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collaborative transcription initiative, which is digitising and making available digital images of Bentham’s unpublished manuscripts through a platform known as the ‘Transcription Desk‘.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!

Project update – join us at the Bentham Hackathon with IBM

By Louise Seaward, on 23 August 2017

We’re here with news of an exciting event which will take place in October 2017.  UCL have teamed up with the technology company IBM to organise a ‘Bentham Hackathon‘, where participants can work together to explore how digital tools can help us to research Bentham’s philosophy.

For anyone unfamilar with the term, a hackathon is portmanteau of the words ‘hack’ and ‘marathon’.  It originally referred to an intensive meeting where groups of computer developers collaborated on software projects.  The meaning of a hackathon has now expanded and is often applied to cultural or educational events with a technical element, which are designed to generate new ideas and collaborations.  For more on hackathons, have a look at Wikipedia or the useful ‘How to Guide for hackathons in the cultural sector’ produced by the Europeana Space project.

The Bentham Hackathon will take place over the weekend of 20-22 October 2017 at UCL BaseKX.  The Bentham Project, in association with UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and UCL Innovation and Enterprise, will be working with IBM to explore the following question:

How can digital technologies help us to research Bentham’s philosophy?

Bentham Hackathon

The Bentham Hackathon is an intriguing opportunity for participants to play around with thousands upon thousands of images, transcripts and texts of Bentham’s writings, many of which have been produced in the course of the Transcribe Bentham crowdsourcing initiative.  Let’s see how these amazing resources can be explored and analysed with IBM’s cutting-edge technologies!

We have set four suggested challenges for participants in the Hackathon to work on – although other ideas may emerge in the course of the event.

  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?

Anyone interested in these questions is very welcome to join us at the Bentham Hackathon.  The Hackathon is a free event and there are no pre-requisites for participation.

For technical types, this is a great chance to work with IBM and learn new skills.  Those interested in history, philosophy and Bentham can also give their input to help ensure that digital tools work to enhance learning and research in the humanities. Any Transcribe Bentham volunteers who are close to London might also find the event interesting – your knowledge of Bentham and the process of transcription would be invaluable!

The Hackathon will last for the weekend, starting with an evening presentation on Friday 20 October.  Catering will be provided and participants can get involved in the whole weekend, or just pop in for a while.

The Bentham Hackathon will help us to showcase Bentham’s enormous contribution to philosophical thought, including the way in which his ideas on education inspired the founders of UCL.  And we are hopeful that the innovations developed over the course of this weekend will suggest some new ways to use digital technologies in humanities research.

For more information, check out the Bentham Hackathon webpage or contact us.

Transcription Update – 22 July to 18 August 2017

By Louise Seaward, on 21 August 2017

Hello one and all!  Welcome to our update on the latest transcription figures.  The volunteers have been racing ahead, transcribing close to 50 pages over the past month – which is very impressive!  We need to take this opportunity to thank all of our dedicated volunteers for their hard work.

These are the latest statistics as of 18 August 2017.

18,775 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed.  Of these transcripts, 17,774 (94%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 189 manuscript pages.  This means that an average of 47 pages have been transcribed each week during the past month.

The more detailed progress chart is as follows:

