Archive for the 'Users' Category

Project update – celebrating the digitisation of Bentham’s manuscripts!

By Louise Seaward, on 11 June 2018

I’m sure most of you saw our fabulous news about the complete digitisation of Bentham’s manuscripts.  Over 95,000 images of Bentham’s writings from UCL Special Collections and The British Library are now available in digital form – and we thought this was worthy of a bit of a celebration!

On 6 June 2018 about 30 of our friends and supporters joined us for a party in Bentham House, the newly refurbished home of the Bentham Project and the UCL Faculty of Laws.

Our party in full swing!

As the wine flowed, Bentham Project staff mingled with colleagues from The British Library, UCL Digital Media Services, UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, UCL Library and further afield.  We were also delighted to welcome four volunteer transcribers to the party – this was possibly the first time that we have had several volunteers in the same room!  Annette Brindle (Annieb2), Simon Croft (S.D.Croft), Diane Folan (Diane_Folan) and Gill Hague (ohsoldgirl) were all in attendance and took the opportunity to share some transcription tips and tricks with each other.

Transcribe Bentham volunteers Annette Brindle, Simon Croft and Gill Hague.


Transcribers Diane Folan and Simon Croft puzzle over some tricky Bentham marginalia.

Of course, you can’t have a celebration without a few speeches.  Professor Philip Schofield, director of the Bentham Project, gave an overview of the history of Transcribe Bentham: from its origins in 2010 to our present-day experiments with Handwritten Text Recognition technology.  Professor Melissa Terras, formerly of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, now at the University of Edinburgh, spoke about how important Transcribe Bentham has become in the wider digital humanities landscape.  It was then up to me to convey our gratitude to everyone who supports and contributes to Transcribe Bentham – especially our loyal transcribers!

It’s time for speeches from Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Louise Seaward.

Happily we also received multiple messages of congratulations from volunteers and academics who were unable to attend the party.  We include them below to give a flavour of Transcribe Bentham’s international standing.  With thanks to everyone who sent their good wishes!

Thanks to Transcribe Bentham’s staff, volunteers and supporters for sharing so many of your lessons learnt, for the benefit of many others interested in the potential for crowdsourcing and online participation in work on cultural heritage collections. Congratulations on achieving this milestone, and here’s to many more in the future.


Mia Ridge, The British Library

Transcribe Bentham is not just an inspiration for all digitization projects: It also demonstrates, that highly demanding tasks–like transcribing and tagging–can be done efficiently and collaboratively in the digital age. Congrats and Chapeau.

Tobias Hodel, University of Zurich

To all involved in the Bentham Project, I’m so sorry I can’t be with you at the celebration.  It’s wonderful to see all the volunteers taking part in transcribing Bentham.  More than 20,000 pages of Bentham’s writing transcribed by volunteers — this must be productive of utility for those who are freely choosing to do the transcribing, for the wider audience whose reading of Bentham’s unknown work is thereby facilitated, and in the long run, I hope, for those who will be affected by changes in our thinking and policies that stem from a better understanding of Bentham. 

Peter Singer, Princeton University and University of Melbourne

I would add that I enjoy the Bentham Project for three reasons: 1. puzzling out the letters on the page, 2. fitting the words together to make sense, (rather like a cryptic crossword), 3. the occasional gem of insight into life and thought from the early nineteenth century.

Keith Thompson, Transcribe Bentham volunteer

The news about the completion of the digitisation of the main collections is wonderful, and many congratulations to all concerned (a huge number of people, of course!).

Thanks for the invitation to the event on 6 June. Unfortunately I can’t be there, which is a pity. I’d like to say I’ll be with you in spirit, but I think Bentham would disapprove.

Roger Crisp, University of Oxford

I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the project. I had completed a Masters in Criminology and when I read about it, I was keen to help. It was fascinating to have access to the originals and to be able to make a contribution, however small to making Bentham’s work accessible to the public.  Congratulations to all involved. It proves that together we can do great things. 

Olga Núñez Miret, Transcribe Bentham volunteer

When I joined Transcribe Bentham in 2010, I could not have anticipated the significant impact it would have on Bentham Studies, Digital Humanities, and Citizen Science, and I feel honoured and grateful to have been part of the project at its outset.

