Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Differences between black poets and black poets


Back in the day, before say, the rise of African American literature courses and the formation of black literary studies, English teachers and their students were less likely to cover varieties of black poetry and poets. The "token" black poets in the anthologies and on the syllabi were used as stand-ins for all black poets.

Ah, but things change.


Today, in many contexts, we're often led to wonder: What are some differences between black poets and black poets?  What differences do those differences make?

In literature courses that concentrate exclusively on black writers, divergences among African American poets drive general and scholarly conversations about the poetry in ways that were less likely when folks studied one or two black poets at a time. In courses that highlight 10 or 20 or 30 black poets, the differences take on added significance.

Does any us -- folks into the work -- confuse the poetry of Langston Hughes, Margaret Walker, and Rita Dove? Or, the poetry of Tracie Morris, Tracy K. Smith,and Patricia Smith? The poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Kevin Young, Terrance Hayes, and Tyehimba Jess? Nope.Hardly ever. Listen: many of us even make distinctions between the poetry of early LeRoi Jones and late Amiri Baraka.

The expansive production of poetry -- in print and on Youtube -- over the last decade alone places all kinds of demands on our abilities to discern between black poets and black poets. You hear folks discussing "academic" black poets as something quite different from spoken word poets. And of course, those so-called academic poets are constantly noting the differences among writers in their field, just as spoken word folks point out the varieties of spoken word. 

In some genres, the primacy of African American creators is the standard. There's no need to speak of "black rap music" or "black jazz," since so many black practitioners were instrumental to the formation of those fields. There might be some tokens in rap and jazz, but they ain't black.

Within fields of black poetry, we're still finding our way in talking about the differences without losing sight of the links. We try to talk about this seemingly unified thing called black poetry, even as we acknowledge all these debates, tensions, diversities, and divergences within the field. 

Related:
Poetry vs. Poetry vs. Poetry vs. Poetry  
LeRoi Jones vs. Amiri Baraka vs. Black poetry
Writing poetry to be read/published vs. Writing poetry to be heard
Black poetry vs. black poetry
Contemporary Black Poets vs. Contemporary Black Poetry
Black Poetry Debates: tracking histories of tension, vs., and questions  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Justice Sonia Sotomayor channels black studies


In her dissent in Utah vs.Strieff, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor draws on the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, Michelle Alexander, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others to strengthen her case about why she disagrees with the majority opinion concerning the legality of searches and seizures by police officers.  

Sotomayor writes that,
it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. See M. Alexander, The New Jim Crow 95–136 (2010). For generations, black and brown parents have given their children “the talk”— instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger—all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them. See, e.g., W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903); J. Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963); T. Coates, Between the World and Me (2015).

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283 (2002). They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.
In an article about the dissent, Victoria M. Massie writes that "Sotomayor’s dissent highlights the ways the ruling fails to listen to those who have long discussed the ways illegal stops undermine American democracy."

Yes. What also stood out to me was how important black studies texts were to Sotomayor's ability to produce such a strong dissent.

Related:
Black Intellectual Histories 
Ta-Nehisi Coates

"Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative" at Howard University


By Kenton Rambsy and Howard Rambsy II

This week, we're presenting entries related to the intersections of black artistic culture, technology, DH, and African American literary studies for the NEH-funded  project, "Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative in Literature, Language, and Criticism," directed by Dana Williams at Howard University. 

Below, we have provided links to brief entries that address text-mining findings, blogging, and other tech or DH projects that we have been producing.

Blogging
Why blogging matters

Slave narratives
Slave narratives and word count
Chronological List of 33 Slave Narratives
The word counts of 33 Slave narratives

Digital tools:
Some Free Digital Software Programs and tools
African American literary studies and three research methods using digital tools
Voyant Tools Brief Overview
Voyant Tools General Features
Voyant Tools Ratios and Language Density
Stop Words and AAVE
Voyant Tools: Data Visualizations
How short and long are African American short stories?

