Archive for September, 2013

Progress update, 21 to 27 September 2013

By Tim Causer, on 29 September 2013

Welcome to a brief, and slightly late, progress update for the period 21 to 27 September 2013. This is just a brief summary as we have been away for most of this time, but normal service will be resumed tomorrow – thank you for your patience.

6,236 manuscripts have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed, which is an increase of 47 on last week’s total. We look forward to providing our usual, more detailed update next Friday!

Thank you, as always, to everyone who gave their time to Transcribe Bentham during the last week. It remains greatly appreciated.

Slight delay in checking transcripts submitted this week

By Tim Causer, on 25 September 2013

Dear TB volunteers,

Just a quick notice to apologies in advance: both Kris and I are away for the rest of the week from today. As such, there will be a slight delay in checking transcripts submitted this week: I hope to put out a brief progress update on Friday, but normal service will be resumed from Monday next week.

Please do accept our apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

Progress update, 14 to 20 September 2013

By Tim Causer, on 20 September 2013

Welcome to the progress update for 14 to September 2013, during which time superb progress has been made by Transcribe Bentham volunteers. 15,202 words of Bentham text have been transcribed this week, along with another 6,012 words of TEI XML.

6,187 manuscripts have now been transcribed or partially transcribed, which is an increase of 82 on last week’s total. Of these transcripts, 5,899 (95%) have been approved after checking by TB staff, 80 up on this time last week. This is terrific progress, and before too long we will be able to lock our 6,000th transcript.

The more detailed state of progress is as follows:

The recently uploaded Box 122 has proven the most popular batch of material to transcribe this week; we hope to have uploaded even more new manuscripts to transcribe before too long, as the digitisation of the UCL collection continues apace. Speaking of which, you can read about the work of Tony Slade, Head of UCL Creative Media Services, who directs the team responsible for bringing you the fantastic images of the UCL Bentham manuscripts.

Readers in the Philadelphia area might also be interested in an event next Friday at the University of Pennsylvania Humanities Forum, entitled Crowdsourcing and the Rise of the Volunteer Humanist. This forum will feature talks from Ben Vershbow from New York Public Library Labs, Jen Wolfe from DIY History, as well as a presentation on Transcribe Bentham. It promises to be a great event, and we’re very much looking forward to it!

Thank you, as always, to everyone who has given their time and effort so generously to Transcribe Bentham in the last week. It remains greatly appreciated by us all.




Progress update, 7 to 13 September 2013

By Tim Causer, on 13 September 2013

Welcome to the progress update for the period 7 to 13 September 2013, during which time superb progress has been made by Transcribe Bentham volunteers. 16,447 words of Bentham text were transcribed this week, along with a further 8,536 words of TEI XML.

6,105 manuscripts have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed, which is an increase of 70 on last week’s total. Of these transcripts, 5,819 have met the required quality-controls and are complete, which is up 75 on this time last week.

The more detailed state of progress is as follows:

Boxes 121 and 122, or two most recently uploaded batches of material, have received the most attention during the last week. Box 122 was uploaded only on Wednesday, and already 33 of its manuscripts have been transcribed. It contains manuscripts detailing the revival of interest in Bentham’s panopticon prison proposal in 1808, the scheme’s second rejection in 1811, and an angry Bentham’s quest for financial compensation for the losses and miseries he had endured.

Bentham had been crushed by the first rejection of the panopticon, and an example of Bentham’s frustration with the British government can be seen in an 1801 manuscript, transcribed by volunteer Jan Copes. Bentham writes that:

Certainly neither can my faculties be so serviceable, now will my remaining years be so many, as they might have been, had it not been for Mr Pitt, Mr Rose, and Mr Long: not to mention so many as yet unnamed noble and illustrious persons, whom for the present I will not attempt to drag forth out of that shadow of the darkness which in their own judgement is the only one adapted to their designs…

The individuals to whom Bentham refers are William Pitt, the Prime Minister; George Rose, Senior Secretary to the Treasury; and Charles Long, Secretary to the Treasury. Bentham was particularly aggravated by Rose and Long, on whom dealings over the panopticon were delegated. Bentham was often ignored and delayed by Rose and Long, and took to hanging around the Treasury to try and gain an audience with them.

Writing to his friend Reginald Pole Carew on 25 May 1799, Bentham recounted his abject humiliation at trying to get hold of Long: ‘I have been obliged to consume the whole morning there [at the Treasury] without seeing him at all. Apprehensive lest this sort of treatment should mark me out as an object of contempt to the Messengers and Porters, my way has been latterly not to send in my name, but to way lay Mr Long in his passage from one apartment to another‘. Bentham was reduced to chasing Long into the porters’ bathroom, where he had ‘just time t say that I came to thank him for his letter … His countenance expressed displeasure, he turned from me and entered into conversation with a somebody else … and for the evident purpose of avoiding me … turned off … with that somebody else … if I give up sollicitation [sic], the business perishes … if I persist in sollicitation [sic], personal ignominy seems the only fruit I am likely to reap from it‘. (This letter can be seen in volume vii of Bentham’s correspondence, in The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham).