Congratulations to all—staff and volunteers—who have contributed to making Transcribe Bentham such a noteworthy scholarly resource and an important contribution to knowledge.

Justin Tonra, Research Associate on Transcribe Bentham (2010)

During my PhD, I went to the Bentham Project and I had to get through some difficult pages of Bentham’s handwriting… One day, I find a musical score on the top of one of Bentham’s manuscript and then, written on the side of the next one, an unfinished score with more notes. At this moment, I thought: that’s great I will be able to “hear” Bentham’s handwriting now and even to listen what he likes…

I don’t know if one day we will be able to identify the source of this score but I think it illustrates the experience of transcribing Bentham’s material… you discover unexpected things which, at first sight, seems partially irrelevant, and, then, you begin to think that there is a beauty in it (until the mystery of the score is solved!).

Before the complete digitalization of 100,000 Bentham pages, I used to look at Transcribe Bentham and I was happy to discover the new good quotes and progress made thanks to the volunteers (thanks Tim!).  Now that this is done, more discovery will (hopefully) happen and this is great news for history of political thought and classical utilitarianism!

Benjamin Bourcier, Université Catholique de Lille

If you have any questions about the digitisation or would like to view images that have not yet been put online, feel free to contact us.

Funding for the digitisation was provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, UCL Digital Media Services and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.  The Bentham Project is also recognised as a British Academy Research Project.

Project Update – Transcribe Bentham, women and citizen science

By Louise Seaward, on 23 March 2018

We were honoured to be invited to present on 19th March 2018 at a UCL event celebrating the participation of women in citizen science and crowdsourcing projects.  Representation of the people in science: women in civic and citizen science brought together an all-female panel of researchers, citizen scientists and volunteers to discuss their different projects.

I gave the audience an overview of Transcribe Bentham and the benefits it brings for scholarship, access to historical material and our volunteers.  Since September 2010, there have been 639 people who have transcribed something at least once on our site (check out our Hall of Fame!).  But the majority of the transcription on Transcribe Bentham has been carried out by around 30 volunteers.  These volunteers are known as our ‘super-transcribers’ and we typically have between 3 and 5 of these users transcribing every week.  According to our latest user survey, the gender balance of our super-transcribers is actually relatively even: 58% of our super-transcribers are male and 42% are female.







I was happy to have one of our most active users alongside me to give her perspective on being a Transcribe Bentham volunteer.  Gill Hague (or ‘ohsoldgirl’) has been contributing to the initiative for many years, transcribing hundreds of pages across that time.  With her permission, I have included an excerpt from her presentation which gives an insight into her experience and some advice for new transcribers:

‘As a freelancer I found I had periods of time where either I was waiting for the phone to ring with news of some work, or I had days on a project where I had nothing specific to do, but I had to be available on the phone at a moments’ notice.   This made it hard to get involved in anything external that required a regular commitment of time, but watching daytime television soon lost its attraction.

In September 2011 I saw a small piece in the Sunday Times about Transcribe Bentham.   With a particular interest in new ways of applying technology – crowdsourcing was a relatively new concept at the time – I was interested to learn more and so logged on to the website.   I had done Economic History at A level so Bentham’s name rang a faint bell and looking at the site I saw parallels with image enabled databases I had previously been involved in developing.   Then we had used OCR to make printed text searchable – here I could see that transcribing made the handwritten text accessible in the same way.   I was encouraged that anyone was welcome to have a go at transcribing, and, after reading the guidance, set out on an initial page.   Submitting this eventually for review, I was very pleased to receive a swift email thanking me for my contribution and encouraging me to do more.

To anyone new to transcribing I would say just have a go.   The handwriting can be challenging but there’s a sense of achievement when you decipher it, and the more you do the easier it becomes.   The more pages you transcribe, the more confident and competent you become with the mark up, and it’s very satisfying when you get it all right and the page renders as you expect.    Once you get your head round the principles it’s really a very logical process.   You’ll get plenty of feedback and encouragement from the Transcribe Bentham team and make a valuable contribution to their work.’

