Crowdsourcing and Education: UCL, Jeremy Bentham and London Sixth Form Students

You might think that academics studying a 19th century legal philosopher would be the last people to embrace crowdsourcing. But at UCL a project called Transcribe Bentham is leading the way.

Transcribe Bentham is a participatory project based at University College London. Its aim is to engage the public in the online transcription of original and unstudied manuscript papers written by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the great philosopher and reformer. They aim to encourage all those who have an interest in Bentham or those with an interest in  history, politics, law, philosophy and economics, fields to which Bentham made significant contributions, to visit the site. Those with an enthusiasm for palaeography, transcription and manuscript studies will be interested in Bentham’s handwriting, while those involved in digital humanities, education and heritage learning will find the site intriguing. Undergraduates and school pupils studying Bentham’s ideas are particularly encouraged to use the site to enhance their learning experience.

In the video below, Your2Pence spoke to Dr Valerie Wallace and asked her how they encourage sixth form students to get involved? Then we spoke to a sixth form student from Raines Foundation School in Bethnal Green. She was introduced to the site by her Religious Studies teacher Tom Bennett and she told us what she thought of the site being used in her lessons.

March 2011 Update…

I asked Dr Valerie to update me on the progress of the project…

Transcribe Bentham was funded by the AHRC for one year. This funding comes to an end next month. Our Transcription Desk went live in September 2010 and was manned on a daily basis for 6 months. In that time 1240 users registered and began transcription on 1073 manuscripts. Of those 1073, 818 have been locked and are considered by editors to be complete. Before this project started there were in total around 40,000 untranscribed Bentham manuscripts.

We estimated that we could digitise and upload about 10,000 of those in a year. We have uploaded about one third of the estimated 10,000; so about 10% of the original estimate has been transcribed. After December (when the New York Times published a story on the project) the number of users and submissions increased dramatically. The project thus started to gain momentum just as its funding period was coming to an end.

We have stopped manning the Transcription Desk on a daily basis and are concentrating on writing up our findings but the Desk remains open and will remain open for the next few months. We need more funding to keep the project going for longer and to enable us to digitise and upload more manuscripts and to provide proper feedback to users. So far our applications have been unsuccessful but we remain optimistic that we can keep Transcribe Bentham alive.



2 responses to “Crowdsourcing and Education: UCL, Jeremy Bentham and London Sixth Form Students

  1. Thanks very much for the write-up, Rebecca, and showing another of the potential uses and advantages of projects like Transcribe Bentham as we attempt to engage those both inside and outside academia.

    We’re very proud of the progress made by transcribers so far, and will continue to explore avenues to keep the project going. Fingers crossed!

    Tim Causer,
    Bentham Project

  2. I’m glad to see this post introducing Transcribe Bentham to a wider audience. While its methods have received plenty of attention in academic circles, many of the transcribers have come from outside the academy. It’s nice to see that kind of balance achieved by a project of this kind.

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