Thank you, as always, to Transcribe Bentham‘s volunteers for giving their time to the project so generously during the last week. It remains greatly appreciated by us all.

New material to transcribe: ‘like a great Spider in ye Center of yr. Panopticon’ – the return of Bentham’s prison

By Tim Causer, on 11 September 2013

A further series of fascinating manuscripts have been uploaded to the Transcription Desk: this material from Box 122 of the UCL Bentham Papers details the revival of the British government’s interest in the panopticon penitentiary scheme. As we have mentioned elsewhere, the panopticon was rejected in 1803 as a solution to the problem of treating criminals. Despite his anger at the time, Bentham seemed in 1808 to finally be at peace with this decision, writing to his brother Samuel that ‘JB has next to no expectation of panopticon being set on foot … and at his time of life scarce a wish about it: but that with him it has never been more than a secondary object, his primary object being a reform in the state of the law‘.

However, at the end of 1807 had received a rather rude reminder of the panopticon. The commissioners for auditing the public accounts had requested that Bentham account for the £2,000 of public money voted to him in 1794 for purchasing land on which to build a panopticon. The result of this request was a lengthy and somewhat acrimonious correspondence, some of which can be found amongst these manuscripts: Bentham found it difficult to comply with the commissioners request, not least owing to the passage of time, and his (and Samuel’s) haphazard account-keeping.

Bentham provided some documentation, but this did not satisfy the commissioners, and he was driven to plead with them to accept his verbal testimony. Bentham’s sense of persecution grew: hadn’t the government caused him enough pain over the panopticon? He wrote another account of his treatment, to be found here, bemoaning the commissioners’ unaccountability, and suggesting that he was subjected to ‘the principles of a Venetian Senate … or a Spanish Inquisition‘. Fortunately, the audit board finally accepted Bentham’s testimony in December 1808.

In the following years, the panopticon – somehow – was back on the agenda. Criminals were seen to be convicted at ever-increasing rates, the hulks were notoriously bad, and New South Wales was being viewed as an Arcadia for criminals, rather than as a place of punishment. Though in June 1809, William Wilberforce told Bentham that he was once more going to promote the panopticon, asking him if ‘had still ye Heart to go forward after all your former disappointments‘. Bentham remained very wary: in May 1810, he wrote that he had ‘no such ambition as that of passing the short remainder of my life among the Treasury Porters‘. Wilberforce replied with platitudes, telling Bentham that

After all you have experienced Unless ye way is smooth’d and the doors thrown wide for yr triumphant passage, I would have stir you from ye Chimney Corner … Surely you will not refuse to tend yrself to those who are eager to bring it forward … I am delighted by seeing with my mind’s Eye, your Honour like a great Spider in ye Center of yr. Panopticon‘.

As Janet Semple remarks in her masterful Bentham’s Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary (p. 264), ‘This letter did incalculable harm; first, by luring Bentham with false hopes that were to embroil him in further fruitless labour and public humiliation; and secondly in the use of a vivid metaphor to stamp for ever the image of him as a spider in the midst of his penal web’.

The Treasury contacted Bentham around this time, and he confirmed that he was still willing to serve as governor. On 4 March 1811, a committee was appointed to consider the 1779 and 1794 Penitentiary Acts, chaired by George Holford MP, a known anti-Benthamite. Yet Bentham seemed confident now in the panopticon’s success, recalling later in life that: ‘I assumed all along as a matter of course, that the determination of the Committee and thereafter would be favourable to me‘. Bentham was to be disappointed: he gave evidence on 27 March and 1 April (the latter date proving very apt), and faced frequently hostile questioning. Holford’s report, completed in May, was a damning indictment of the panopticon, and the only crumb of comfort was the conclusion that Bentham should receive financial compensation.

Following the rejection, Bentham returned to complaining of sinister interests and ‘an originally preconcerted plan for setting aside Panopticon‘. He submitted a compensation claim for the astonishing sum of £689,062 11s. (over £23 million in today’s money), for lost profits which would have been earned from the panopticon between 1795 and 1813. Bentham finally settled for the not inconsiderable sum of £23,000 (c. £800,000 today). The panopticon scheme was finally dead.

We hope that you enjoy exploring this material, and do let us know if you have any queries!