It was great to see another citizen scientist presenting at the event.  Jo Hurford is a local artist and community leader and is part of a group of Euston residents who have made attempts to raise concerns about air quality and the environment in opposition to the plans for the HS2 high-speed railway.  The group worked with Professor Muki Haklay from UCL Extreme Citizen Science who taught them how to measure air quality along proposed construction routes and their findings proved that the impact will be severe.  They also tried to highlight the need to save greenspaces by knitting scarves for trees – you may have seen some of them in Euston Square Gardens.  Jo praised the citizen science movement for helping the residents to arm themselves with facts and keep going no matter what.

We also heard from several researchers who are facilitating other citizen science projects.

Dr Cindy Regalado, also from UCL Extreme Citizen Science reported on the myriad events organised as part of the EU-funded Doing It Together Science initiative, which is designed to engage the public in bio-design and environmental science.  These include workshops, science cafes, film nights and most intriguingly the Stick Insect meeting in Belgium where amateurs and scientists presented and curated an exhibition about stick insects!

Dr Cindy Regalado (UCL) summarises just one of a variety of citizen science events organised by ‘Doing it Together Science’.


Dr Alice Bell, science writer and director of communications at climate charity 10:10, spoke to us about two related subjects.  First, she explored the radical science movement of the 1970s, which was arguably one of the first attempts to involve the public in science and change perceptions of the subject.  Second, she talked about her current work in climate change action, helping schools and community groups to set up solar panels  on their own buildings.

‘Science for People’ an image from Dr Alice Bell’s presentation.


We were also interested to hear from Professor Sarah Bell, Professor of Environment Engineering at UCL.  Professor Bell is the director of Engineering Exchange, which is a network of engineers and specialists who work to make UCL’s Engineering expertise available for local community projects.  Only 9% of engineers in the UK are women and this presentation suggested that the experience of being a minority might help to explain why female engineers are often more drawn to public engagement and citizen science work.

Professor Sarah Bell (UCL) talks about opening up engineering expertise

It was fascinating to gain understanding of the way in which volunteers are engaged in the scientific world and we hope we can develop some closer connections with ongoing citizen science initiatives at UCL.  Thanks to the audience who contributed interesting comments and questions, the organisers at UCL Extreme Citizen Science and and the Doing it Together Science project and to Dr Charlene Jennett, researcher at UCLIC for chairing the event.
















This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 709443.

Project Update – Quality and Cost-Efficiency of Transcription

By Louise Seaward, on 1 February 2018

Our January project update is running a little late, but I hope I’ll be forgiven!

Amongst other things, I’ve been busy preparing the first edition of the Transcribe Bentham newsletter, a new monthly email update on the project.  You can expect to find out about the latest volunteer discoveries, our progress towards our transcription goals and other Bentham-related news and events.  Sign up here.

Coming back to the subject of today’s blog post, I wanted to celebrate the publication of a new article on Transcribe Bentham. ”Making such bargain: Transcribe Bentham and the quality and cost-effectiveness of crowdsourced transcription’ has been published in the journal, Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (open-access version is coming soon).  It was written by former Transcribe Bentham colleagues Dr Tim Causer, Dr Kris GrintDr Anna-Maria Sichani and Professor Melissa Terras.  The article is a detailed statistical evaluation of the quality and efficiency of Transcribe Bentham as a transcription project.  It reveals that we have a lot to be proud of!

Dr Tim Causer (Bentham Project, UCL), one of the authors of the new Transcribe Bentham article

We have long known that Transcribe Bentham is ground-breaking in terms of public engagement and access to historical material.  We are working with a fantastic community of volunteers and making thousands of pages of Bentham manuscripts and transcripts freely available online.  This article goes into more depth about other benefits of Transcribe Bentham, in terms of the quality and cost-efficiency of the work done by our volunteers.

