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  This work was first printed in 1810 but remained unpublished until 1821.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.

Transcription Update – 11 November to 8 December 2017

By Louise Seaward, on 8 December 2017

Hello! Welcome to the latest statistics update from Transcribe Bentham.

The past four weeks have been very busy at the Transcription Desk.  We’ve had many new transcribers joining us and our regular volunteers have been working as hard as ever.  All this means that our transcription rate has nearly doubled over the past month!  A huge thank you to everyone who has undertaken some transcription for us. We are very grateful that you can fit us in during the hectic Christmas period.

Here are the full statistics – as of 8 December 2017.

19,472 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed. Of these transcripts, 18,605 (95%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 223 manuscript pages. This means that an average of 56 pages have been transcribed each week during the past month.

Check out the Benthamometer for more information on how much has been transcribed from each box of Bentham’s papers!

Welcome to Transcribe Bentham!

By Louise Seaward, on 6 December 2017

Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham

‘Many hands make light work. Many hands together make merry work‘, wrote the philosopher and reformer, Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) in 1793.

In this spirit, we cordially welcome you to Transcribe Bentham, a double award-winning collaborative initiative which is crowdsourcing the transcription of Bentham’s previously unpublished manuscripts.

Anyone can start transcribing at our Transcription Desk.  Your transcripts will contribute to the production of Bentham’s Collected Works and preserve Bentham’s writings into the future.

Find out more about Transcribe Bentham in the sidebar menu on the left, or scroll down to read the latest news from the Transcribe Bentham blog.  Happy transcribing!

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.

Transcription Update – 14 October to 10 November 2017

By Louise Seaward, on 14 November 2017

Hello and welcome to the latest statistics update from Transcribe Bentham.

We’re happy to report that our volunteers have been contributing transcripts steadily across the past four weeks.  We need to take this moment to say a huge thank you to everyone who has spent some time working on the site!   We are also planning some forthcoming improvements for our Transcription Desk, which will hopefully make it more user-friendly.  These developments are based on the results of our recent user survey and the ideas generated at the Bentham Hackathon we hosted in assocation with IBM.  More information coming soon!

Back to the statistics – these are the latest statistics as of 10 November 2017.

19,249 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed. Of these transcripts, 18,478 (95%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 113 manuscript pages. This means that an average of 28 pages have been transcribed each week during the past month.

Check out the Benthamometer for more information on how much has been transcribed from each box of Bentham’s papers!