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Transcribe Bentham


A Participatory Initiative



Q: Can anyone really take part?

A: They can indeed!  You do not need any specialist knowledge, training or technical expertise.  There is no need to get prior approval from us – just create an account and get started.  All that is required is some enthusiasm (and, perhaps, a little patience!).  You can transcribe (type up) as little or as much as you like, at a time that suits you.

Q: How do I get started with transcription?

A: We recommend that you consult our ‘Getting Started’ guidelines to help you embark on your first transcript.  There are also more detailed transcription instructions, which cover everything you might wish to know about transcribing (and a bit more besides).  You can also check out our Help pages.

Q: Why should I take part?

A: Well, your contributions could make a difference in a number of quite exciting ways.

First, transcripts created by volunteers feed into work on The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, which are produced by researchers at the Bentham Project at University College London.  This is the definitive resource for anyone interested in studying Bentham’s philosophy.  Volunteer transcriptions give Bentham Project editors a head-start in producing an edited and annotated text ready for publication.

Second, Transcribe Bentham volunteers are helping to open up a vast, enormously important historical and philosophical resource for others to access.  Bentham wrote thousands of manuscript pages and we are still far away from a full understanding of his philosophy.  Volunteer transcriptions mean that anyone around the globe can freely read and study Bentham’s original writings.  There is also significant potential for new discoveries to be made, such as Bentham’s views on the treatment of animals or the recipes he compiled for prisoners in his imagined Panopticon.

Third, transcribing Bentham can be an enjoyable hobby!  Bentham wrote on an immense range of subjects, so his philosophical outlook has something to interest everyone: from politics and economics to religion, education and social reform.  You will also develop your transcription skills, understanding the format of old documents and learning how to decipher Bentham’s handwriting.

Every volunteer contribution—no matter how small—is of great value to Transcribe Bentham.

Q: Where can I read more about the project?

A: The Transcribe Bentham blog should be your first stop; it carries bimonthly news and information about the project.  You can also sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates from Transcribe Bentham.  You can read published articles and blog posts by the team and access other blogs, articles and broadcasts about Transcribe Bentham too.

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 also a very useful resource for all things Bentham!

Q: Where are the originals of Bentham’s papers located?

A: Most of Bentham’s papers, including his writings and correspondence, are held in Special Collections at University College London.  Some additional material is held at The British Library.  There are a handful of Bentham’s manuscripts in other archives around the world, and they occassionally surface on eBay!

Q: Are there any other ways I can help the project team out?

A: There are plenty! You can like us on Facebook, follow our Twitter feed, sign up to our newsletter and generally spread the word about the project.

Q: How do I contact the project team?

A: The project email address is transcribe.bentham@ucl.ac.uk and we welcome all enquiries.  Please note that it may take a little longer than usual to respond to your messages out of office hours or when UCL is closed for holidays.

Q: What’s the future got in store for Transcribe Bentham?

A: Transcribe Bentham is currently part of the Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents (READ) project.  This is an exciting international collaboration funded by the European Union, in which we are working with computer scientists to train a model to recognise Bentham’s notoriously difficult handwriting.  This Handwritten Text Recognition technology promises to revolutionise access to historical papers.  It is made freely available via the Transkribus tool.

Thanks to a collaboration with the PRHLT research centre at the Universitat Politècnica de València as part of the READ project, it is now possible to search 90,000 images of Bentham’s manuscripts – even pages not yet transcribed!  Try it out and record your findings.

Q: Gosh, 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 examples of Bentham’s handwriting to guide you along.  As with most things, an eye for Bentham’s writing style comes with time and practice!  Good luck!