The article is a pain-staking study of over 4000 transcripts submitted by Transcribe Bentham volunteers and then checked by Transcribe Bentham staff over a 20 month period.  The team analysed the quality of each submitted transcript and the time taken to review and edit it.  This analysis indicated that the work produced by our volunteers is of a very high quality (as we have always suspected!).  Most of the transcripts submitted on the site required only a handful of editorial changes, and nearly half required no changes at all.  It takes Transcribe Bentham staff an average of only 3.5 minutes to check and approve a page submitted by a volunteer.  So we have empirical evidence that the work of our volunteers is accurate enough to be used in a public database and as basis for further research.

Volunteer transcription is not only accurate, but efficient too.  It is much quicker for Transcribe Bentham staff to check transcripts, than to transcribe them from scratch.  There is also significant potential for cost-avoidance, even if we take into account the fact that the Bentham Project has received significant funding to establish and maintain the initiative.  Moreover, Transcribe Bentham contributes hugely to the ongoing work of the Bentham Project in producing the definitive scholarly edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham.  Bentham Project researchers can make use of transcripts produced by volunteers, so they now have a head-start when they are editing Bentham’s papers.  The article also estimates that if our transcribers continue to work at their current rate, Bentham’s papers could be completely transcribed by 2036.  This would be an astonishing achievement, especially considering that the Bentham Project has been working towards this goal since the late 1950s!

We are immensely grateful to our volunteers and do not wish to reduce them to a set of statistics.  Rather, this article is designed to provide evidence of the tangible benefits of crowdsourcing transcription, pointing out the signficant success of Transcribe Bentham and also offering a model for other projects who might like to follow our lead.  It really shows the huge contribution that volunteers are making to Bentham scholarship.

If you have any questions about the article, please contact Dr Tim Causer (Bentham Project, UCL).

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of Transcribe Bentham, you can read other articles at our Publications page.

Project update – box 26 completely transcribed!

By Louise Seaward, on 21 December 2017

Hello!  We’ve one last piece of news before we sign off for Christmas.  We are delighted to announce that Box 26 of the Bentham papers has now been completely transcribed.  This is a huge achievement as Box 26 contains more than 350 folios, many of which are yet to be published as part of Bentham’s Collected Works.  We need to give special congratulations to the transcriber Gill Hague (username: ohsoldgirl) who has transcribed the vast majority of this particular box.  We would also like to take this moment to thank all of the Transcribe Bentham volunteers for their continued contributions to other boxes on the Transcription Desk. 

Box 26 contains material that was written by Bentham between 1808 and 1822 concerning trial by jury, libel law, and the liberty of the press. In particular, Box 26 includes draft material for Elements of the Art of Packing, as applied to Special Juries, Particularly in Cases of Libel Law.  This work was first printed in 1810 but remained unpublished until 1821.  Bentham’s friend, the legal reformer Sir Samuel Romilly advised that the publication of the work could lead to the former’s prosecution.

Throughout Box 26, there are significant signs that Bentham was aware that he was being especially radical in his writings.  In folio one hundred and forty-three Bentham wrote:

‘My endeavour shall be to make myself understood as far as I dare. But what I am sure I can not forget, and what it concerns you all not to forget, [is] that in this Country, with its boasted Constitution, there is now no liberty.’

Bentham then mentioned by name Lord Sidmouth, whom at the time was Home Secretary and was known for his particularly heavy-handed approach to political dissent, as well as Lord Castlereagh, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. However, Bentham also began to write a third name but the manuscript reads only ‘Lord |   |’, with a space left blank on the manuscript, presumably out of cautiousness.

Bentham Papers, UCL Special Collections, Box xxvi, fol. 143 [Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections].

Bentham argued that there should be greater clarity in written legislation and that the legal and political system should serve the interests of the people, rather than the ‘sinister interests’ of lawyers and politicians.  If an adequate definition of libel could not be achieved, Bentham asserted on folio one hundred and fifty-three, ‘no man can without imposture call himself a friend to the liberty of the press’.

We’ll close by hearing from the volunteer Gill Hague about her experience of transcribing Box 26.