Box No. of manuscripts worked on No. of manuscripts in box Completion
Box 1 769 794 96%
Box 2 729 753 96%
Box 3 0 724 0%
Box 4 50 694 7%
Box 5 201 290 69%
Box 6 2 246 1%
Box 7 6 165 3%
Box 8 24 284 8%
Box 9 56 265 21%
Box 10 116 456 25%
Box 11 24 480 5%
Box 12 179 615 29%
Box 13 23 359 6%
Box 14 275 510 53%
Box 15 86 814 10%
Box 16 12 254 4%
Box 18 67 192 34%
Box 23 1 256 1%
Box 26 193 374 51%
Box 27 350 350 COMPLETE
Box 29 22 122 18%
Box 30 5 193 2%
Box 31 21 302 6%
Box 32 10 158 6%
Box 34 41 398 10%
Box 35 287 439 65%
Box 36 38 418 9%
Box 37 37 487 7%
Box 38 238 424 56%
Box 39 12 282 4%
Box 41 88 572 15%
Box 42 118 910 12%
Box 44 53 201 26%
Box 47 1 466 1%
Box 50 180 198 90%
Box 51 388 939 41%
Box 52 7 609 1%
Box 54 0 205 0%
Box 57 20 420 4%
Box 60 3 183 1%
Box 62 78 564 13%
Box 63 157 345 45%
Box 67 0 407 0%
Box 68 0 414 0%
Box 70 308 347 88%
Box 71 663 663 COMPLETE
Box 72 614 664 92%
Box 73 151 151 COMPLETE
Box 75 4 77 5%
Box 79 199 199 COMPLETE
Box 81 4  488 1%
Box 87 13 604 2%
Box 95 126 147 85%
Box 96 534 539 99%
Box 97 151 295 51%
Box 98 225 499 45%
Box 100 214 429 49%
Box 104 3 502 1%
Box 106 236 581 40%
Box 107 523 542 96%
Box 110 15 671 2%
Box 115 277 307 90%
Box 116 795 865 91%
Box 117 511 853 59%
Box 118 278 880 31%
Box 119 645 990 65%
Box 120 685 685 COMPLETE
Box 121 150 529 28%
Box 122 309 728 42%
Box 123 45 437 10%
Box 124 20 382 5%
Box 135 103 571 18%
Box 137 1 499 1%
Box 139 40 579 6%
Box 141 95 380 25%
Box 149 88 581 15%
Box 150 972 972 COMPLETE
Box 169 248 728 34%
Add MS 35537 735 744 98%
Add MS 35538 824 858 96%
Add MS 35539 883 947 93%
Add MS 35540 947 1012 93%
Add MS 35541 999 1258 79%
Add MS 35547 35 701 4%
Add MS 35549 24 364 6%
Add MS 35550 115 637 18%
Overall 18,775 43,416 43%

Project update – spreading the word about Transcribe Bentham

By Louise Seaward, on 4 August 2017

Over the past year, the pages of my diary have become rather full and my microphone technique has improved considerably.  I’ve been trying to organise all sorts of new speaking engagements to spread the word about Transcribe Bentham and encourage new people to volunteer with us.

The Bentham Project is no stranger to this kind of public engagement.  We give regular public talks and deal with enquiries about Bentham from interested individuals across the globe.  You can even watch a video about some of our past ‘Adventures in Public Engagement’, when we held a series of public events in 2011.

Transcribe Bentham has now been up-and-running for close to seven years.  With our role in the READ project, we are working on new technological innovations that should make the Transcription Desk more user-friendly, thereby making it easier for unexperienced transcribers to take part in our initiative.  In the meantime, we have a functioning transcription platform, a strong web and social media presence and lots of information to guide new volunteers who might like to take up an intriguing new hobby.  And we are always looking for new participants!

Transcribing Bentham is by no means a simple task.  Volunteers have to decode Bentham’s often difficult handwriting and also get to grips with the rules of TEI mark-up in order to mark features of the manuscripts like additions, deletions and marginal notes.  Our experience has shown that only a small number of people have the inclination and determination to take part.  But how to find these people?

When Transcribe Bentham was launched in 2010, the team envisaged that it could be a good opportunity for school students who were learning about philosophy and history.  Our resources for schools are still available and we continue to give regular talks on Bentham to school groups from Britain and beyond.  But it can be difficult for teachers to plan activities that go beyond the core school curriculum.  And so it is adults who seem to be our most active transcribers.

With this in mind, I have set about organising various public talks to spread the word about the project.  These presentations are an excellent way to get in touch with interested and intelligent audiences and tell them a bit about Bentham’s fascinating philosophy.  I have found that public audiences are often interested in Bentham’s connection to the modern world, so I also try to show how his philosophical thinking can be applied to the current social and political climate.  In addition, these talks give me the chance to gather feedback on Transcribe Bentham – how far do its aims, workings and findings make sense to people outside of academia?

The University of the Third Age has proved to be a great resource for us and is always full of receptive listeners.  The U3A is an international education movement, which was started in France in the 1970s.  It is organised across local branches and its membership consists mainly of retired people who are in the ‘third age’ of life.  Members often hear external speakers but they also share their own knowledge and practical skills across numerous sub-groups.  And many of the local branches have a Philosophy group!  My most recent talk was at the London Region U3A Summer School which was held at the St Bride Foundation, a heritage centre for the Fleet Street print trade.   The theme of the Summer School was the centenary of the Russian Revolution so I was sure to include some details about Bentham’s remarkable trip to Russia in 1785!

St Bride Foundation

In addition to the U3A groups, I have also spoken at various local libraries and museums, as well as to the alumni group at UCL.  And I have more talks coming up at the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, at local branches of the Historical Association and hopefully at some Women’s Institute groups.

