By Tim Causer, on 15 December 2011
Q: Can anyone really take part?
A: They can indeed. You do not need any specialist knowledge or training, technical expertise, or historical background: just some enthusiasm (and, perhaps, some patience). All you have to do is to create a volunteer account, in order to be granted editing privileges, a process which should only take a few seconds. An automated email will be sent to you containing a link, which you need to click to validate. You’re then ready to transcribe!
Q: I have registered, but can’t transcribe anything, or get a blank page when I click the ‘click here to edit’ button. What’s going on?
A: A number of volunteers have reported that they did not receive the validation email after registering. In most of these instances, the email is redirected to spam or junk mail folders (particularly by free email providers such as Hotmail, Yahoo, or GMail. Please check your spam folder for the validation email, and perhaps consider editing your spam filters to allow Transcribe Bentham emails to come through.
If your validation email has expired, simply log out of your account on the Transcription Desk, and return to the account creation page. Enter your username, and click ‘email new password’.
Q: How do I get started with transcription?
A:We recommend that you consult our ‘Getting Started’ guidelines,which provide a summary of how the project works, how to transcribe and encode your work, and includes two short step-by-step instructional videos on embarking on your first transcript. There are also more detailed transcription instructions, which cover everything you might wish to know about transcribing and encoding (and a bit more besides).
Q: This text-encoding stuff looks a bit fiddly. Why do we do it?
We ask volunteers to encode their transcripts in Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)-compliant XML; TEI is a de-facto standard for encoding electronic texts.
This probably sounds more terrifying than it actually is, though! We are aware that the encoding can be off-putting for volunteers, and so have attempted to make the addition of mark-up as straightforward as possible by creating the ‘Transcription Toolbar’. Rather than having to type the tags yourself, simply clicking on a button will generate the required piece of mark-up. Further work is currently underway on making the transcription process more user-friendly, so please do bear with us.
By encoding your transcripts, you are helping to create a richer resource: researchers and students interested in Bentham’s writing process, his deletions and revisions, will be afforded the opportunity to pursue this, owing to your work. Encoded transcripts also allow for more powerful and refined searching: rather than search for every occurrence of ‘panopticon’, it will be possible to see where ‘panopticon’ occurs only when deleted, for example.
Q: Why should I take part? How will my contributions make a difference?
A: In a number of quite exciting ways. First, your transcripts will act as a basis for future editions of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, which is being published by UCL’s Bentham Project. As you will see, manuscripts are often non-sequential and often do not make a great deal of sense in their own right. Your diplomatic transcripts (i.e. transcripts with all the additions, deletions, marginal notes etc) will be collated by Bentham Project editors to produce an edited, annotated text for publication. Your collaboration will be of material assistance in this work, by providing Bentham Project editors a significant head-start when putting together a Collected Works volume. You will be fully acknowledged in volumes of the Collected Works to which you contribute.
Second, you are opening up a vast, enormously important historical and philosophical resource for others to access. The Bentham Papers collection is vast: UCL holds around 60,000 manuscript folios (c.30 million words) written and composed by Bentham, while the British Library has another 12,500 Bentham manuscripts (c.6 million words). As of March 2013, about 25,000 folios have been transcribed; the majority of collection is still untranscribed and their contents largely unknown, rendering our understanding of Bentham’s thought—and its significance—at best provisional, and at worst a caricature.
There is the potential for new and exciting discoveries to be made. Volunteers have already discovered manuscripts relating to Bentham’s views on the treatment of animals (including an episode from Bentham’s childhood, where he incinerated earwigs in a candle); have identified a significant, unpublished portion of Bentham’s 1802 attack on the practice of transporting convicts to Australia, Panopticon versus New South Wales; and have transcribed a series of recipes compiled by Bentham for the panopticon prison’s kitchen.
Third, your transcripts will be uploaded to UCL Library Service’s digital repository (click ‘browse collection’), opening up the Bentham collection for everyone. Your efforts will make the Bentham Papers searchable, accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world with an internet connection, and will contribute to the long-term preservation of this priceless manuscript collection.
Finally, you are proof that a partnership between academia and the public works.
For all of this, we are greatly appreciative.
Q: The manuscript window is a bit fiddly, and I’m having trouble seeing as much of it as I would like. Can anything be done?
A: This has been a common issue,, and an improved manuscript viewer is a priority in the ongoing modifications to the transcription platform. In the meantime, there is a workaround. If you right click in the white space below the Zoomify widget (but still within the frame), you’ll be presented with a small menu. Highlight ‘This frame’, then click either ‘Open frame in new window’ or ‘Open frame in new tab’, depending on your preference. You can then view the image in full screen, and zooming is much more efficient.
Q: Where can I read more about the project?
A: The Transcribe Bentham blog carries plenty of news and information about the project, as well as a weekly progress update. You can watch and listen to a number of broadcasts about the project, read numerous blogs and articles discussing Transcribe Bentham, and see a list of talks (some with video and audio) and articles by the team .
If you find yourself inspired to find out more about Bentham, you might wish to explore the Bentham Project’s freely-accessible Journal of Bentham Studies, which contains numerous articles about his life and thought. The Bentham Project website is a very useful source for all things Bentham, and even includes a ‘Virtual auto-icon‘, for those of you unable to visit Bentham’s mortal remains at UCL.
Q: Can I contact other volunteers to discuss my work and ask for help?
Q: Is there any other way I can help the project team out?
Q: How do I contact the project team?
A: The project email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, but please note that it may take a little longer than usual to respond to your messages when UCL is closed for holidays.
Q: What’s the future got in store for Transcribe Bentham?
A: For two years from 1 October 2012, Transcribe Bentham is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This funding is allowing us to digitise more and more Bentham manuscripts, make improvements to the transcription interface, and build upon the project’s early successes. You can read about this work in a separate blog-post.
We are also participating in a European Commission-funded project, entitled tranScriptorium, led by the Universitat Politècnica de València. This project aims to produce solutions for indexing, searching, and full transcription of historical manuscripts, using Handwritten Text Recognition software. It’s well worth keeping an eye on.
Q: Blimey, Bentham’s handwriting is terrible, isn’t it?
A: Tell us about it.
However, help is at hand! We have collated a number of resources which might help in reading historical handwriting, as well as a number of examples of Bentham’s handwriting to guide you along, which we periodically add to. As with most things, an eye for Bentham’s hand comes with time and practice!
Q: You made a panopticon dessert? Really?
Last updated 27 March 2013.