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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!

Transcription Assistant opportunity at the Bentham Project

By Tim Causer, on 31 August 2016

The Bentham Project has a vacancy for a Transcription Assistant to work with Professor Philip Schofield, Professor Margot Finn, and Dr Tim Causer on a new edition of Jeremy Bentham’s writings on Australia, containing three major texts: Panopticon versus New South Wales, A Plea for the Constitution, and Colonization Society Proposal. There will be a variety of tasks, including transcription of manuscripts, correcting of transcripts, proof-reading, and the encoding and preparation of online texts. More details about the research programme can be found at http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk/projects?ref=AH/M009548/1.

The post will suit a research student working in History, Legal History, or a cognate field.

It is expected that work will be offered for one day per week (7 hours). The salary is £12.27 per hour.

Applications, consisting of a covering letter and CV, should be sent to Dr Tim Causer, Bentham Project, UCL Laws, 38-50 Bidborough House, London WC1H 9BT, or t.causer@ucl.ac.uk

The deadline for applications is Sunday 18 September 2016.

‘from a female pen, as well as to a female eye’: annotating Bentham’s ‘Writings on Australia’

By Tim Causer, on 12 July 2016

It’s been a few months since the last update about the ongoing editing of Bentham’s writings on Australia. In the intervening period I’ve mostly been researching and writing editorial notes for Panopticon versus New Wales and A Plea for the Constitution to illuminate Bentham’s various allusions throughout the texts.

In writing and researching the First Letter to Lord Pelham (one half of Panopticon versus New South Wales) in 1802, Bentham sought out as much information as possible about the convict colony of New South Wales. Though he relied in the main upon historical accounts and official correspondence among Bentham’s other acquisitions was a short letter dated 7 October 1800, ‘from a female pen, as well as to a female eye’, which he cited as evidence of the immorality supposedly prevalent in New South Wales (p. 19). He quoted a portion of the letter which described how the new Governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, would have to ‘pay some attention to the morals and instruction of the rising generation, to which none has hitherto been given; for certainly, if we ever hope to see worth or honesty in this settlement, we must look to them for it, and not the present degenerate race.

Bentham was oddly coy about the letter’s providence, noting that for ‘authentication sake, designation will (I suppose) be regarded as indispensable; but where that sex is concerned, the most reserved mode that can be thought of, is the most respectful and the best.’ There the authorship of the letter might have remained a mystery but, as ever when it comes to Bentham, his manuscripts are fortunately more revealing. In an unpublished draft of the First Letter to Lord Pelham, Bentham wrote that ‘the Lady’s Husband—a Soldier—[was] the first man in rank under the Governor’ (UCL Bentham Papers, Box xciv, f. 335v). The Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales in October 1800 was Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson (1755–1810), making the author of the letter his wife, Elizabeth (née Driver), one of the founders of the Sydney Orphans’ School and committee member of the Female Orphans’ Institution.

Elizabeth Paterson’s letter—or perhaps an extract from it— is held among the British Library’s Bentham Papers (Additional Manuscripts 33,453, folios 423–24) and a similar note to the quotation above about its authorship, in pencil and in Bentham’s hand, is written at the end of the letter. Furthermore, on the reverse of the letter it is stated that it was from ‘Mrs Patterson [sic] Port Jackson to Mrs B. Q.S.P.’—‘Mrs B’ being Maria Sophia Bentham (1765–1858), the wife of Jeremy’s younger brother, Samuel (1757–1831). This was not the only occasion that Jeremy tapped into Samuel and Maria Sophia’s network when writing Panopticon versus New South Wales: he also drew upon a letter dated 20 May 1799 from Samuel’s friend, John Hunter (1737–1821), Governor of New South Wales from 1795 to 1800.

