The Bentham Collection

By Justin Tonra, on 3 June 2010

Transcribe Bentham aims to increase access to and encourage userĀ  participation with the papers of the philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). UCL is home to the vast majority of Bentham’s manuscripts: there are 60,000 folios in the Bentham Collection at UCL Library, while the British Library holds an additional 12,500.

The scale of this body of writing is quite astonishing, and it presents Bentham scholars with an interesting problem. A comparatively small portion of the philosopher’s writings currently exists in published form, so, without traveling to UCL Special Collections Library, the serious Bentham scholar has only limited access to his subject’s writings. Who knows what treasures lie in the boxes that house the Bentham manuscripts?

The photograph below offers a glimpse of the physical scale of the Bentham Collection. It was taken at the offices of the Bentham Project, and this cupboard hold boxes of manuscripts that are currently being used by scholars at the project.

The Bentham Cupboard

Each of the boxes in the cupboard holds a selection of manuscripts; the Collection as a whole is comprised of 198 boxes. But this number is itself academic, as one ‘box’ of manuscripts might actually fill a number of boxes: Box 2, which contains Bentham’s writings on Annuity, is comprised of five boxes in this cupboard.

About a third of the manuscripts in the UCL Bentham Collection have already been transcribed. With the assistance of volunteers who participate in Transcribe Bentham, this proportion can quickly grow, granting greater access to the ideas and writings of this important philosopher and reformer.