By Kenton Rambsy
I was flattered (and excited) when Adam Bradley quoted me his article “The New Black Canon,” published in the New York Times on March 16. Earlier this year, we had a conversation about the study of Black books where I said, “The act of recovery means something different now … We don’t have to go deep into archives to find undervalued Black authors.”
My comments stemmed from my engagements with data-driven research over the last several years. I was drawing from Kim Gallon’s concept of a “technology of recovery,” or efforts to use digital platforms and tools to, in this case, raise awareness about Black novels. With the growing body of information about Black books available to us, we should consider how that data can be used to make connections between online reading audiences and Black books.
I see data storytelling as one possible way by which literary scholars might pursue recovery work in the early half of the 21st century. My older brother Howard Rambsy II and I created a dataset comprised of 1,200 Black novels. The dataset presents books based on various categories (year of publication, decade of publication, ratings on Goodreads). We used this dataset to create a series of visualizations focusing on Black novels.
• A visualization, in scrollytelling format, that highlights findings from a dataset of 1,200 novels by black writers
• A timeline of the 1,200 novels that includes Goodreads ratings.
• An interactive visualization that filters based on gender, reading level, and publication decade.
Digital tools create opportunities for us to highlight information about dozens, even hundreds of novels at a time. A macro view of 1,200 books by black writers constitutes novel possibilities in literary studies.
Online users – scholarly and general readers alike – might use these interactive digital resources to explore information about hundreds of books in a single setting. For these reasons, I see data storytelling and visualizations as vital for engaging African American literary studies.