As well as her remarks upon colonial morality (very much written from the point of view of the official class), Elizabeth Paterson’s letter also reveals anxiety about the security of the colony in the wake of several hundred convicts having arrived from Ireland, many of whom were apparently involved in the 1798 United Irishmen rising. In September 1800, a month before Paterson put pen to paper, a nebulous ‘plot’ had been uncovered in which some Irish convicts were supposed to have been ready to resort to armed revolt. Paterson wrote of how ‘for these last six months we have been under apprehensions’ of a rising, but as the rumours were unconfirmed ‘no steps [were taken] to prevent their designs’ until 28 September. This was the day apparently ‘fixed for the destruction of the Military and principal families at Parramatta, a considerable Settlement 15 Miles from [Sydney]’. Thirty ‘Ringleaders’ were arrested and questioned and ‘the greatest part confessed the horrid plot’ and, as a result, a number of men were ordered to be flogged and/or exiled to Norfolk Island. Even though the ‘plot’ had been prevented, Paterson remained concerned that the military force in the colony was insufficient and that even after ‘our critical situation’ became known back in London, there was still the prospect of more Irish prisoners being transported to New South Wales.

You can see the letter, and the page of the draft of Panopticon versus New South Wales below. In the meantime, the editorial work continues apace. The annotation of the printed versions of Panopticon versus New South Wales and A Plea for the Constitution is at quite an advanced stage, and transcripts of manuscripts from Box 116 , produced in the main by TB volunteers, are also being checked, and the quality is extraordinarily high. Once this checking is complete, we will begin to compare the draft versions of these two texts with the printed versions, and see just what Bentham decided to leave out from the final versions. But that is something for a future update…


Elizabeth Paterson to Maria Sophia Bentham, 7 Oct 1800 (p.1) British Library Add. MS  33,453, fo. 423r

Elizabeth Paterson to Maria Sophia Bentham, 7 Oct 1800 (p.1)
British Library Add. MS 33,453, fo. 423r

Elizabeth Paterson to Maria Sophia Bentham, 7 Oct 1800 (p.1) British Library Add. MS  33,453, fo. 423v

Elizabeth Paterson to Maria Sophia Bentham, 7 Oct 1800 (p.1)
British Library Add. MS 33,453, fo. 423v

Elizabeth Paterson to Maria Sophia Bentham, 7 Oct 1800 (p.1) British Library Add. MS  33,453, fo. 424r

Elizabeth Paterson to Maria Sophia Bentham, 7 Oct 1800 (p.1)
British Library Add. MS 33,453, fo. 424r


UCL Bentham Papers, Box xciv, fo. 335v

UCL Bentham Papers, Box xciv, fo. 335v




Progress Update 4th June to 10th June 2016

By Louise Seaward, on 10 June 2016

Hey everyone, here is our progress update for the week.  Thank you to all of our transcribers this week for working so hard.

16,082 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed, which is an increase of 58 on last week’s total.  Of these transcripts, 15,246 (94%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

The more detailed progress chart is as follows:

Box No. of manuscripts worked on No. of manuscripts in box Completion
Box 1 394 795 49%
Box 2 590 753 78%
Box 4 10 694 1%
Box 5 200 290 68%
Box 7 4 169 2%
Box 8 18 284 6%
Box 9 47 266 17%
Box 10 1 459 1%
Box 11 9 480 1%
Box 15 86 814 10%
Box 18 4 193 2%
Box 27 350 350 COMPLETE
Box 29 22 122 18%
Box 30 4 193 2%
Box 31 19 302 6%
Box 34 40 399 10%
Box 35 287 439 65%
Box 36 37 419 8%
Box 37 36 487 7%
Box 38 172 427 40%
Box 39 12 284 4%
Box 41 87 572 15%
Box 42 92 910 10%
Box 44 53 202 26%
Box 50 176 198 88%
Box 51 386 940 41%
Box 57 19 420 4%
Box 62 78 565 13%
Box 63 155 345 44%
Box 70 306 350 87%
Box 71 663 663 COMPLETE
Box 72 614 664 92%
Box 73 151 151 COMPLETE
Box 79 199 199 COMPLETE
Box 87 2 604 1%
Box 95 126 147 85%
Box 96 534 539 99%
Box 97 145 296 48%
Box 98 224 499 44%
Box 100 209 442 47%
Box 106 235 581 40%
Box 107 503 538 93%
Box 110 15 671 2%
Box 115 277 307 90%
Box 116 784 865 90%
Box 117 453 853 53%
Box 118 258 880 29%
Box 119 538 990 54%
Box 120 191 686 27%
Box 121 146 526 27%
Box 122 306 728 42%
Box 123 45 443 10%
Box 124 16 383 4%
Box 139 40 40 COMPLETE
Box 141 88 381 23%
Box 149 46 581 7%
Box 150 972 972 COMPLETE
Box 169 195 728 26%
Add MS 35537 730 744 98%
Add MS 35538 821 858 95%
Add MS 35539 882 948 93%
Add MS 35540 948 1012 93%
Add MS 35541 983 1258 78%
Add MS 35547 31 701 4%
Add MS 35549 6 366 1%
Add MS 35550 12 637 1%
Overall 16,082 35,002 45%

