University College, London, possesses some 60,000 documents created by Jeremy Bentham, the great utilitarian philosopher. (It also owns and displays Bentham's mummified body, delightfully referred to as the "Auto-Icon," but that's a well-worn tale.) But only a fraction of those documents have been transcribed or published.
This week, UCL launched the "Transcribe Bentham" project, in which the university seeks to "harness the effort of all Bentham fans--whether schoolchildren, historian enthusiasts, retired academics or armchair philosophers--to bring his work into the digital age and the world at large."
Over the next year, the university will be posting images of Bentham's writings, beginning with fairly straightforward ones and proceeding in difficulty to the all-but-indecipherable. The interface will be a wiki that allows users to comment on and correct the contributions of others. The university claims that this is the first instance of crowdsourced scholarly transcription on this scale.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.