Archive for the 'Digitisation' Category

Project Update – new material to transcribe on Panopticon and punishment

By Louise Seaward, on 26 April 2018

This month we’re showcasing some new material that has recently been uploaded to our Transcription Desk.  Volunteers can now feast their eyes on over 1,500 newly digitised pages of Bentham’s writings, as contained in boxes 108, 143, 157 and 159 of the UCL Bentham Papers.  These papers encompass Bentham’s writings on crime and punishment, as well as some draft pages from his work analysing legal codes.  Our Transcription Desk now holds 90 boxes of Bentham material, comprising more than 44,000 page images!

So what can volunteers expect to find amongst this new material…?

Box 108 is a collection of miscellaneous material written by Bentham in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  It includes writings on diverse subjects such as colonisation, the French Revolution, political economy and legislation – something for everyone indeed!

Boxes 143 and 159 both focus on the subject of punishment.  Bentham became intrigued by this matter early in his life and started to philosophise about it in the mid-1770s.  He envisioned a penal system where each punishment would be proportionate to the offence and where each offence would be clearly defined and publicly known.  Box 159 also contains some French writings relating to Bentham’s Projet for a complete code of law.

Box 157 is largely centred on the Panopticon prison, one of Bentham’s most notorious ideas.  Bentham planned a new type of prison, where he believed that the nature of the building would help to reform the behaviour of the prisoners.  He envisaged a circular structure of cells, with an inspector stationed in the middle of the prison.  The prisoners would be aware that they could be being watched at any time but would never know exactly when they were being watched.  This would keep them on their toes and on their best behaviour.  The papers in this box provide evidence that Bentham’s ideas were taken seriously by the British government.  There were various negotiations over the costings and location of the prison and as Folio 83 below shows, even an Act of Parliament confirming that the prison would be built.  Unfortunately for Bentham, all these plans never came to fruition.  The Panopticon remains a provocative philosophical idea, even if it was never a physical reality.

Box 157, fol. 83, UCL Bentham Papers, Special Collections, University College London. Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections (Click to enlarge image).

More information on the contents of each of these boxes and access to the manuscripts can be found on the following pages:

Box 108 – miscellaneous

Box 143 – punishment

Box 157 – Panopticon

Box 159 – punishment

Users can also view pages from these boxes through the Untranscribed Manuscripts page.

We wish you all best of luck with your transcriptions.  And if you uncover something interesting, let us know by email and we will gladly feature it the Transcribe Bentham newsletter as our Transcript of the Month.

Project update – new material to transcribe! Bentham on Penal Code and Radicalism

By Louise Seaward, on 8 September 2017

Good afternoon and welcome back to the blog.  Transcribe Bentham is hitting a big milestone today – it’s our 7th birthday!  We first launched the website as a six-month experiment on 8 September 2010 and here we are all these years later.  If our volunteers keep transcribing at their current rate, we may hit 20,000 transcripts by the end of 2017.  What a huge achievement and a massive amount of groundwork for future Bentham scholarship. Our most sincere thanks go to everyone who has participated over the years.

We’re here with a nice birthday present for our transcribers – some new material from the Bentham collection!  Boxes 67, 68 and 137 have just been uploaded to the Transcription Desk.  This means that we now have 85 boxes and more than 42,000 pages of Bentham’s available online.

These new boxes contain Bentham’s writings on a penal or criminal code and drafts of a short work called Radicalism not dangerous.

Bentham strongly believed in the importance of clear legal codes and returned to this subject throughout his life.  His penal or criminal code would form one part of his intended pannomion, a complete body of utilitarian law.

Radicalism not Dangerous was a short tract written around 1819-20 in which Bentham put forward his own brand of liberal radicalism.  By this point, he was committed to the cause of political reform but felt that change should be slower and more linked to existing institutions than that which was desired by popular radicals of the early nineteenth century.


UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, box cxxxvii, fo. 229, Radicalism not dangerous, 9 April 1820 [Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections]

More information on the contents of each of these boxes and access to the manuscripts can be found on the following pages:

Box 67- penal code

Box 68 – penal code

Box 137 – Radicalism not dangerous

Users can also view pages from these boxes through the Untranscribed Manuscripts page.

We invite anyone to rifle through this new material – and we look forward to seeing what interesting bits and pieces might be uncovered!

Our thanks go to Chris Riley, a PhD student at the Bentham Project, who helped to research the content of these boxes.

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?


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.

New material to transcribe: correspondence, procedure, juries, petitions and Latin America

By Louise Seaward, on 10 February 2017

Sound the klaxon, we have new material on the Transcription Desk!  Five new boxes are now available for any new or existing transcribers to explore.  Boxes 13, 26, 54, 60 and 81 have been uploaded.  This means that we now have 80 boxes and more than 40,000(!) pages of Bentham’s writings on our Transcription Desk.

These new boxes contain a mixture of Bentham’s correspondence and legal writings.  Much of the material reflects Bentham’s fascincation with rising new democracies in Spain, Portugal and Latin America.  In the early nineteenth century, Bentham was keen to play a direct role in the codification of new systems of law in these regions.   These papers also include various elements of Bentham’s crusade for legal reform.  He wanted to tighten the jury selection process and had the idea of using petitions to compel the British Parliament to remodel the judicial establishment.

Elements of the Art of Packing, 6 September 1809 [Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections]

UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, box xxvi, fo. 66, Elements of the Art of Packing, 6 September 1809 [Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections]

More information on the contents of each of these boxes and access to the manuscripts can be found on the following pages:

Box 13 – correspondence

Box 26 – juries

Box 54 – legal procedure

Box 60 – Latin America

Box 81 – petitions

Users can also view pages from these boxes through the Untranscribed Manuscripts page.

We invite you to take a look through these boxes and see what you can find to transcribe.  Why did Bentham feel that packed juries obstructed liberty of the press?  How convincing were his plans to codify new laws in Spain and Portugal?  Could you have been persuaded to sign one of Bentham’s petitions calling for legal reform?

New material to transcribe: politics, ethics, legal reform, correspondence

By Louise Seaward, on 11 October 2016

We’re here today with some exciting news – seven new boxes of Bentham manuscripts have just been added to the Transcription Desk!  The new material is contained in boxes 12, 14, 16, 32, 47, 52 and 75.  These boxes consist of 2695 new images of Bentham’s writings – freshly uploaded and ready for any volunteers to explore and transcribe.

These boxes contain intriguing material for anyone interested in Bentham’s life and work.  We have Bentham’s correspondence with close friends and international acquaintances from the United States, South America, Egypt and Greece.  Bentham’s drafts of civil, criminal and procedure codes are also available – these formed part of his plan for a ‘Pannomion’ or complete code of law.  We also have Bentham’s writings on ethics and human psychology, which are considered crucial to his theory of utilitarianism.

Bentham's letter to the Editor of the National Calendar of the United States, 5 August 1821, UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, xii, fol. 12

Bentham’s letter to the Editor of the National Calendar of the United States, UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, xii, fo. 35 (Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

More information on the contents of each of these boxes and access to the manuscripts can be found on the following pages:

Box 12 – correspondence

Box 14 – writings on deontology and ethics

Box 16 – criminal code

Box 32 – civil code

Box 47 – evidence

Box 52 – procedure code

Box 75 – legal reform

Users can also view pages from these boxes through the Untranscribed Manuscripts page.

We look forward to seeing how our volunteers get on with this material – which papers will be most popular and what new insights will be uncovered?