Archive for the 'Events' Category

Help improve Transcribe Bentham

By Tim Causer, on 1 October 2012

From today—as part of a project entitled the Consolidated Bentham Papers RepositoryTranscribe Bentham will be  supported for two years by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Scholarly Communications Programme. A significant part of this work will be to make modifications and improvements to the transcription interface, in order to make the transcription process more straightforward for volunteers. The code for the updated Transcription Desk software will, like its first iteration, be made available on an open-source basis for others to re-use and customise to meet their own needs.

Through a survey carried last year (the results of which will soon be published in Digital Humanities Quarterly), volunteers have already given us a few ideas for alterations which they would like to see made. These include:

  • Changes to the way the markup is added. Responses to the survey indicate that adding of XML tags was a significant issue, and may have dissuaded some from participating. though the Transcription Toolbar was designed to make adding markup as easy as possible, markup was regarded by more than a few respondents as an extra complication when trying to decipher Bentham’s handwriting (which is, after all, the purpose of Transcribe Bentham). One solution is to introduce, as an alternative, a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get interface, so that transcribing will be like typing in a word-processor. In this scenario, the transcription toolbar would be done away with, and transcribers would not have to concern themselves with visible markup at all. Volunteers would—just by way of example, these are not set in stone—indicate a line break simply by hitting return, a paragraph by pressing return twice, and indicate underlinings or deletions by selecting the portion of text, pressing a button, and the underlining/deletion would be rendered while typing. The XML tags would thus remain behind the scenes and would not clutter the transcript.
  • A more flexible image viewer. The current interface, where the image is alongside the text box where the transcript is entered, was also seen as problematic. We will aim to introduce a more flexible image viewer (image box above text box? A floating image window? a resizable image window?). A floating transcription toolbar would also prevent constant scrolling up and down.
  • Distinguishing between locked and fresh material. It is also clear from volunteer responses that we need to make it easier to distinguish between complete and locked, partially transcribed, and untranscribed manuscripts. While we have introduced lists (e.g. the untranscribed manuscript list) and they have their uses, these have to be updated manually and—owing to human error—are not always fully accurate. We will look to introduce some form of automated system to tell the different types of manuscript apart (some form of colour coding?)

Sadly, we can’t do anything about the state of Bentham’s handwriting, and/or composition! Changes which would be made are all about making life easier for transcribers, so this will be very much evolution rather than revolution. Volunteers will be invited to test out any alterations made to the interface.

These are just a few of the ideas we have gleaned from volunteer suggestions, but we are keen to hear more (crowdsourcing inspiration, if you will). We would love to hear from interested onlookers, as well as those who have had hands-on experience with the transcription interface. What alterations would you like to see made to the Transcription Desk, or would you recommend be made? If you are a volunteer transcriber, what changes would be most beneficial to you?

We would like to hear any ideas which you might have. You can leave comments here on the blog, in the Transcription Desk’s discussion forum, or we would be delighted to hear from you via email. Alternatively, you can leave your suggestions anonymously on this survey.

We look forward to hearing from you, and do let us know if you have any questions!

Bentham Project receives grant from the Mellon Foundation

By Tim Causer, on 2 July 2012

We are delighted to announce that the Bentham Project and Transcribe Bentham have been awarded a grant of $538,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, under their Scholarly Communications programme, for a period of two years from 1 October 2012. We will build upon the on-going successes of Transcribe Bentham, and continue the collaboration between the Bentham Project, UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities, UCL Library Services, UCL Creative Media Services, and the University of London Computer Centre. We are now also pleased to welcome a new partner to the project: the British Library.

The British Library’s involvement is hugely important. Transcribe Bentham was initially established under an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant. This would fund the digitisation of around 30% of UCL’s vast Bentham Papers collection, which runs to c. 60,000 manuscript folios, or an estimated 30 million words. The Mellon funding will now allow us to digitise much of the remainder of the UCL collection and—fulfilling a long-held ambition—all of the British Library’s 12,500 folios (c. 6 million words) of Bentham material. Hence the new programme’s official name: the Consolidated Bentham Papers Repository (CBPR) which will reunite this priceless collection—digitally—for the first time since Bentham’s death, and create a free-to-access historical and philosophical resource of great significance.

Alongside this mass digitisation programme, the important process of crowdsourced transcription will continue. We will be able to implement significant improvements to the transcription interface, many of which have been suggested to us by volunteers, which will make the process of transcription and using the site more straightforward. As a result, we hope that even more volunteers will join those already participating, who are at present transcribing at a terrific rate.

