Project Update – Bentham Papers now completely digitised!

By Louise Seaward, on 25 May 2018

A monumental day has finally dawned – the digitisation of Bentham’s papers is now complete!

The digitisation of Bentham’s writings has always been a central element of the Transcribe Bentham initiative, in order to make his philosophy more accessible to researchers and members of the public.  We have achieved something tremendous – thousands upon thousands of images of Bentham’s manuscripts are now available in electronic form.

We owe special thanks to UCL Digital Media Services (Tony Slade and Raheel Nabi especially), UCL Library Special Collections (Mandy Wise, Dan Mitchell and the rest of their team) and The British Library (Sandra Tuppen, Neil Mcowlen and their team) for taking care of the digitisation.  I would also like to thank present and past staff of Transcribe Bentham for the work that they have done to support the digitisation.

We now have digital images from the 173 boxes of Bentham Papers held in Special Collections at UCL, which include Bentham’s thoughts on his Constitutional Code, the Panopticon prison and the Church of England amongst other subjects.   A further 20 boxes of material from The British Library have also been digitised, some of which comprise letters to and from Bentham and his family.  In total, we now have a whopping collection of over 95,000 digitised images (around 80,000 from UCL and 15,000 from The British Library).  These images are linked to detailed metadata prepared by Bentham Project researchers, some of which is available online via the Bentham Papers Database.

Lots of this material is already available online via our Transcription Desk and the digital repository of UCL Library.  Over the coming months, the rest of the digitised papers will be uploaded to the websites of UCL and The British Library.

Digitisation proved to be a long process.  We prepared for the launch of Transcribe Bentham in 2010 by digitising a few boxes from the UCL collection and have continued to steadily digitise material over the past seven years.  In 2012 we received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to digitise Bentham manuscripts held in The British Library.  Although there remain a handful of Bentham folios held in other archives around the world, we have now digitally united the two largest collections of Bentham material for the first time.

Digitisation was also labour-intensive.  It involved hours spent by UCL Digital Media Services in a darkened basement sifting through delicate manuscripts, taking images, refining their quality and matching them to metadata records.  We frequently had to transport boxes of Bentham’s papers across the UCL campus, sometimes in taxis but more often by hand, dragging a loaded trolley across Gower Street.  Intensive manual checks of long lists of images were also necessary to ensure (as far as possible!) that all folios had been digitised.

These images are an enviable resource for scholarship and public engagement, making it possible for anyone around the world to read Bentham’s ideas in their original form.  Transcriptions provided by volunteers on Transcribe Bentham are helping to enhance the accessibility of these papers, meaning that they can be explored more easily.  Digitisation speeds up the Bentham Project’s work on the scholarly edition of Bentham’s writings.  Researchers at the project can now easily consult digital images on their computer when they wish to transcribe a page or double-check the spelling of a difficult word.  Excitingly, our images and transcripts represent a dataset that can also be exploited with new digital techniques.  We are already experimenting with training Handwritten Text Recognition technology to process Bentham’s handwriting as part of the READ project and there are intriguing possibilities for text mining, mapping and network analysis ready for future scholars.

We are planning to mark this digital milestone with a celebratory event at UCL on 6 June for everyone who has been involved with or supported the initiative.  Photos coming soon on the blog!

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.

Technical issues – sorted!

By Louise Seaward, on 10 May 2018

We’re happy to report that the technical issues we reported on the Transcription Desk in April have now been resolved by our technical support at Digital Services, Co-Sector, University of London. Phew!

All TEI tags in a transcription should now be correctly displayed in the ‘Preview’ tab and in each saved transcript.  So hopefully our volunteers will find that transcribing has become a bit easier, once again.

Thank you for bearing with us during the blip.  If you do notice anything else that is not quite right with the Transcription Desk, please let us know and we will do our best to get it sorted out.

Transcription Update – 31 March to 27 April 2018

By Louise Seaward, on 1 May 2018

Gather round for our monthly transcription statistics.  Last month we reached a high point of 20,000 pages of Bentham material transcribed by volunteers but thankfully our diligent transcribers show no signs of slowing down!  We are hugely grateful to everyone who has transcribed something for us recently.

Here are the full statistics for the initiative – as of 27 April 2018.

20,258 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed. Of these transcripts, 19,306 (95%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 138 manuscript pages. This means that an average of 35 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!

Project Update – new material to transcribe on Panopticon and punishment

By Louise Seaward, on 26 April 2018

This month we’re showcasing some new material that has recently been uploaded to our Transcription Desk.  Volunteers can now feast their eyes on over 1,500 newly digitised pages of Bentham’s writings, as contained in boxes 108, 143, 157 and 159 of the UCL Bentham Papers.  These papers encompass Bentham’s writings on crime and punishment, as well as some draft pages from his work analysing legal codes.  Our Transcription Desk now holds 90 boxes of Bentham material, comprising more than 44,000 page images!

So what can volunteers expect to find amongst this new material…?

Box 108 is a collection of miscellaneous material written by Bentham in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  It includes writings on diverse subjects such as colonisation, the French Revolution, political economy and legislation – something for everyone indeed!

Boxes 143 and 159 both focus on the subject of punishment.  Bentham became intrigued by this matter early in his life and started to philosophise about it in the mid-1770s.  He envisioned a penal system where each punishment would be proportionate to the offence and where each offence would be clearly defined and publicly known.  Box 159 also contains some French writings relating to Bentham’s Projet for a complete code of law.

Box 157 is largely centred on the Panopticon prison, one of Bentham’s most notorious ideas.  Bentham planned a new type of prison, where he believed that the nature of the building would help to reform the behaviour of the prisoners.  He envisaged a circular structure of cells, with an inspector stationed in the middle of the prison.  The prisoners would be aware that they could be being watched at any time but would never know exactly when they were being watched.  This would keep them on their toes and on their best behaviour.  The papers in this box provide evidence that Bentham’s ideas were taken seriously by the British government.  There were various negotiations over the costings and location of the prison and as Folio 83 below shows, even an Act of Parliament confirming that the prison would be built.  Unfortunately for Bentham, all these plans never came to fruition.  The Panopticon remains a provocative philosophical idea, even if it was never a physical reality.

Box 157, fol. 83, UCL Bentham Papers, Special Collections, University College London. Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections (Click to enlarge image).

More information on the contents of each of these boxes and access to the manuscripts can be found on the following pages:

Box 108 – miscellaneous

Box 143 – punishment

Box 157 – Panopticon

Box 159 – punishment

Users can also view pages from these boxes through the Untranscribed Manuscripts page.

We wish you all best of luck with your transcriptions.  And if you uncover something interesting, let us know by email and we will gladly feature it the Transcribe Bentham newsletter as our Transcript of the Month.

Technical difficulties on the Transcription Desk

By Louise Seaward, on 18 April 2018

We’re having a few technical issues on the Transcription Desk at the moment and for that we apologise.

Our main issue relates to the display of TEI tags in the transcription text box.  The problem appears to be with nested tags.  When one tag appears inside another, the display in the ‘Preview’ tab and in the saved transcription goes a bit haywire and can include coding like the below:




Take a look at Folio 185 from Box 26 for an illustration of the problem.  All transcribers should rest assured that these errors relate merely to the display of the tags.  Transcripts are still being saved in the correct format and any tags added should still work.

We realise this problem makes it more difficult to check your work and we are working on getting it fixed as soon as we can.  Thank you for your patience in the meantime!

If you notice anything else that is not quite right with the Transcription Desk, please let us know and we will do our best to get it sorted out.