.

The Bentham Project had little idea what could happen at a Hackathon but we were struck by the concentration and creativity of all the teams.  A big thank you to everyone who took part and to our partners at IBM, UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and UCL Innovation and Enterprise.

We want to continue to develop some of the ideas and connections made at the Hackathon; to improve both Transcribe Bentham and the digital research tools at the Bentham Project’s disposal.  IBM have kindly allowed participants continued access to the Bluemix platform in the short-term and we are planning to get involved in the upcoming Learn Hack at UCL on 24-26 November.  Watch this space for more info!

Transcription Update – 16 September to 13 October 2017

By Louise Seaward, on 13 October 2017

Hello!  We’re here with some amazing news for this month’s statistics update.  Volunteers have now transcribed more than 19,000 pages on our site – a phenomenal effort for which we are hugely grateful.  We look forward to the next big milestone – 20,000 pages, the transcribers are coming for you!

We’re attending a conference about crowdsourcing at the University of Angers next week. We’ll be speaking about the results of our latest user survey and suggesting how we hope to use this feedback to make Transcribe Bentham more enjoyable and efficient for users.  Look out for a report in our next blog post!

Back to the statistics – these are the latest statistics as of 13 October 2017.

19,136 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed.  Of these transcripts, 18,327 (95%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 180 manuscript pages.  This means that an average of 45 pages have been transcribed each week during the past month.

Check out the Benthamometer for more information on how much has been transcribed from each box of Bentham’s papers!

Transcription Update – 19 August to 15 September 2017

By Louise Seaward, on 25 September 2017

Hi everyone! We’re here with a quick update on the latest statistics to showcase the hard work that our transcribers have put in over the past month.  We continue to be amazed by the efforts of our volunteers and we owe them an enormous thanks!

These are the latest statistics as of 15 September 2017.

18,956 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed.  Of these transcripts, 18,027 (95%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 181 manuscript pages.  This means that an average of 45 pages have been transcribed each week during the past month.

Check out the Benthamometer for more information on how much has been transcribed from each box of Bentham’s papers!