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Transcribe Bentham


A Participatory Initiative


Six months later…

By Tim Causer, on 8 March 2011

Way back in the mists of time, when Transcribe Bentham was first announced and subsequently launched onto an unsuspecting world, we could never have imagined it to be as successful as it has. Aside from the publicity generated—including articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Boston Globe, Wired magazine, and the The New York Times, a Deutsch Welle World radio feature and dozens of blog pieces—you, our users, have been responsible for editing over 1,000 transcripts during this time. We are sincerely thankful to each and every person who has registered an account and taken the time to transcribe something, whether it was just a few words or several manuscripts; we are particularly grateful to those who have continued to submit transcriptions on a regular basis.

Transcribe Bentham was established under funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact’ Scheme, which provided funding to the project for twelve months. Of this period, several months were set aside at the start for programming and testing of the Transcription Desk, followed by a six-month period in which it would be fully available for users. 8 March 2011 sees the end of that six-month testing period, and the team set about writing up our findings for publication before being assigned to other work.

This means a number of things. As of 9 March, we will no longer be able to man the Transcription Desk on a full-time basis, though the site will be available and fully-functional for the foreseeable future. We will check submissions periodically and update the Benthamometer and progress reports, as well as announcing any new material which might be uploaded to the site. However, we will be unable to acknowledge each submission individually, edit them as thoroughly or offer detailed feedback, as we have been doing. We will still be available to field enquiries and questions via email and the discussion forum, though again, responses will be less regular than usual.

We realise that this will be disappointing to our regular users, who have invested a great deal of their time and effort in making Transcribe Bentham such a success so far. It is equally disappointing for project staff, as we believe this is an important project, in and of itself, and hopefully carries a few lessons for others who might wish to do something similar with their own archival collections. Sadly, this is the way of humanities funding these days! But rest assured: we have explored—and are continuing to explore—ways of returning full staff support to the project, and will keep you updated via this blog and the Facebook page.

We hope this does not dissuade people from transcribing: each and every transcript, no matter its quality, is a contribution to the production of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, and to the preservation of the collection in a digital repository of the Bentham Papers. We believe Bentham would have been thrilled with the project: not merely because people continue to study and read his manuscripts more than 250 years after his birth, but because it has seen collaboration between scholars and the public to widen access to and engagement with the Bentham Papers. To use phraseology from the man himself, users’ efforts (and perhaps pains in some cases) have indeed increased the quotient of happiness within the community. All here at the Bentham Project are very proud of Transcribe Bentham, and of you, the contributors.

This is not a valedictory; we will still be around and checking in and, as stated, the Transcription Desk will remain available in the long-term. Think of this not as the end, but just as the end of the beginning; after all, we still have another 39,000 or so manuscripts to transcribe…

with our best wishes and thanks,

Valerie and Tim

4 Responses to “Six months later…”

  • 1
    Diane Folan wrote on 8 March 2011:

    Awh, what sad news! I for one am in it for the long haul, so rest assured, I’m not going anywhere!

    When I initially signed up to the project I set myself a goal of transcribing 1,000 manuscripts, hoping to make a small dent in the remaining 40,000 yet to be transcribed, though thought at the time the project was running for a year from the date it went live (8 Sept. 10). Once I realised that the current funding period ends at the end of April 2011 I had to re-evaluate was was feasible. I amended my goal to transcribing a minimum of 500 manuscripts, which I fully intend to achieve. If you can get funding for the project to be extended, or can keep the transcription desk accessible, then I’ll continue to contribute, and will aim to complete my original goal, 1000 completed transcripts.

    Many thanks to all at Bentham Towers for your continued support. I hope to finally meet you all (Bentham too) sometime in the coming months.



  • 2
    Facing Budget Woes, Prominent Crowdsourcing Project Will Scale Back – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote on 11 March 2011:

    […] associates who vet the quality of volunteers’ submissions. Now its government grant is coming to an end, meaning the associates will have to be laid off unless more money can be […]

  • 3
    Ben Brumfield wrote on 11 March 2011:

    How will this affect the plans to release the Transcription Desk software under an open license?

  • 4
    Tim Causer wrote on 14 March 2011:

    Hi Ben,

    The release of the software on an open-source basis was one of the conditions of the original grant application, so this will still go ahead in the next few months. Will keep you posted, and we’ll announce it here and on the Facebook and Twitter accounts when the time approaches.

    best wishes,


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