Newly transcribed manuscripts from the vast collection written and composed by the philosopher and legal reformer Jeremy Bentham.
Transcribe Bentham is a participatory project which recruits volunteers to transcribe the thousands of previously unpublished Bentham papers which are held by University College London Library's Special Collections; this collection runs to some 60,000 manuscript folios, or an estimated 30 million words. The British Library holds a further 12,500 folios, or an estimated 6.5 million words.
Currently, over 4,700 manuscripts have been transcribed and are included in Connected Histories. Transcribe Bentham forms a part of UCL's long-running Bentham Project (founded in 1959), which is producing the new critical edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham . Transcripts produced by volunteers will form the basis for future volumes of the edition.
Bentham was a major figure in legal philosophy, the founder of modern doctrine of utilitarianism, a theorist of representative democracy, and the originator of contemporary notions of surveillance through his proposed 'panopticon' prison. Bentham is also well-known for requesting that his mortal remains be preserved and put on display; his auto-icon ('self image') now sits in a wooden box and dressed in his clothes, in UCL's South Cloisters.
Bentham's manuscript papers consist of drafts and notes for both published and several substantial unpublished works, correspondence, and other ephemera. Major topics addressed include crime and punishment, convict transportation, law, moral philosophy, political economy, and religion. The subject matter relates primarily to Britain, but Bentham corresponded with, and wrote about, people and governments all over the world, including Australia, Ecuador, France, Greece, Libya, Portugal, Russia, Spain, and the United States.
The majority of the collection is in English, though there are substantial parts of the collection written in French. Bentham also occasionally wrote in Latin and Ancient Greek.
The transcripts provided constitute only a fraction of the surviving Bentham papers (ultimately, the full manuscript collection will be available from UCL Library's digital Bentham Papers repository). The manuscripts transcribed don't focus on any particular subject, and they are not currently grouped according to the content of his published works. For a deeper understanding of Bentham's ideas, the papers should be consulted alongside the existing published editions of his papers.
The transcriptions may not be particularly accurate, both because they are carried out by volunteers (though they have been checked by editors) and because Bentham's handwriting became very difficult to read in his later years.
The text has been manually transcribed and linked to original page images to facilitate checking, and encoded in Text-Encoding Initiative compliant XML. Structural (paragraphs, line-breaks, page-breaks) and compositional (deletions, interlineal additions, marginal notes) features of the manuscripts have been encoded.
Transcribe Bentham is hosted by the Bentham Project, and produced in collaboration with UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, UCL Library Services, UCL Creative Media Services, and the University of London Computer Centre. Transcribe Bentham was established under a twelve month AHRC grant (April 2010 to May 2011).
For two years from 1 October 2012, Transcribe Bentham is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's 'Scholarly Communications' programme, and the British Library has also joined the project consortium. This phase of the project will see almost all of the UCL Bentham Papers digitised, as well as all of the Bentham manuscripts held by the British Library; all of the images will be stored in a single digital repository, uniting the collection for the first time since Bentham's death. Significant improvements will also be made to the transcription interface.
Transcribe Bentham has over 2,500 registered users, among whom are a core group of volunteers producing high-quality transcripts on a regular basis.
ca. 1765 to 1832
Bentham Project, UCL
"Transcribed Papers of Jeremy Bentham" © University of Hertfordshire, University of London, University of Sheffield, 2011-2018; University of Sheffield 2019 (www.connectedhistories.org, version 1.0, 26 February 2024), https://www.connectedhistories.org/resources/jb/