Project update – spreading the word about Transcribe Bentham

By Louise Seaward, on 4 August 2017

Over the past year, the pages of my diary have become rather full and my microphone technique has improved considerably.  I’ve been trying to organise all sorts of new speaking engagements to spread the word about Transcribe Bentham and encourage new people to volunteer with us.

The Bentham Project is no stranger to this kind of public engagement.  We give regular public talks and deal with enquiries about Bentham from interested individuals across the globe.  You can even watch a video about some of our past ‘Adventures in Public Engagement’, when we held a series of public events in 2011.

Transcribe Bentham has now been up-and-running for close to seven years.  With our role in the READ project, we are working on new technological innovations that should make the Transcription Desk more user-friendly, thereby making it easier for unexperienced transcribers to take part in our initiative.  In the meantime, we have a functioning transcription platform, a strong web and social media presence and lots of information to guide new volunteers who might like to take up an intriguing new hobby.  And we are always looking for new participants!

Transcribing Bentham is by no means a simple task.  Volunteers have to decode Bentham’s often difficult handwriting and also get to grips with the rules of TEI mark-up in order to mark features of the manuscripts like additions, deletions and marginal notes.  Our experience has shown that only a small number of people have the inclination and determination to take part.  But how to find these people?

When Transcribe Bentham was launched in 2010, the team envisaged that it could be a good opportunity for school students who were learning about philosophy and history.  Our resources for schools are still available and we continue to give regular talks on Bentham to school groups from Britain and beyond.  But it can be difficult for teachers to plan activities that go beyond the core school curriculum.  And so it is adults who seem to be our most active transcribers.

With this in mind, I have set about organising various public talks to spread the word about the project.  These presentations are an excellent way to get in touch with interested and intelligent audiences and tell them a bit about Bentham’s fascinating philosophy.  I have found that public audiences are often interested in Bentham’s connection to the modern world, so I also try to show how his philosophical thinking can be applied to the current social and political climate.  In addition, these talks give me the chance to gather feedback on Transcribe Bentham – how far do its aims, workings and findings make sense to people outside of academia?

The University of the Third Age has proved to be a great resource for us and is always full of receptive listeners.  The U3A is an international education movement, which was started in France in the 1970s.  It is organised across local branches and its membership consists mainly of retired people who are in the ‘third age’ of life.  Members often hear external speakers but they also share their own knowledge and practical skills across numerous sub-groups.  And many of the local branches have a Philosophy group!  My most recent talk was at the London Region U3A Summer School which was held at the St Bride Foundation, a heritage centre for the Fleet Street print trade.   The theme of the Summer School was the centenary of the Russian Revolution so I was sure to include some details about Bentham’s remarkable trip to Russia in 1785!

St Bride Foundation

In addition to the U3A groups, I have also spoken at various local libraries and museums, as well as to the alumni group at UCL.  And I have more talks coming up at the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, at local branches of the Historical Association and hopefully at some Women’s Institute groups.

My audiences have ranged from around 10 to 100 people.  But it is difficult to say how far these talks have impacted upon our volunteer numbers.  Although many people register on our site and give transcribing a go, only a small number stick around and become active transcribers.  But these talks are nevertheless an important part of our mission to connect the public with the work of the Bentham Project.  It allows us to showcase the new discoveries made by our volunteers and demonstrate how this kind of collaboration can deepen historical and philosophical knowledge and change established working practices in academia.  And we are hopeful that even if an audience member feels that Transcribe Bentham is not for them, they might tell a friend!

If you have or know of an audience that might be interested to hear about Bentham and Transcribe Bentham, please feel free to contact me!

Transcription Update – 24 June to 21 July 2017

By Louise Seaward, on 21 July 2017

Happy Friday!  It’s time for the latest statistics update. The transcribers have been productive with their typing lately and as always, we are very grateful for their help in advancing knowledge about Bentham’s philosophy.

These are the latest statistics as of 21 July 2017.

18,586 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed.  Of these transcripts, 17,540 (94%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 127 manuscript pages.  This means that an average of 32 pages have been transcribed each week during the past month.

