Monday, April 30, 2018

The Black Anthology Project (iLASR Seed Grant)

By Kenton Rambsy

In August 2017, I was awarded a iLASR grant from the University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Liberal Arts for my project, “The Black Anthology Project.” Over the past nine months, I worked closely with two research assistants—Jade Harrison and Rebecca Newsome—to transcribe over 100 anthology tables of contents and create page level metadata to track the circulation of black texts in anthologies. Admittedly, this project was more time consuming and labor intensive than I originally assumed.

I initially thought I might use OCR software to transcribe the data, but I quickly realized that process was not a feasible option. Many tables of contents are arranged for an aesthetic appeal with different typefaces. After using OCR on a few anthologies, we had to spend a considerable amount of time editing and re-typing sections of texts in order to enter the information into the spreadsheets. After about 2 weeks, my research assistants and I found it much more efficient to transcribe the documents by hand.

From October 2017 to March 2018, we transcribed 100 tables of contents and created a dataset with the information. At the beginning of March, we started cleaning and organizing the massive amount of data in .csv files. We also started adding additional data to the information we transcribed from the tables of contents such as author birth years, author gender, original publication date of entry, and other useful descriptive metadata.

During this part of our data collection and arrangement process, I realized that many of the original publication dates and author birthdates in anthologies were incorrect. For instance, the birthdates for Charles Chesnutt and Zora Neale Hurston were erroneous, and the publication dates for Toni Cade Bambara's "Raymond's Run" and Charles Johnson's "The Education of Mingo" were not correct.

We spent a considerable amount of time tracking down and confirming the original publication dates of various entries. Popular texts by writers such as Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alice Walker were easy to find. Finding original publication dates for works by Alice Dunbar Nelson, Marita O. Bonner, and other less popular writers proved to be far more time consuming.

I’ve recently began analyzing portions of the data. For the past 5 years, I have studied African American short fiction closely, so naturally, I honed in on those aspects of the data. We completed this information first in order to see what we could observe about the circulation of short fiction from the publication of The New Negro (1925) to the third edition of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature (2017).

So far, we’ve been able to identify the most frequently anthologized short story writers and other patterns associated with reprinting and circulation. Even though writers such as Charles Chestnut, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright published numerous stories during their lifetimes, anthologies have only included 3 - 5 stories frequently over the last several decades. Over the next year, I will expand my analyses to look at comprehensive anthologies to begin to understand how other genres, in addition to short stories by black writers, have circulated over the last several decades.

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