White and Children

Whenever I teach English Composition, I tell students that good writing is really only a matter of building bridges only you can build; making connections no one else can make is what separates an essay that is a rote mechanical exercise of getting words on paper from a creative expression. One day I will write a paper about Joycean neologism in Finnegans Wake and neologism in the music of Young Thug. But that’s for another response. Point is: when I went into Voyant for the first time, I was excited all of the new avenues of bridge building that the digital humanities provide. I was drawn immediately to the contexts and correlations sections at the bottom of the window. The correlation that interested me the most was between the words “children” and white.”

It’s a curious correlation for a number of reasons. In a journal made by and for black Americans, why are white children appearing so often and so close to one another? I can’t help remembering my disgusting priest’s classroom in my wasted Catholic high school. A pro-life poster that read “black children are an endangered species,” was the only permanent fixture on his only bulletin board. We passed it every time we were dismissed. Dear God, a species. Of course, no analogous poster exists for white children. A bias, even an unconscious one, is obvious: white children are, well, children. Black children are not. Consider Tamir Rice, the twelve-year-old boy who was shot for carrying a toy gun. For black children in this country, childhood and play ends prematurely. As soon as black bodies appear within the institutional gaze, childhood gives way to a long adulthood. Now, obviously I’m reaching, but I think that’s the while point. The process of the reading and building the digital humanities not only allows for, but encourages reaching and grasping for ideas that are just beyond the periphery of traditional paper scholarship.

Reading The Crisis with Voyant

Looking at The Crisis through Voyant was a novel way of reading through text that ultimately proved to be quite difficult. In particular, I found it hard  to know the right questions to ask. 

The thing about the sort of close readings I am used to, is that your brain is the machine, indexing and interpreting in ways that we don't think twice about. It’s like walking versus driving. You can do things with a car that you could never do by just walking, but you have to adapt your thinking to the vehicle's mode of transportation. The kind of connections that we make through reading the text have to be manually input by us, yet, without satisfactory knowledge of the material I was feeding Voyant, any question or hypothesis felt like a stab in the dark. 

I wanted to know if the language surrounding race changed over time in The Crisis, and so I plugged in the words "negro" "colored" and "black", and my results were... inconclusive. I had assumed that as time went on, negro and colored would go out of fashion and Black would become far more popular, but that wasn't the case. Even futher, there are no results for "African American", I hadn't realized how recent the term was.

https://voyant-tools.org/?corpus=18a5cf1225c6141837902f3e4bb35c15&stopLi...

Overall, negro and colored were both used seemingly interchangably, with black being far less used overall. in the last few data points, however, use of colored and negro is down, while black remains the same. I'm not sure what exactly to make of any of it. 

Regardless of how much more removed I felt, it turns out, distanced textual analysis still requires one to get their hands in the mud and grapple. Reading Crisis through Voyant only convinced me of the need of both distanced and closed reading working together in tandem for more complete picture. 

Distant Reading of The Crisis with Voyant Tools

Considering the range of publication years of The Crisis, I used Voyant Tools to see the woman’s suffrage movement fused in the magazine along with the race issues. Since it was not a one-time movement, but a long-term one, I found it super helpful to track the movement within the circle of The Crisis columnists and audience, using Voyant Tools which extracts the results across the whole series of magazine issues. I first typed in “suffrag*” and saw the five peaks—04.5 being the highest, then 10.4, 15.1, 11.1, and 12.3 in sequence—in the graph that deal with the suffrage movement the most. Thinking that it is not as often as I imagined, I became curious about how frequently The Crisis deals with any issues pertinent to woman and typed “woman*.” As it’s shown in the graph below, the top three peaks coincide with the results of “suffrage*,” which reveals that one of the main social issues The Crisis printed in relation to woman is the woman’s suffrage movement, at least before 1920s.

 

Meanwhile, I became curious about whether the suffrage issue dies down after the 19th Amendment, and so I typed in the words, “disfranchise*,” “enfranchise*.” The result below shows that “disfranchise*” has a highest peak in 21.4, which seems to speak that after the enfranchisement for all people, the magazine is harshly critiquing the issue of disfranchisement still existing out there.

 

The experience of distant reading with Voyant Tools definitely helped me have a fresh perspective to see the construction of the context around the readings in longer period.

It Hits Close to Home

I've lived in Tulsa for just over a year now, but I'd spent my entire life in Arkansas until the big move. When poring through The Crisis, my first inclination was to see how many times Arkansas and Oklahoma appeared. It's no secret that both Arkansas and Oklahoma have had catastrophic racially motivated massacres. Using Voyant, I was able to pinpoint the related issues quickly, as well as compare their total mention frequencies.

 

 

 

 

 

I was somewhat...relieved? that Arkansas and Oklahoma didn't come up as frequently as the Deep South, but it was still gut-wrenching to read the listings of lynchings that occurred. The Elaine Massacre happened in early October 1919, but I was fascinated to read about a lumber plant employing 500 African Americans in Crossett and plans for new manufacturing plants in Hot Springs in the November Issue. A year and a half after the Elaine Massacre the Tulsa "Race Riot" Massacre occurred, and the July 1921 Issue  does feature a chilling report and a photograph of the devastation. This is the ugliest possible history, but it's absolutely crucial that we learn from it to heal the country and the people. 