The more detailed progress chart is as follows:

Box No. of manuscripts worked on No. of manuscripts in box Completion
Box 1 769 794 96%
Box 2 729 753 96%
Box 4 50 694 7%
Box 5 201 290 69%
Box 6 2 246 1%
Box 7 6 165 3%
Box 8 24 284 8%
Box 9 56 265 21%
Box 10 116 456 25%
Box 11 24 480 5%
Box 12 179 615 29%
Box 13 23 359 6%
Box 14 221 510 43%
Box 15 86 814 10%
Box 16 12 254 4%
Box 18 67 192 34%
Box 23 1 256 1%
Box 26 146 374 39%
Box 27 350 350 COMPLETE
Box 29 22 122 18%
Box 30 5 193 2%
Box 31 21 302 6%
Box 32 9 158 5%
Box 34 41 398 10%
Box 35 287 439 65%
Box 36 38 418 9%
Box 37 37 487 7%
Box 38 238 424 56%
Box 39 12 282 4%
Box 41 88 572 15%
Box 42 110 910 12%
Box 44 53 201 26%
Box 47 1 466 1%
Box 50 180 198 90%
Box 51 388 939 41%
Box 52 7 609 1%
Box 54 0 205 0%
Box 57 20 420 4%
Box 60 3 183 1%
Box 62 78 564 13%
Box 63 156 345 45%
Box 70 308 347 88%
Box 71 663 663 COMPLETE
Box 72 614 664 92%
Box 73 151 151 COMPLETE
Box 75 4 77 5%
Box 79 199 199 COMPLETE
Box 81 4  488 1%
Box 87 13 604 2%
Box 95 126 147 85%
Box 96 534 539 99%
Box 97 151 295 51%
Box 98 225 499 45%
Box 100 214 429 49%
Box 104 3 502 1%
Box 106 236 581 40%
Box 107 523 542 96%
Box 110 15 671 2%
Box 115 277 307 90%
Box 116 795 865 91%
Box 117 507 853 59%
Box 118 267 880 30%
Box 119 645 990 65%
Box 120 685 685 COMPLETE
Box 121 150 529 28%
Box 122 309 728 42%
Box 123 45 437 10%
Box 124 18 382 4%
Box 135 88 571 15%
Box 139 40 579 6%
Box 141 95 380 25%
Box 149 88 581 15%
Box 150 972 972 COMPLETE
Box 169 236 728 32%
Add MS 35537 734 744 98%
Add MS 35538 824 858 96%
Add MS 35539 883 947 93%
Add MS 35540 947 1012 93%
Add MS 35541 994 1258 79%
Add MS 35547 34 701 4%
Add MS 35549 24 364 6%
Add MS 35550 90 637 14%
Overall 18,586 41,372 44%

Memorandoms by James Martin – astonishing convict narrative now available in Open Access!

By Louise Seaward, on 7 July 2017

Our latest update comes from Dr Tim Causer, the former coordinator of Transcribe Bentham who is now working on Bentham’s writings on Australia.  Dr Causer has recently edited a new edition of ‘Memorandoms by James Martin’, a convict’s first-hand account of a daring escape from a penal colony in Australia in 1791. The only known copy of the manuscript was acquired by Bentham and is now held in UCL Special Collections.

Memorandoms_of_James_Martin

‘Those of us researching the history of convict transportation to Australia are extraordinarily fortunate in terms of resources, as some of the most important have, for several years, been available digitally on an open-access basis. For instance, we can search colonial-era newspapers in the National Library of Australia’s Trove, or consult the Tasmanian convict records, a body of material unique in its detail about the tens of thousands of ordinary people transported to Van Diemen’s Land.

As a callow undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen, making a first foray into Australian history fourteen years ago, such resources were the stuff of dreams. The university library’s holdings on Australian history were largely limited to landmark secondary texts such as Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend (1958) and A. G. L. Shaw’s Convicts and the Colonies (1966). The most recent work we had to hand was almost two decades old: Robert Hughes’s blockbuster, The Fatal Shore (1986). Hughes’s brilliant, terrible book is beautifully written, but is ultimately frequently misleading. But a major strength of The Fatal Shore’s was its use of convict narratives, giving it an immediacy rare in many earlier histories which relied heavily upon parliamentary papers and official correspondence.

