From Letters to Legislature

Do you love 18th/19th century letters and/or documents? Do you love to transcribe?

If you answered Yes, then the Transcribe Bentham Initiative might be just up your alley!

Transcribe Bentham is an initiative started by University College London, with the mission to make available the transcripts of Jeremy Bentham, 1748-1832, (and relations) that UCL has in its possession. The initiative is managed by UCL’s Bentham Project and Digital Humanities, and aided by the Computer Centre of UCL.

The transcriptions are made by volunteers, such as Iris (co-writer to this post and fellow Linguistics student at Leiden University) and myself, and checked by editors who check whether they agree with the transcription and re-read it for spelling errors and whether you used the right codes, as there are special codes such as “<lb/>” as enter and “&amp;” for an &.

The transcriptions themselves range from letters to the family, to official documentation relating to the use of pieces of land, to definitions of legal terms. Furthermore, not all transcripts are in English, but also in Latin, Greek and French (so in case you can read/speak/write those languages, give transcription a try and help further the progress of full transcriptions, which is at 32,01% at present).

An example of a transcription is 537/011/001, a letter by Jeremiah Bentham, relating some information about Jeremy Bentham as a toddler:

“Your sweet obliging Answer gave me a pleasure far beyond any
I have or cod have enjoyed since your Absence — and your little Jerry —
Boy I asure you seem’d to take a part in it with his Papa upon my
telling him it was a Letter from his dear Mama — he cryed Kish,
Kish — and Kiss’d it several times and when I ask’d him what it
was — he cryed Pape (for Paper) Mama”

That was the start of a young boy who would eventually become a great philosopher, jurist and the founder of utilitarianism. Furthermore, the ideas of equal opportunity promoted by Jeremy Bentham contributed to UCL’s policies and made it available that University College London was open to students of all races, classes, or religions and, most importantly for the women at that time, gender!

Here a fun anecdote about Jeremy’s obliviousness, age 12, already at Queen’s College, Oxford, 537/043/001:

“but Oh my Stupidity, I put it
into my pocket with a design to send it, but as it was not then
time I went about something else and forgot to send it. ’till
this morning when putting my hand in my pocket for something
else, I pulled out the letter designed for you: I believe
I was never much more vexed than I was then”

As you can see, even child prodigies can be forgetful! There is hope for us all yet!

P.S. In case you want to join Team Bentham and start transcribing, click here!


Information on Jeremy Bentham:
Information on Transcribe Bentham:
Letter by Jeremiah Bentham:
Letter by Jeremy Bentham:


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