X Close

Transcribe Bentham


A Participatory Initiative


Archive for the 'Digitisation' Category

Project update – celebrating the digitisation of Bentham’s manuscripts!

By uczwlse, on 11 June 2018

I’m sure most of you saw our fabulous news about the complete digitisation of Bentham’s manuscripts.  Over 95,000 images of Bentham’s writings from UCL Special Collections and The British Library are now available in digital form – and we thought this was worthy of a bit of a celebration!

On 6 June 2018 about 30 of our friends and supporters joined us for a party in Bentham House, the newly refurbished home of the Bentham Project and the UCL Faculty of Laws.

Our party in full swing!

As the wine flowed, Bentham Project staff mingled with colleagues from The British Library, UCL Digital Media Services, UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, UCL Library and further afield.  We were also delighted to welcome four volunteer transcribers to the party – this was possibly the first time that we have had several volunteers in the same room!  Annette Brindle (Annieb2), Simon Croft (S.D.Croft), Diane Folan (Diane_Folan) and Gill Hague (ohsoldgirl) were all in attendance and took the opportunity to share some transcription tips and tricks with each other.

Transcribe Bentham volunteers Annette Brindle, Simon Croft and Gill Hague.


Transcribers Diane Folan and Simon Croft puzzle over some tricky Bentham marginalia.

Of course, you can’t have a celebration without a few speeches.  Professor Philip Schofield, director of the Bentham Project, gave an overview of the history of Transcribe Bentham: from its origins in 2010 to our present-day experiments with Handwritten Text Recognition technology.  Professor Melissa Terras, formerly of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, now at the University of Edinburgh, spoke about how important Transcribe Bentham has become in the wider digital humanities landscape.  It was then up to me to convey our gratitude to everyone who supports and contributes to Transcribe Bentham – especially our loyal transcribers!

It’s time for speeches from Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Louise Seaward.

Happily we also received multiple messages of congratulations from volunteers and academics who were unable to attend the party.  We include them below to give a flavour of Transcribe Bentham’s international standing.  With thanks to everyone who sent their good wishes!

Thanks to Transcribe Bentham’s staff, volunteers and supporters for sharing so many of your lessons learnt, for the benefit of many others interested in the potential for crowdsourcing and online participation in work on cultural heritage collections. Congratulations on achieving this milestone, and here’s to many more in the future.


Mia Ridge, The British Library

Transcribe Bentham is not just an inspiration for all digitization projects: It also demonstrates, that highly demanding tasks–like transcribing and tagging–can be done efficiently and collaboratively in the digital age. Congrats and Chapeau.

Tobias Hodel, University of Zurich

To all involved in the Bentham Project, I’m so sorry I can’t be with you at the celebration.  It’s wonderful to see all the volunteers taking part in transcribing Bentham.  More than 20,000 pages of Bentham’s writing transcribed by volunteers — this must be productive of utility for those who are freely choosing to do the transcribing, for the wider audience whose reading of Bentham’s unknown work is thereby facilitated, and in the long run, I hope, for those who will be affected by changes in our thinking and policies that stem from a better understanding of Bentham. 

Peter Singer, Princeton University and University of Melbourne

I would add that I enjoy the Bentham Project for three reasons: 1. puzzling out the letters on the page, 2. fitting the words together to make sense, (rather like a cryptic crossword), 3. the occasional gem of insight into life and thought from the early nineteenth century.

Keith Thompson, Transcribe Bentham volunteer

The news about the completion of the digitisation of the main collections is wonderful, and many congratulations to all concerned (a huge number of people, of course!).

Thanks for the invitation to the event on 6 June. Unfortunately I can’t be there, which is a pity. I’d like to say I’ll be with you in spirit, but I think Bentham would disapprove.

Roger Crisp, University of Oxford

I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the project. I had completed a Masters in Criminology and when I read about it, I was keen to help. It was fascinating to have access to the originals and to be able to make a contribution, however small to making Bentham’s work accessible to the public.  Congratulations to all involved. It proves that together we can do great things. 

Olga Núñez Miret, Transcribe Bentham volunteer

When I joined Transcribe Bentham in 2010, I could not have anticipated the significant impact it would have on Bentham Studies, Digital Humanities, and Citizen Science, and I feel honoured and grateful to have been part of the project at its outset.

Congratulations to all—staff and volunteers—who have contributed to making Transcribe Bentham such a noteworthy scholarly resource and an important contribution to knowledge.

Justin Tonra, Research Associate on Transcribe Bentham (2010)

During my PhD, I went to the Bentham Project and I had to get through some difficult pages of Bentham’s handwriting… One day, I find a musical score on the top of one of Bentham’s manuscript and then, written on the side of the next one, an unfinished score with more notes. At this moment, I thought: that’s great I will be able to “hear” Bentham’s handwriting now and even to listen what he likes…

I don’t know if one day we will be able to identify the source of this score but I think it illustrates the experience of transcribing Bentham’s material… you discover unexpected things which, at first sight, seems partially irrelevant, and, then, you begin to think that there is a beauty in it (until the mystery of the score is solved!).