Convict narratives fall into two main types. The first, and most common, are those published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during or around the period in which convicts were transported to the Antipodes. For instance, two of the most well-known are Martin Cash’s The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land (1870) and Mark Jeffrey’s A Burglar’s Life (1893), both of which were ghost-written by the former convict James Lester Burke.

Of course, published narratives such as these present issues of interpretation. How much of Cash’s autobiography is authentically his voice, and how much is that of Burke? Ghost-writers often sanitised their subject’s life into a redemption parable, walking the fine line between titillation while still seeking to attract a respectable audience. Those narratives written by the few transported for political offences—male, middle-class, well-educated authors—are unrepresentative of the experiences of the majority of convicts. There is also a racial and gender imbalance, with the overwhelming majority of narratives dealing with the lives of white convict men—Reverend James Cameron’s partly-fictionalised biography of the Spanish transportee, Adelaide de Thoreza, is a rare exception.

The second type of narrative exists only in manuscript. They are often more exciting to deal with: they were not written for publication, do not have to meet the conventions of any genre, and are often more revealing, explicit, and subversive. For instance, the Irish convict Laurence Frayne’s narrative is a graphic account of his punishment and contains a sustained character assassination of James Morisset, a commandant at the Norfolk Island penal station during the 1830s, which would never have been fit to print.

Memorandoms by James Martin is one such unpublished manuscript which, thanks to UCL Press, is now available in open-access for the first time. The Memorandoms tells the story of the most famous of all escapes from Australia by transported convicts, that led by William and Mary Bryant. On the night 28 March 1791 the Bryants with their two infant children, James Martin, and six other male convicts stole a fishing boat and sailed out of Sydney Harbour and out into the Pacific. They reached Kupang in Timor on 8 June, though were subsequently identified as escaped convicts and the survivors were shipped back to England to face trial—where James Boswell lobbied the government for their release.

169_179_001

First page of Memorandoms by James Martin, UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, Box CLXIX, fo. 179

169_201_001

Final page of Memorandoms by James Martin, UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, Box CLXIX, fo. 201

The group’s 69-day, 3,000-mile journey has been the subject of two televisions series, poetry, novels, and innumerable history books, with a focus on Mary Bryant. Yet the modern historical accounts are frequently unsatisfactory and derivative; what then, the reader might wonder, could be said about this story that has not been said so many times before?

Quite a bit, it turns out. Memorandoms by James Martin is the only extant first-hand account of the escape, and it provides a fresh perspective to this often formulaically-told tale. Despite the Memorandoms being spare and prosaic, it provides a sense of the hardship of the journey, the terror of those in the boat as it is pummelled by storms and churning seas, and of the party’s fascination and fear in their encounters with Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. The Memorandoms also strikingly reveals just how far some modern historians have departed from the historical record when telling the story.

Memorandoms by James Martin is also important in a second sense: it is the only known narrative written by a member of the first cohort of convicts sent to New South Wales with the First Fleet 1788. The Memorandoms was acquired at some point by one of Britain’s great philosophers, Jeremy Bentham, one of the first and most influential critics of transportation to Australia. The vast Bentham archive is, of course, held in UCL’s Special Collections, and the Memorandoms is but one of the many jewels in the College’s collections.

Now, thanks to UCL Press, the Memorandoms manuscripts are available for the first time, and for free; readers can now access the original narrative for themselves, rather than mediated by some rather dubious historical accounts. The colour reproductions bring the document to life in a way which would not otherwise be captured by publishing a transcript, and I am inordinately grateful to UCL Press for bringing the Memorandoms out in this way. My younger self in Aberdeen would have been thrilled to have had a resource like this to hand, and I hope that those who today may not have ready access to unpublished narratives like the Memorandoms will be equally pleased.’

Transcription Update – 27 May to 23 June 2017

By Louise Seaward, on 30 June 2017

Howdy.  Another month has rolled on by and we’re here to let you know about the latest activities of our transcibers.  We are very grateful to everyone who has been transcribing lately.

These are the latest statistics as of 23 June 2017.

