Archive for the 'Events' Category

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.










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.


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.


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!










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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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!

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.

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!

Project Update – Report from the British Academy soirée

By Louise Seaward, on 23 June 2017

A guest post by Dr Tim Causer who represented Transcribe Bentham and the Bentham Project at the latest British Academy soirée

Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Tim Causer represented the Bentham Project at the British Academy soirée on 20 June. Over 500 people attended the event and heard talks from a number of British Academy Fellows, and visited stands featuring the work of British Academy Research Projects, of which the Bentham Project is one.

Professor Schofield and Dr Causer, stationed in the Council Room beside Henry Pickersgill’s 1829 portrait of Bentham, discussed with visitors the work of the Project, the production of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, recent open-access publications from UCL Press, and the ongoing and exciting work of the European Commission-funded READ project. Of particular interest to visitors was the Transkribus platform and its Handwritten Text Recognition tools, and the prototype ‘ScanTent’ which, when used in conjunction with the free and forthcoming DocScan app, allows users to efficiently capture images of archival and printed material.

Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Tim Causer at the British Academy

Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Tim Causer at the British Academy

A good time was had by all, particularly under the beneficent eye of Mr Bentham himself!