Transcribe Bentham is an innovative and pioneering archival crowdsourcing transcription project, which is making available online the vast collection of manuscripts written by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)—the hugely influential philosopher, jurist, and reformer—held by University College London's Special Collections.
Transcribe Bentham has its origins in the Bentham Papers Database Catalogue, compiled between 2003 and 2006. This has proven to be an invaluable resource for Bentham scholars as a finding aid, but is of little practical use to general researchers in finding out in detail what the manuscripts contain. A solution that could meet a number of criteria was required: to increase access and therefore engagement with the collection; to ensure the Bentham Papers’ long-term preservation, and to create a fully searchable online Bentham Papers collection.
During the first twelve months of the project, around 20,000 manuscripts are being digitized and made available via a specially designed website, so that anyone interested in the project can register an account and assist us by transcribing material and encoding it in Text-Encoding-Initiative-compliant XML. The project, in the first instance, is of great importance to UCL’s Bentham Project, which is in the process of producing a new edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham. Project editors will thus be provided with a draft transcript and the work of amateur transcribers will feed directly into the Collected Works. This is exciting for the transcribers, who will not merely receive the fruits of humanities research but also assist in the very creation of it.
Transcripts produced by the project also contribute to the long-term preservation of the Bentham Papers, and will be made available as a fully searchable database via UCL’s Digital Collections.
For Transcribe Bentham its audiences are also its participants, and it transcends national boundaries. Transcribers include academics, students, retirees and many more; the only qualification is a working Internet connection. The transcription interface has potential as a teaching tool, for example in learning paleography, and has also been targeted at teachers, amateur historians and high-school pupils learning about philosophy. Other international research institutions will be beneficiaries of the release of the project’s transcription interface as an open-source software package.