18,459 manuscript pages have now been transcribed or partially-transcribed.  Of these transcripts, 17,394 (94%) have been checked and approved by TB staff.

Over the past four weeks, volunteers have worked on a total of 104 manuscript pages.  This means that an average of 26 pages have been transcribed each week during the past month.

The more detailed progress chart is as follows:

Box No. of manuscripts worked on No. of manuscripts in box Completion
Box 1 769 794 96%
Box 2 729 753 96%
Box 4 48 694 6%
Box 5 201 290 69%
Box 6 2 246 1%
Box 7 6 165 3%
Box 8 24 284 8%
Box 9 56 265 21%
Box 10 116 456 25%
Box 11 24 480 5%
Box 12 179 615 29%
Box 13 21 359 5%
Box 14 167 510 32%
Box 15 86 814 10%
Box 16 12 254 4%
Box 18 67 192 34%
Box 23 1 256 1%
Box 26 113 374 30%
Box 27 350 350 COMPLETE
Box 29 22 122 18%
Box 30 5 193 2%
Box 31 21 302 6%
Box 32 1 158 1%
Box 34 41 398 10%
Box 35 287 439 65%
Box 36 38 418 9%
Box 37 36 487 7%
Box 38 238 424 56%
Box 39 12 282 4%
Box 41 88 572 15%
Box 42 103 910 11%
Box 44 53 201 26%
Box 47 1 466 1%
Box 50 180 198 90%
Box 51 388 939 41%
Box 52 7 609 1%
Box 54 0 205 0%
Box 57 20 420 4%
Box 60 3 183 1%
Box 62 78 564 13%
Box 63 156 345 45%
Box 70 308 347 88%
Box 71 663 663 COMPLETE
Box 72 614 664 92%
Box 73 151 151 COMPLETE
Box 75 3 77 3%
Box 79 199 199 COMPLETE
Box 81 3  488 1%
Box 87 13 604 2%
Box 95 126 147 85%
Box 96 534 539 99%
Box 97 151 295 51%
Box 98 225 499 45%
Box 100 214 429 49%
Box 104 3 502 1%
Box 106 236 581 40%
Box 107 523 542 96%
Box 110 15 671 2%
Box 115 277 307 90%
Box 116 795 865 91%
Box 117 507 853 59%
Box 118 267 880 30%
Box 119 644 990 65%
Box 120 685 685 COMPLETE
Box 121 150 529 28%
Box 122 309 728 42%
Box 123 45 437 10%
Box 124 18 382 4%
Box 135 83 571 14%
Box 139 40 579 6%
Box 141 95 380 25%
Box 149 88 581 15%
Box 150 972 972 COMPLETE
Box 169 225 728 30%
Add MS 35537 734 744 98%
Add MS 35538 824 858 96%
Add MS 35539 883 947 93%
Add MS 35540 947 1012 93%
Add MS 35541 993 1258 78%
Add MS 35547 34 701 4%
Add MS 35549 24 364 6%
Add MS 35550 90 637 14%
Overall 18,459 41,372 44%

Project Update – Report from the British Academy soirée

By Louise Seaward, on 23 June 2017

A guest post by Dr Tim Causer who represented Transcribe Bentham and the Bentham Project at the latest British Academy soirée

Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Tim Causer represented the Bentham Project at the British Academy soirée on 20 June. Over 500 people attended the event and heard talks from a number of British Academy Fellows, and visited stands featuring the work of British Academy Research Projects, of which the Bentham Project is one.

Professor Schofield and Dr Causer, stationed in the Council Room beside Henry Pickersgill’s 1829 portrait of Bentham, discussed with visitors the work of the Project, the production of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, recent open-access publications from UCL Press, and the ongoing and exciting work of the European Commission-funded READ project. Of particular interest to visitors was the Transkribus platform and its Handwritten Text Recognition tools, and the prototype ‘ScanTent’ which, when used in conjunction with the free and forthcoming DocScan app, allows users to efficiently capture images of archival and printed material.

Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Tim Causer at the British Academy

Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Tim Causer at the British Academy

A good time was had by all, particularly under the beneficent eye of Mr Bentham himself!