My audiences have ranged from around 10 to 100 people.  But it is difficult to say how far these talks have impacted upon our volunteer numbers.  Although many people register on our site and give transcribing a go, only a small number stick around and become active transcribers.  But these talks are nevertheless an important part of our mission to connect the public with the work of the Bentham Project.  It allows us to showcase the new discoveries made by our volunteers and demonstrate how this kind of collaboration can deepen historical and philosophical knowledge and change established working practices in academia.  And we are hopeful that even if an audience member feels that Transcribe Bentham is not for them, they might tell a friend!

If you have or know of an audience that might be interested to hear about Bentham and Transcribe Bentham, please feel free to contact me!

Transcription Update – 24 June to 21 July 2017

By Louise Seaward, on 21 July 2017

Happy Friday!  It’s time for the latest statistics update. The transcribers have been productive with their typing lately and as always, we are very grateful for their help in advancing knowledge about Bentham’s philosophy.

These are the latest statistics as of 21 July 2017.

18,586 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed.  Of these transcripts, 17,540 (94%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 127 manuscript pages.  This means that an average of 32 pages have been transcribed each week during the past month.

The more detailed progress chart is as follows:

Box No. of manuscripts worked on No. of manuscripts in box Completion
Box 1 769 794 96%
Box 2 729 753 96%
Box 4 50 694 7%
Box 5 201 290 69%
Box 6 2 246 1%
Box 7 6 165 3%
Box 8 24 284 8%
Box 9 56 265 21%
Box 10 116 456 25%
Box 11 24 480 5%
Box 12 179 615 29%
Box 13 23 359 6%
Box 14 221 510 43%
Box 15 86 814 10%
Box 16 12 254 4%
Box 18 67 192 34%
Box 23 1 256 1%
Box 26 146 374 39%
Box 27 350 350 COMPLETE
Box 29 22 122 18%
Box 30 5 193 2%
Box 31 21 302 6%
Box 32 9 158 5%
Box 34 41 398 10%
Box 35 287 439 65%
Box 36 38 418 9%
Box 37 37 487 7%
Box 38 238 424 56%
Box 39 12 282 4%
Box 41 88 572 15%
Box 42 110 910 12%
Box 44 53 201 26%
Box 47 1 466 1%
Box 50 180 198 90%
Box 51 388 939 41%
Box 52 7 609 1%
Box 54 0 205 0%
Box 57 20 420 4%
Box 60 3 183 1%
Box 62 78 564 13%
Box 63 156 345 45%
Box 70 308 347 88%
Box 71 663 663 COMPLETE
Box 72 614 664 92%
Box 73 151 151 COMPLETE
Box 75 4 77 5%
Box 79 199 199 COMPLETE
Box 81 4  488 1%
Box 87 13 604 2%
Box 95 126 147 85%
Box 96 534 539 99%
Box 97 151 295 51%
Box 98 225 499 45%
Box 100 214 429 49%
Box 104 3 502 1%
Box 106 236 581 40%
Box 107 523 542 96%
Box 110 15 671 2%
Box 115 277 307 90%
Box 116 795 865 91%
Box 117 507 853 59%
Box 118 267 880 30%
Box 119 645 990 65%
Box 120 685 685 COMPLETE
Box 121 150 529 28%
Box 122 309 728 42%
Box 123 45 437 10%
Box 124 18 382 4%
Box 135 88 571 15%
Box 139 40 579 6%
Box 141 95 380 25%
Box 149 88 581 15%
Box 150 972 972 COMPLETE
Box 169 236 728 32%
Add MS 35537 734 744 98%
Add MS 35538 824 858 96%
Add MS 35539 883 947 93%
Add MS 35540 947 1012 93%
Add MS 35541 994 1258 79%
Add MS 35547 34 701 4%
Add MS 35549 24 364 6%
Add MS 35550 90 637 14%
Overall 18,586 41,372 44%

Memorandoms by James Martin – astonishing convict narrative now available in Open Access!

By Louise Seaward, on 7 July 2017

Our latest update comes from Dr Tim Causer, the former coordinator of Transcribe Bentham who is now working on Bentham’s writings on Australia.  Dr Causer has recently edited a new edition of ‘Memorandoms by James Martin’, a convict’s first-hand account of a daring escape from a penal colony in Australia in 1791. The only known copy of the manuscript was acquired by Bentham and is now held in UCL Special Collections.

Memorandoms_of_James_Martin

‘Those of us researching the history of convict transportation to Australia are extraordinarily fortunate in terms of resources, as some of the most important have, for several years, been available digitally on an open-access basis. For instance, we can search colonial-era newspapers in the National Library of Australia’s Trove, or consult the Tasmanian convict records, a body of material unique in its detail about the tens of thousands of ordinary people transported to Van Diemen’s Land.