Progress update, 19 to 25 September 2015

By Tim Causer, on 25 September 2015

Welcome along to the Transcribe Bentham progress update for 19 to 25 September 2015, during which time further excellent progress has been made by volunteers.

13,833 manuscripts have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed, which is an increase of 55 on this time last week. Of these transcripts, 12,790 (94%) have been checked and approved by Transcribe Bentham staff.

The more detailed state of progress is as follows:

Box No. of manuscripts worked on No. of manuscripts in box Completion
Box 1 352 794 45%
Box 2 476 753 63%
Box 4 2 694 1%
Box 5 200 290 68%
Box 7 4 167 2%
Box 8 6 284 2%
Box 9 41 266 15%
Box 15 79 914 10%
Box 18 4 192 2%
Box 27 350 350 COMPLETE
Box 29 22 122 18%
Box 30 2 193 1%
Box 31 19 302 6%
Box 34 40 398 10%
Box 35 286 439 65%
Box 36 35 418 8%
Box 37 32 487 6%
Box 38 149 424 36%
Box 39 12 282 4%
Box 41 87 528 14%
Box 42 89 910 9%
Box 44 53 201 26%
Box 50 171 198 85%
Box 51 385 940 40%
Box 57 18 420 4%
Box 62 77 565 13%
Box 63 155 345 44%
Box 70 306 350 87%
Box 71 663 663 COMPLETE
Box 72 614 664 92%
Box 73 151 151 COMPLETE
Box 79 199 199 COMPLETE
Box 95 126 147 85%
Box 96 534 539 99%
Box 97 141 296 47%
Box 98 224 499 44%
Box 100 194 422 43%
Box 106 159 581 27%
Box 107 502 538 93%
Box 110 7 671 1%
Box 115 277 307 90%
Box 116 507 864 58%
Box 117 365 853 42%
Box 118 255 880 28%
Box 119 535 990 54%
Box 120 29 686 4%
Box 121 134 526 24%
Box 122 305 717 41%
Box 123 42 443 9%
Box 124 15 383 3%
Box 139 40 40 COMPLETE
Box 141 5 381 1%
Box 149 5 581 1%
Box 150 972 972 COMPLETE
Box 169 195 728 26%
Add MS 35537 730 744 98%
Add MS 35538 776 858 90%
Add MS 35539 834 948 87%
Add MS 35540 366 1012 36%
Add MS 35541 451 1258 35%
Add MS 35547 28 701 3%
Add MS 35549 0 366 0%
Overall 13,833 32,627 42%


We are also glad to say that Jeremy Bentham’s Prison Cooking: A Collection of Utilitarian Recipes – based in large part on manuscripts transcribed by TB volunteers – is now available to buy from UCL’s Online Store for the bargain price of £9.99 (plus postage). Bentham Cover final 28/7/15.inddWe are hugely grateful to the team who produced the cookbook – Alysha Owen, DeAndra Lupu, Jennifer Timmins, Joanna O’Neill, Katarzyna Gambus, and Toluwalase Ogundipe – as part of their MA in Publishing studies here at UCL. The book is a beautiful production, and a real tribute to their hard work.

As always, we are hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed to Transcribe Bentham during the last seven days. It remains as greatly appreciated as always.