Digital Humanities in Action: Transcribe Bentham

| October 26, 2011

Are you a philosophy enthusiast? A fan of the panopticon? And utilitarianism? Or do you just like old manuscripts?  Even if none of these appeal to you whatsoever, you could still be a volunteer for a very exciting project with the University College London, Transcribe Bentham.

This is a crowdsourcing initiative with the goal of transcribing all of Jeremy Bentham‘s (1748-1832) original, handwritten manuscripts into machine-readable text online.  UCL aims to photograph all 60,000 pages of its Bentham manuscripts and post them online for Bentham enthusiasts and any other willing volunteers to transcribe.  Until now, scholars could only access these documents by physically going to UCL’s archives.  The Transcribe Bentham project will make the documents available to researchers around the globe.

According to the most recent progress update, over 2,000 manuscripts have been transcribed so far.  The project is moving forward at the pace of about 47 manuscripts a week, a respectable number for a voluntary project.

At the project’s website, you can access thousands of images of manuscripts, both those that have been transcribed, which appear with the transcription beside them, and those that are still waiting for a willing transcriber to decipher them.  Here is a zoomed-in photo of one of the yet-to-be-transcribed manuscripts: 

The project was recently nominated for the Digital Heritage Award 2011 from DISH (Digital Strategies for Heritage), a biannual conference that focuses on the ways heritage institutions can adapt to an increasingly digital world.  Transcribe Bentham is one of five crowdsourcing projects with the chance to receive the award this December.

This is one of the many ways humanities are now going digital.  Projects like Transcribe Bentham are opening research opportunities that were previously hardly imaginable.  Best of all, this particular project allows anyone to contribute, so if you have an extra hour or know someone who does, join in!

The Chronicle of Higher Education also ran an article on the project, which can be found here.