Jay Z 
Jay Z, Metadata, and African American literary studies 

Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright
Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Text-Mining Experiments
Zora Neale Hurston & Richard Wright Similarities (In Graphs)
Zora Neale Hurston & Richard Wright Differences (In Graphs) 

Related:
The African American Literary Studies Lab

Jay Z, Metadata, and African American literary studies


By Kenton Rambsy

On July 4, 2013, Jay Z released his 12th solo studio album Magna Carta …Holy Grail in partnership with Samsung. A multinational conglomerate company, Samsung paid $5 Million dollars so that the first million new owners of a Samsung device (Galaxy S II, Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note II) could, through the “Magna Carta” app, claim the album for free.

Well, not entirely free.  In exchange for downloading the album, the app collected a trove of information about the new customers. For instance, the app prevents a person’s phone from sleeping in order to collect information from other apps as well as learning the person’s precise GPS location, full network communication, and phone status among other things. Thus, the new customers were paying for the album, not with cash, but with the currency of data and metadata from their phones.   

So the methods by which Magna Carta was released that July were an important moment for Jay Z, Samsung, big data and rap music, and business.

That summer of 2013 also proved important for me as well. I decided to listen to all of Jay’s solo albums up until that point, which included 188 songs. While Samsung gathered information on its new customers, I began collecting data on Jay’s music. I paid attention to perfect rhymes, slant rhymes, metaphors, similes, and other stylistic features of his work. 

I began to ask more questions about Jay’s music and think about the significance of tracking characteristics from each song. Similar to Samsung, I was interested in metadata concerning Jay Z. Instead of paying particular attention to Jay’s fan base, I was quantifying his distinct modes of delivery as well as the production histories of each album.

I observed Jay’s style change over the course of 12 albums. I tracked the number of producers who participated in the production of each album and noted which producers collaborated on some of Jay’s biggest hits. Later, I tracked the average word usage of each of Jay’s album and compared those numbers based on album sales.

The summer of 2013 did not just entail listening to rap music. During those months, I was studying for my comprehensive exams, as I was in the process of pursuing a graduate education in literary studies. When I wasn't only studying, I was working to quantify features of African American short fiction. I tracked the usage of African American Vernacular English, references to geographic regions, the presence of cultural metaphors, and other attributes of short fiction by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Edward P. Jones, and several others. 

I just completed my first year as a professor in the department of at the University of Texas at Arlington. This past semester, I taught two courses: "Geo-Coding Black Short Stories" and "The Life and Times of S. Carter." In retrospect, those courses are directly linked to my listening, studying, and data-gathering experiences during the summer of 2013.

At the time, I did not fully understand that collecting and comparing quantitative data about African American short stories with thematic content would equip me with a powerful lens for examining literary expression. I was also unaware that gathering and quantifying information about 188 songs by Jay Z would serve as such a sturdy foundation for my future work on data and metadata and a literature course on life and times of S. Carter.

Related:
"Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative" at Howard University 
The African American Literary Studies Lab  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Slave narratives and word count


By Kenton Rambsy and Howard Rambsy II

Our on-going research on Frederick Douglass led us to look at a larger body of slave narratives. We mined 33 narratives written between the early 1840s and late 1860s. Those 33 narratives comprised approximately 1,213,088 words.

[Related: Chronological List of 33 Slave Narratives]

We organized three sets of the narratives by decade. The 1840s corpus or group of texts contains 16 narratives totaling 388,093 words. The 1850s corpus contains 5 narratives totaling about 418,625 words. The 1860s corpus contains 12 narratives totaling about 406,370 words.

[Related: The word counts of 33 Slave narratives]

Why were slave narratives during the 1850s so long? The 5 works by Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, John Brown, John Thompson, and Jermain Wesley Loguen were longer than a combined total of 16 narratives published during the 1840s. Those 5 works were more than the toal of 12 narratives published from the 1860s.