‘I have been transcribing Bentham for some six years and usually look in the box index to identify topics which I think will be interesting to work on.   I thought Juries would be an interesting topic as one could relate it to current practice and so it proved.  Seeing that the box was untouched I thought I would start on page one and see if I could work my way through in sequence.   It gave the opportunity to see Bentham’s arguments unfold, and how the expression of his arguments were revised and refined.  As all transcribers will know Bentham often repeats words and phrases, so sometimes deciphering his handwriting – these documents date from the 1820’s when it was not at its clearest – was made easier by having come across words, particularly the legal terms,  used on other documents in the box.   Fortunately, there were also a number of pages of fair copy which were easier to transcribe.   Aside from the handwriting, the hardest pages were the double sized ones with text in four columns, I could type the line break code in my sleep once I’d worked my way through those and, at about 1200 words a page including the markup, they are roughly equivalent to three of a ‘standard’ one – if one can say there is such a thing.   All in all, it was an interesting and satisfying exercise and I hope to start on another box in the New Year.’

Thank you Gill for your efforts!

We would like to wish all our volunteers and readers a Merry Christmas!  The Transcription Desk will remain open over the holidays for those who wish to transcribe.  UCL is closed from 23 December to 2 January so the Transcription Desk will be largely unstaffed across that time.  So we look forward to seeing you all in 2018.


Thanks go to Chris Riley (PhD student at the Bentham Project) for the research on Box 26 that appears in this blog post.

Project Update – what’s next for Transcribe Bentham?

By Louise Seaward, on 1 December 2017

As we come towards the end of another year, I’ve got my thinking cap on.  I have been considering ways in which we can improve the Transcribe Bentham Transcription Desk, following the thought-provoking results of our recent user survey and impressive activity of participants at the Bentham Hackathon.   I have also been reading about the experiences of other crowdsourcing projects and looking at the functionalities and layout of websites like Shakespeare’s World, the Smithsonian Transcription Centre, Survey of London: Histories of Whitechapel.  Armed with this information, I am working on a plan to upgrade elements of our site to ensure that it remains fun and interesting for users to interact with.  I would welcome any feedback on these ideas in the comments to this post or by email.  I will also be contacting our most active users to ask if there are any glaring omissions from my blueprint!

My thinking cap is a pink bobble hat…


There are lots of technical improvements we would like to make to the Transcription Desk – from the installation of a ‘next page’ button so that users can easily move from transcribing one manuscript page to the next to making it possible for users to download images and transcripts from the site.  A lack of resources means that significant technical changes are not possible right now but we are hopeful that we will be able to make some enhancements in 2018.  This will involve updating the site with the latest version of Mediawiki, improving our spam filters and making it easier for us to upload new material for volunteers to transcribe.


The current guidelines for volunteer transcribers were laid out by Bentham Project researchers in 2010.  Although they have been updated slightly over the years, they are due an overhaul.  The key elements of the instructions will remain unchanged but I would like to clarify information that is currently  a little ambiguous.  I’m thinking of new guidance on how to transcribe tables, pencil markings, printed text and unusual symbols – is there anything else I’m forgetting?

Help for new transcribers

Improved transcription guidelines will be particularly important for new transcribers who join our initiative.  I am considering how I can welcome and help new volunteers, many of whom may be overwhelmed by Bentham’s complex handwriting and intricate ideas.  This question of supporting new users really came out in the Bentham Hackathon, where one team worked on a ‘sandbox’ area where users could consult simplified instructions, practice on a handful of easy manuscripts and gain more immediate feedback on their efforts.

User experience

Our most active users already know how to transcribe Bentham’s writings and they like using our site in its current form (at least, that’s what they tell me!).  But I hope that a few changes could help to make Transcribe Bentham a more enjoyable place to be.  Some of our users may be interested in signing up to a Transcribe Bentham email newsletter to receive the latest news about the project, or participating in a user forum or group where they can discuss transcription with others.  I think we can do more to showcase the work of the transcribers; making sure they understand how they are credited for the work they undertake and highlighting the interesting topics that they have been transcribing.  I also hope that more discussion of the subjects that Bentham Project researchers are working on (and would like transcribed) will be motivating for volunteers.

That all looks like more than enough to be getting on with! New and existing volunteers will be able to transcribe as they always have but I am hopeful that these small changes will improve their experience  and help us to sustain Transcribe Bentham into the future.