Spotlight on... Tim Causer

Tim Causer
Tim Causer
This week we meet Tim Causer, Principal Research Fellow at the Bentham Project. Tim chats about his work editing an extensive collection of Jeremy Bentham’s manuscripts, shares his favourite dress code for a night in at the Bentham home, and reveals all’on his screen debut.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a Principal Research Fellow at the Bentham Project in the Faculty of Laws, where our main duties are the production of the authoritative edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, one of the most important English-language editions in the world. The Bentham Project was established as a central UCL initiative in 1959 to produce the Collected Works and thereby supersede the incomplete, inadequate eleven-volume edition of 1838-43 overseen by Bentham’s literary executor, John Bowring. The Collected Works, which stimulates scholarship around the world across a range of disciplines, is based in large part upon the massive Bentham manuscript collection of some 85,000 pages held by UCL Special Collections.

Editing each volume is a major task: we produce authentic texts from works published during Bentham’s lifetime as well as reconstructing them from unpublished manuscripts, and research and provide detailed annotation to the text to help the reader, amongst other things. Today marks the publication in open access by UCL Press of the 36th volume in the edition, The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Volume 13: July 1828 to June 1832 , which reveals considerable detail about Bentham’s final years. The finished Collected Works will run to around 80 volumes, so the likelihood that I will be around to raise a glass to its completion is fairly slim.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I joined UCL as a Research Associate in October 2010 on a seven-month contract and have managed to hang around ever since. My first role was to co-ordinate our award-winning crowdsourcing initiative, Transcribe Bentham , for which volunteers from around the world have transcribed over 40,000 pages of Bentham’s manuscripts. I’ve worked on European projects with colleagues across Europe to produce tools for the automated transcription of handwritten manuscripts, worked on more funding proposals than I care to recall, given a toast at a wake for Bentham, and, of course, edited his works and correspondence. Though working on Bentham is pretty all-consuming, I also try to research and publish in my other area of alleged expertise, that of the history of the Australian penal colonies.

Prior to joining UCL I studied for an MA and then an MLitt, both in history, at the University of Aberdeen and worked in the loading bay of the local Debenhams to pay for them. In 2006 I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship for a PhD at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King’s College London, where I looked at the lives of 6,500 men detained between 1825 and 1855 at the notorious penal station at Norfolk Island, about 1,000 miles east of Sydney.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

It’s a profound honour to become an editor of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, a major edition which will be used by researchers and students beyond my lifetime. It was especially pleasing that my first volume, Panopticon versus New South Wales, and other writings on Australia , was also the first volume of the Collected Works to be published in open access by UCL Press.

Perhaps the most surreal initiative was working with a group of brilliant students on the MA in Publishing who produced Jeremy Bentham’s Prison Cooking, a cookbook based on manuscripts containing recipes collated for the kitchen of Bentham’s unrealised panopticon penitentiary. One dish, a ’Devonshire pie’, was made for a BBC feature by the chefs of the Michelin-starred St John Smithfield restaurant, where it occasionally appears on the menu-if you enjoy offal and gooseberries then you are in for a treat.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

In the immediate term we are working to complete volume 14 of Bentham’s Correspondence, which contains letters to and from Bentham identified since the first twelve volumes were published, as well as on our project to edit A Picture of the Treasury, Bentham’s semi-autobiographical and tragi-comic account of his doomed attempt to persuade the British government to build his panopticon prison (all the material needed for the Bentham sitcom is there). I’m also co-chairing this June’s Bentham House Conference, generously funded by the Faculty of Laws, which will be the 17th conference of the International Society for Utilitarian Studies, and have reached the stage where I see the programme in my dreams.

What is your favourite album, film, and novel?

Album: This was the most difficult question, so apologies for cheating slightly-or to apply a Benthamic gloss to said cheating, for using the trifurcate method.

    all-time favourite: Shoot Out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson (’ Walking on a wire ’ may be the greatest song committed to record).

  • favourites of the past decade: Nocturnal by Amaral and the sublime Ten Love Songs by the sublime Susanne Sundfør.
  • recent favourite: Screen Violence by Chvrches.

Film: I’ve a soft spot for David Lynch’s deeply odd and flawed adaptation of Dune. Kyle MacLachlan remains the best Paul Atreides.

Novel:  A close-run thing between Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Look at Me by Anita Brookner, and His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke. I’ll plump for Sunset Song, its lament for the passing of a way of life, and its heartbreaker ending--’you can do without the day if you’ve a lamp quiet-lighted and kind in your heart’ and all.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

A woman goes to the dentist and settles herself down into the chair. ’Comfy’’, asks the dentist. ’Glasgow’, the woman replies.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

As a host I would be a disaster. I’d prefer to be a fly on the wall at one of the regular dinners hosted by Bentham when the great and good (and not so good) visited him at his home at Queen’s Square Place. For instance, the lads’ night in at QSP on 18 January 1832 sounded a riot: Bentham was joined for dinner by his nephew George, later a renowned botanist, and his former and present amanuenses Richard Doane and Edwin Chadwick, with the guests dressed in their lawyers’ wigs and gowns-for no other reason than Bentham seemed to find it funny.

What advice would you give your younger self?

There is no chance he would listen to me.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I am listed in the Internet Movie Database after appearing as a convict in the ABC/BBC/RTÉ drama, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce--moonlighting when living in Tasmania while researching my PhD. The film is based on the true story of convicts who in 1822 absconded from the remote Macquarie Harbour penal station in western Van Diemen’s Land, but who quickly got lost in the rainforest and to avoid starving killed and ate each other, one by one, with Pearce being last man standing. My role was limited to digging a trench and looking suspicious, with the latter coming naturally.

I’ve also had to become an expert at giving injections to small animals-my cat, Samson, was diagnosed with diabetes last summer and he would like everyone to know that he’s been a total hero.

What is your favourite place?

The far north-west Highlands of Scotland, where I grew up; Tasmania, which I miss with an ache I can’t quite describe; or wherever Manchester City, who I’ve supported for 35 years, are playing-roll on 20 April at Wembley.
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