Before the complete digitalization of 100,000 Bentham pages, I used to look at Transcribe Bentham and I was happy to discover the new good quotes and progress made thanks to the volunteers (thanks Tim!).  Now that this is done, more discovery will (hopefully) happen and this is great news for history of political thought and classical utilitarianism!

Benjamin Bourcier, Université Catholique de Lille

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.

Project Update – Bentham Papers now completely digitised!

By uczwlse, 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.

Project Update – new material to transcribe on Panopticon and punishment

By uczwlse, 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.

Project update – new material to transcribe! Bentham on Penal Code and Radicalism

By uczwlse, on 8 September 2017

Good afternoon and welcome back to the blog.  Transcribe Bentham is hitting a big milestone today – it’s our 7th birthday!  We first launched the website as a six-month experiment on 8 September 2010 and here we are all these years later.  If our volunteers keep transcribing at their current rate, we may hit 20,000 transcripts by the end of 2017.  What a huge achievement and a massive amount of groundwork for future Bentham scholarship. Our most sincere thanks go to everyone who has participated over the years.

We’re here with a nice birthday present for our transcribers – some new material from the Bentham collection!  Boxes 67, 68 and 137 have just been uploaded to the Transcription Desk.  This means that we now have 85 boxes and more than 42,000 pages of Bentham’s available online.

These new boxes contain Bentham’s writings on a penal or criminal code and drafts of a short work called Radicalism not dangerous.

Bentham strongly believed in the importance of clear legal codes and returned to this subject throughout his life.  His penal or criminal code would form one part of his intended pannomion, a complete body of utilitarian law.

Radicalism not Dangerous was a short tract written around 1819-20 in which Bentham put forward his own brand of liberal radicalism.  By this point, he was committed to the cause of political reform but felt that change should be slower and more linked to existing institutions than that which was desired by popular radicals of the early nineteenth century.


UCL Special Collections, Bentham Papers, box cxxxvii, fo. 229, Radicalism not dangerous, 9 April 1820 [Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections]

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

Box 67- penal code

Box 68 – penal code

Box 137 – Radicalism not dangerous

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

We invite anyone to rifle through this new material – and we look forward to seeing what interesting bits and pieces might be uncovered!

Our thanks go to Chris Riley, a PhD student at the Bentham Project, who helped to research the content of these boxes.

Project update – join us at the Bentham Hackathon with IBM

By uczwlse, on 23 August 2017

We’re here with news of an exciting event which will take place in October 2017.  UCL have teamed up with the technology company IBM to organise a ‘Bentham Hackathon‘, where participants can work together to explore how digital tools can help us to research Bentham’s philosophy.

For anyone unfamilar with the term, a hackathon is portmanteau of the words ‘hack’ and ‘marathon’.  It originally referred to an intensive meeting where groups of computer developers collaborated on software projects.  The meaning of a hackathon has now expanded and is often applied to cultural or educational events with a technical element, which are designed to generate new ideas and collaborations.  For more on hackathons, have a look at Wikipedia or the useful ‘How to Guide for hackathons in the cultural sector’ produced by the Europeana Space project.

The Bentham Hackathon will take place over the weekend of 20-22 October 2017 at UCL BaseKX.  The Bentham Project, in association with UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and UCL Innovation and Enterprise, will be working with IBM to explore the following question:

How can digital technologies help us to research Bentham’s philosophy?


The Bentham Hackathon is an intriguing opportunity for participants to play around with thousands upon thousands of images, transcripts and texts of Bentham’s writings, many of which have been produced in the course of the Transcribe Bentham crowdsourcing initiative.  Let’s see how these amazing resources can be explored and analysed with IBM’s cutting-edge technologies!

We have set four suggested challenges for participants in the Hackathon to work on – although other ideas may emerge in the course of the event.

  1. How can we use keyword searching to explore Bentham’s writings?
  2. Can we use technology to decipher Bentham’s difficult handwriting?
  3. Can we build a user-friendly interface for navigating and transcribing documents?
  4. Can we build a more user-friendly version of the Transcribe Bentham crowdsourcing platform?

Anyone interested in these questions is very welcome to join us at the Bentham Hackathon.  The Hackathon is a free event and there are no pre-requisites for participation.

For technical types, this is a great chance to work with IBM and learn new skills.  Those interested in history, philosophy and Bentham can also give their input to help ensure that digital tools work to enhance learning and research in the humanities. Any Transcribe Bentham volunteers who are close to London might also find the event interesting – your knowledge of Bentham and the process of transcription would be invaluable!

The Hackathon will last for the weekend, starting with an evening presentation on Friday 20 October.  Catering will be provided and participants can get involved in the whole weekend, or just pop in for a while.

The Bentham Hackathon will help us to showcase Bentham’s enormous contribution to philosophical thought, including the way in which his ideas on education inspired the founders of UCL.  And we are hopeful that the innovations developed over the course of this weekend will suggest some new ways to use digital technologies in humanities research.

For more information, check out the Bentham Hackathon webpage or contact us.