Our project is at a preliminary stage with only 33 narratives among the more than 200 published North American slave narratives.  Still, utilizing text-mining software to quantify the word count made us aware of measurable differences between a large body of slave narratives when organized by decade. Based on the texts we selected, the 1850s marked a notable moment for extended individual narratives in comparison to narratives published in the previous and subsequent decade.



Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), published 10 years after Douglass’s Narrative of the Life (1845), contains over three times the words of his first publication. At 77,289 words, Twelve Years a Slave (1853) contains more words than the total number of words in The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina (1862), The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-three years (1862), Life of James Mars, a Slave Born and Sold in Connecticut (1864), Narrative of the Life of J. D. Green, a Runaway Slave from Kentucky (1864), and The Story of Mattie J. Jackson (1866).

To what extents do the brevity or lengthiness of slave narratives matter? For now, we're uncertain. 

For now, our tally of total words from a selection of slave narratives made us aware of the extended length of 5 of the 33 narratives published from 1842 – 1868. In further investigations, we’ll add to the total number of narratives we consider. We are also interested in thinking more about the relationships between word count of literary works and reception.

Related:
"Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative" at Howard University 
The African American Literary Studies Lab  

The word counts of 33 Slave narratives

By Kenton Rambsy and Howard Rambsy II

The following list contains the word counts of 33 select slave narratives published between 1842 and 1868. The list of narratives constitutes the preliminary stage for one of our text-mining projects. We stress preliminary as more than 200 slave narratives were published.

[Related: Chronological List of 33 Slave Narratives]

Word counts, slave narratives, and year of publication

3,460 words: The Life and Sufferings of John Joseph, a Native of Ashantee, in West Africa (1848)
9,392: Life of James Mars, a Slave Born and Sold in Connecticut (1864)
9,771: The Life and Sufferings of Leonard Black (1847)
11,044: Narrative of Henry Watson, a Fugitive Slave. Written by Himself (1848)
11,815: The Story of Mattie J. Jackson (1866)
13,414: Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy (1843)
13,612: The Narrative of Lunsford Lane (1842)
15,050: Narrative of the Life of J. D. Green, a Runaway Slave from Kentucky (1864)
17,393: The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina (1862)
17,770: The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-three years (1862)

18,650: Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery (1848)
19,219: Narrative of William Wells Brown (1847)
20,599: The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave (1849)
24,499: The Light and Truth of Slavery (1845)
25,172: Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown (1849)
25,218: Running a thousand Miles for Freedom (1860)
25,002: The Fugitive Blacksmith, or Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington (1849)
26,816: Narratives of the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke (1846)
29,293: Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky (1863)

30,383: A Narrative of Events of the Life of J. H. Banks, an Escaped Slave (1861)
35,036: Struggles for Freedom: Or the Life of James Watkins, Formerly a Slave in Maryland (1860)
36,417: The Life of John Thompson, A Fugitive Slave (1855)
36,577: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)
44,747: Narrative and Writings of Andrew Jackson, of Kentucky (1847)
47,240: Narrative of William Hayden (1846)
49,152: Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb (1849)
49,888: Slave Life in Georgia (1855)
51,609: Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868)
77,289: Twelve Years a Slave (1853)

81,804: Bond and Free: or, Yearnings for Freedom (1861)
81,607: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
120,410: The Rev. J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman (1855)
134,621: My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)

Related:
"Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative" at Howard University 
The African American Literary Studies Lab  

Chronological List of 33 Slave Narratives


By Kenton Rambsy and Howard Rambsy II

The following list contains a chronological list of 33 slave narratives published between 1842 and 1868. The list of narratives constitutes the preliminary stage for one of our text-mining projects. We stress preliminary as more than 200 slave narratives were published.