As a callow undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen, making a first foray into Australian history fourteen years ago, such resources were the stuff of dreams. The university library’s holdings on Australian history were largely limited to landmark secondary texts such as Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend (1958) and A. G. L. Shaw’s Convicts and the Colonies (1966). The most recent work we had to hand was almost two decades old: Robert Hughes’s blockbuster, The Fatal Shore (1986). Hughes’s brilliant, terrible book is beautifully written, but is ultimately frequently misleading. But a major strength of The Fatal Shore’s was its use of convict narratives, giving it an immediacy rare in many earlier histories which relied heavily upon parliamentary papers and official correspondence.

Convict narratives fall into two main types. The first, and most common, are those published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during or around the period in which convicts were transported to the Antipodes. For instance, two of the most well-known are Martin Cash’s The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land (1870) and Mark Jeffrey’s A Burglar’s Life (1893), both of which were ghost-written by the former convict James Lester Burke.

Of course, published narratives such as these present issues of interpretation. How much of Cash’s autobiography is authentically his voice, and how much is that of Burke? Ghost-writers often sanitised their subject’s life into a redemption parable, walking the fine line between titillation while still seeking to attract a respectable audience. Those narratives written by the few transported for political offences—male, middle-class, well-educated authors—are unrepresentative of the experiences of the majority of convicts. There is also a racial and gender imbalance, with the overwhelming majority of narratives dealing with the lives of white convict men—Reverend James Cameron’s partly-fictionalised biography of the Spanish transportee, Adelaide de Thoreza, is a rare exception.

The second type of narrative exists only in manuscript. They are often more exciting to deal with: they were not written for publication, do not have to meet the conventions of any genre, and are often more revealing, explicit, and subversive. For instance, the Irish convict Laurence Frayne’s narrative is a graphic account of his punishment and contains a sustained character assassination of James Morisset, a commandant at the Norfolk Island penal station during the 1830s, which would never have been fit to print.

Memorandoms by James Martin is one such unpublished manuscript which, thanks to UCL Press, is now available in open-access for the first time. The Memorandoms tells the story of the most famous of all escapes from Australia by transported convicts, that led by William and Mary Bryant. On the night 28 March 1791 the Bryants with their two infant children, James Martin, and six other male convicts stole a fishing boat and sailed out of Sydney Harbour and out into the Pacific. They reached Kupang in Timor on 8 June, though were subsequently identified as escaped convicts and the survivors were shipped back to England to face trial—where James Boswell lobbied the government for their release.

169_179_001

First page of Memorandoms by James Martin, UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, Box CLXIX, fo. 179

169_201_001

Final page of Memorandoms by James Martin, UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, Box CLXIX, fo. 201

The group’s 69-day, 3,000-mile journey has been the subject of two televisions series, poetry, novels, and innumerable history books, with a focus on Mary Bryant. Yet the modern historical accounts are frequently unsatisfactory and derivative; what then, the reader might wonder, could be said about this story that has not been said so many times before?

Quite a bit, it turns out. Memorandoms by James Martin is the only extant first-hand account of the escape, and it provides a fresh perspective to this often formulaically-told tale. Despite the Memorandoms being spare and prosaic, it provides a sense of the hardship of the journey, the terror of those in the boat as it is pummelled by storms and churning seas, and of the party’s fascination and fear in their encounters with Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. The Memorandoms also strikingly reveals just how far some modern historians have departed from the historical record when telling the story.

Memorandoms by James Martin is also important in a second sense: it is the only known narrative written by a member of the first cohort of convicts sent to New South Wales with the First Fleet 1788. The Memorandoms was acquired at some point by one of Britain’s great philosophers, Jeremy Bentham, one of the first and most influential critics of transportation to Australia. The vast Bentham archive is, of course, held in UCL’s Special Collections, and the Memorandoms is but one of the many jewels in the College’s collections.

Now, thanks to UCL Press, the Memorandoms manuscripts are available for the first time, and for free; readers can now access the original narrative for themselves, rather than mediated by some rather dubious historical accounts. The colour reproductions bring the document to life in a way which would not otherwise be captured by publishing a transcript, and I am inordinately grateful to UCL Press for bringing the Memorandoms out in this way. My younger self in Aberdeen would have been thrilled to have had a resource like this to hand, and I hope that those who today may not have ready access to unpublished narratives like the Memorandoms will be equally pleased.’