We are extremely grateful to the Mellon Foundation trustees for this support, and especially the Scholarly Communications programme officers for seeing us through the application process so smoothly. We look forward to working with the Foundation, our partners and the project’s volunteer transcribers, and talking about the work in the weeks and months to come!

New material – Panopticon versus New South Wales

By Tim Causer, on 20 April 2012

As mentioned in today’s progress update, 864 images-worth of material from Box 116 has been uploaded to the website for transcribing. This contains some very important material, mainly written around 1802, which relates to his views on the then recently-founded convict colony of New South Wales. Essentially, Bentham’s purpose was to condemn the colony, as transportation had emerged as the main alternative to the construction of penitentiaries, and specifically the Panopticon.

One of the works on which these manuscripts are based, Panopticon versus New South Wales, is a passionate assault on the supposed ‘failures’ of colony: that the society was immoral; that transported convicts were not reformed; that transportation was unjust and borderline illegal; and that the convict system was inefficient and hugely expensive. Set against this was a picture of Bentham’s efficient, cheap, and reformatory Panopticon. However, Bentham made a rather tendentious use of evidence in making his case, exaggerating matters and ignoring facts which did not fit his theory.

View of the Settlement on Sydney Cove, Port Jackson 20th August, 1788, held by the State Library of Victoria (http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/platebk/gid/slv-pic-aac04897/1/pb000463)

A second work arising from the material was A Plea for the Constitution, also known as The True Bastile, which was written circa 1803 but not published until 1812. Bentham now argued that since the Governors of New South Wales had not been given powers to make binding local regulations by Parliament, then they had not legal power to enforce such rules, or punish people for transgressing. Bentham recognised the incendiary nature of this argument, noting in August 1802 that were ‘I to publish [it] now, before Parliament is in readiness to do any thing, the great probability is that the Colony would be in a flame’. However, there is evidence that Bentham supplied a copy to David Collins, then in England but who was soon to depart again for the Antipodes, and that the arguments in A Plea for the Constitution played their part in the rationale for the bloodless overthrow of Governor William Bligh of New South Wales.

As a historian of colonial Australia, this material is very exciting – once transcribed, it will be possible to discern how Bentham developed his case against New South Wales, and formulated and corralled his evidence. It will also contribute to one of the more fertile historiographical trends in the history of convict transportation, namely the anti-transportation campaigns of the 1840s and 1850s; recent work in this area includes Babette Smith’s important Australia’s Birthstain, and a forthcoming discussion forum in the Journal of Australian Colonial History.

Panopticon versus New South Wales had no impact on the policy of transportation at the time of its publication—more and more convicts were transported to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, especially from 1816. But the ideas it contained were discussed at length during the following decades, and they were at the centre of the great show-trial of the convict system, the 1837-1838 Select Committee on Transportation, chaired by the then 27 year-old Radical MP, Sir William Molesworth. He described Bentham as one of England’s ‘greatest and most original thinkers’, used Bentham’s arguments in his speeches, and followed Bentham’s tendentious methods when making his own investigation into transportation. Incidentally, according to the historian John Ritchie, it was ‘a jibe while [Molesworth] was at University that he not only admired Bentham but also understood him’.

We hope you enjoy consulting and transcribing this material! Do let us know if you have any questions.

Transcribe Bentham needs your vote!

By Tim Causer, on 4 April 2012

Transcribe Bentham has been entered into the EngageU public engagement awards, which is run by the Oxford Internet Institute as part of the European Commission-funded ULab project. The competition seeks to identify some of the most innovative outreach and public engagement programmes being carried out by European universities.

There have been over one hundred extremely interesting entries, including Transcribe Bentham. The results depend partly on the decision of a jury, and partly on a public vote. We at TB would be very grateful if you could find the time to vote for the project (no need to sign up for any account, just click the red ‘like this entry’ button).

Thank you!

UCL closure, 5 to 11 April 2012

By Tim Causer, on 27 March 2012

UCL will be close for the Easter break on 5 April and reopen on 12 April, during which time the Transcription Desk will remain fully available, though it will be largely unstaffed during this period.

The last full and normal checking of submissions before the break will take place on Friday 30 April. We intend to issue a basic progress update—as we did during the December break—on Friday 6 April. Any submissions received after this date may not be checked until UCL reopens when normal service will be resumed, and we apologise in advance for any inconvenience caused.

If volunteers have any queries about these arrangements, please do contact us before 5 April.

In the meantime, we would like to thank all our volunteers, Facebook and Twitter followers, and readers of the blog for all their support, efforts and interest and hope you all have a good break.