[Related: The word counts of 33 Slave narratives]

Slave Narratives
Year of publication, title, author

1840s [16]
1842: The Narrative of Lunsford Lane by Lunsford Lane
1843: Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy by Moses Grandy
1845: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
1845: The Light and Truth of Slavery by Aaron
1846: Narratives of the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke by Lewis and Milton Clarke
1846: Narrative of William Hayden by William Hayden
1847: The Life and Sufferings of Leonard Black by Leonard Black
1847: Narrative and Writings of Andrew Jackson, of Kentucky by Andrew Jackson
1847: Narrative of William Wells Brown by William Wells Brown
1848: Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery by Moses Roper
1848: Narrative of Henry Watson, a Fugitive Slave. Written by Himself by Henry Watson
1848: The Life and Sufferings of John Joseph, a Native of Ashantee, in West Africa by John Joseph
1849: Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown by Henry Box Brown
1849: The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave by Josiah Henson
1849: Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb by Henry Bibb
1849: The Fugitive Blacksmith, or Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington by James W. C. Pennington

1850s [5]
1853: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
1855: My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass
1855: Slave Life in Georgia by John Brown
1855: The Life of John Thompson, A Fugitive Slave by John Thompson
1855: The Rev. J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman by Jermain Wesley Loguen

1860s [12]
1860: Running a thousand Miles for Freedom by William and Ellen Craft
1860: Struggles for Freedom: Or the Life of James Watkins, Formerly a Slave in Maryland by James Watkins
1861: A Narrative of Events of the Life of J. H. Banks, an Escaped Slave by J. H. Banks
1861: Bond and Free: or, Yearnings for Freedom by Israel Campbell
1861: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
1862: The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina by John Andrew Jackson by John Andrew Jackson
1862: The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-three years by Thomas H. Jones
1863: Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky by Francis Fedric
1864: Life of James Mars, a Slave Born and Sold in Connecticut by James Mars
1864: Narrative of the Life of J. D. Green, a Runaway Slave from Kentucky by J. D. Green
1866: The Story of Mattie J. Jackson by Mattie J. Jackson
1868: Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley

*******
Note: Some of the titles are abbreviated.

Related:
"Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative" at Howard University 
The African American Literary Studies Lab  

African American literary studies and three research methods using digital tools


By Kenton Rambsy

My ongoing work using text-mining software to analyze short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Edward P. Jones over the years has allowed me to offer detailed accounts of black artistic styles across historical periods and geographic boundaries. So far, I have used digital tools: 1) Extracting Quantitative Data, 2) Managing Quantitative Data, and 3) Visualizing Quantitative Data.

I utilize text-mining software to extract numerical values from digitized texts. The software reveals the density of language in a given text, the frequency of recurring phrases using a collocate function, and linguistic markers that link multiple texts among a host of other features.

The process of quantifying the contents of stories by Hurston, Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Jones allows for me to identify and chart a host of artistic trends based on geographic settings and historical periods. Below, I have expanded upon these three areas with specific examples.

1.) Extracting Quantitative Data: I use Voyant Tools, a text-mining software program, extracts quantitative data from digitized texts (i.e. short stories, autobiographies, and rap lyrics). The enumeration of texts can assist with identifying linguistic trends and pinpointing word and phrase usage.

2.) Managing Quantitative Data: After using text-mining software to extract raw quantitative data from digitized texts, I organize the content in spreadsheets, like Excel (similar to Google Spreadsheets). I use Excel in order to organize data alphabetically, by size, color, or some other filter that I designate. This enables me to effectively assess information and identify notable features based on the data I collect.

3.) Visualizing Quantitative Data: I export CSV (Excel) files to create data visualizations in various programs, including Tableau Public. Data visualizations make complex data accessible, understandable, and usable. Visualizations can take many forms ranging from geographic and map-based graphics to bar graphs, charts, word clouds, or visualized networks. Tables display measures of a variable, while charts and network visualizations patterns or relationships in the data for one or more variables.

Related:
"Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative" at Howard University 
The African American Literary Studies Lab