Voyant Tools Lab Post

The process of visualizing was very interesting because the unique images and ways to look at and analyze a text really enlightened me to different ways that I can view a text. Looking up words in the text and viewing specific trends on them really enhances this concept of "reading a text." Playing with and maneuvering the different tools allowed me to be placed in a different context of "The Crisis" with each new tool that I observed. For example, the visualization tool Mandela was particularly fun to engage in. It was similar to a web of words all connected through different colors. When the cursor was placed over a particular area, the lines connected to specific words would connect to one particular "Crisis" section, but I would like to learn more about how this works specifically because this looks to be a useful tool. While trying to figure out how to make this tool concrete I found where Voyant gives a description of the tool and states, "Mandela is a conceptual visualization that shows the relationship between terms and documents. Each search term (or magnet) pulls documents toward it based on the term's relative frequency in the corpus." I'm interested to unpack this to see how I can implement this tool in the future.

Feminism in The Crisis

As someone who relies on skimming content occasionally when pressed for time, I feel Voyant Tools gives me superhuman abilities to search for content I need. Similar to Google delivering me results based on keywords used in online content (or embedded in the back end of a content management system, Voyant allows me to select specific online content in which to search for keywords. Having seen that The New Freewoman was once an option for perusal in this lab, I was inspired to search The Crisis for a keyword that would overlap with the previously mentioned publication: Women (both the word and the root).

You can see in this graph there are a few key areas where the word (or root word) "women" was mentioned more frequently than others, so I decided to test a hypothesis: Did the two issues with the most significant amount of mentions focus on equal rights for women? I pulled up another Voyant window and searched only for “rights” to get the results below.

That graph also peaks on the two issues that most frequently use the word (or root word) “women,” so I decided to check those issues out. Beginning in order of date, I went to Volume 4, Issue 5 of The Crisis which was published in September 1912, almost eight years before the 19th amendment was ratified.

Based on the title, "Women's Sufferage Number" I can see why this issue would mention “women” and “rights” more often than other issues, which led me to assume that the following issue must also deal with women’s suffrage. So, to investigate, I pulled up Volume 10, Issue 4 of The Crisis which was published in August 1915, still five years before the adoption of the 19th amendment.

Not a shocking result that the title of this issue is "Votes for Women." As you can see by the cover, this issue also focuses heavily on women’s suffrage. Although neither of them fall on the ratification of the 19th amendment, these issues still hold key perspectives on the women’s suffrage movement, and I feel there is an excellent opportunity to use Voyant in the future to explore this topic, and endless others, in depth.

Tracking Controversy

The process of visualizing The Crisis allowed for a more distant reading of the text, enabling me to follow trends/issues rather than reading piecemeal updates. In an attempt to view the effects of a singular event, I've inserted an image below (as I was foiled in an attempt to embed a view via HTML) of the graphed instances where the phrase "Birth of a Nation" appears in The Crisis. I was interested in following the discussion of the release and reception of the controversial white supremacist film, which was protested by the NAACP. The first ocurrence of the film title in The Crisis is in the context of a May 1915 article titled "An Instance of the Way the NAACP Works." 

The graph evidences the surge (and later resurgence) of evaluation and protests of the film. The initial NAACP efforts to censor the film for its racist content were dispelled by the approval of the Board of Censorship. I searched The Crisis for "Board of Censorship," and, surprisingly, the relative frequency graph looked like a singular spike in usage, which implies that the release of "Birth of a Nation" was, at least in The Crisis, the most inflammatory episode of controversy with the Board of Censorship. (The major spike in frequency of "Board of Censorship" comes from the same issue of the first mention of "Birth of a Nation.") This mainly raises more questions for me. What was the relationship between the NAACP and the Board of Censorship? Was Birth of a Nation a singular event, the epicenter of film censorship and racial conflict, or was it just the only one (or the most chronologically significant one) to be covered in depth by The Crisis? (Where is Dr. Jackson when you need him?) The structural evaluation afforded by Voyant is a helpful way to reveal these initial relationships to be explored by later close reading.

 

Voyant Tools and Crisis Magazine

As the Crisis was a magazine written for African Americans and their experiences in the early 20th century, I focused my graph searches on their concerns over time. Looking at the word war, it is one of the most frequently used ones in the series. Black soldiers did their best to volunteer despite racism in the the first world war.

Of note, I found no mention for racist or racisim, but I did find words for discrimination and prejudice. However, the graph shows that these mentions are lowered over time. I do not belive it is because of ending racism, because I found many instances of the word lynching below.

I believe, based on the data, that African Americans became more concerned with other major issues over time, especially past world war I. If you look at the graph below, mentions of money, homes, and education, and college started taking over talking point distrubution after the war.

The highest points at the end are money and home, which seems to become a major factor when talking about the issues that effected them the most. Economic factors became a bigger concern over time as jobs and education took the forefront of their needs.

On a side note, the word negro appears to decline over time, while the word black takes the place of favor of the the writers. I do not know what this switch is to be attributed to, as the data is insufficient to hazard a guess at the time I am writing this. I can say it is a fact that the terminology for African Americans has changed many times over the centuries, including, Negro, Colored, Black, and Afro American. Based on that, I would observe African Americans want to shape their own cultural identity outside of how others view them, on their own terms. This magazine was one way for them to have the freedom to take charge of their own destinies and strive toward a better future despite the inequalities they endured.

Voyant

Poking around on the Voyant page for the Crisis was kind of fun! I initially was having some bug trouble with the drill-down feature—I was trying to see the distribution of terms within a document but I don’t think the website would let me. Regardless, I found that “school” and “high” were both markedly popular words in volume 22, no. 3, which was published in 1917, although I don’t know the significance of that. It was also interesting to make connections that I could have already put together but for my lack of historical knowledge. For example, “women” was used most in volume 10, no. 4, which I see was published in 1915, the year of a notable women’s suffrage march.
I was also interested in and amused by Veliza. I don’t know if I gained anything about the actual text of the Crisis from this tool, but it was certainly entertaining, and at the least I gained some decontextualized familiarity with the various issues from the fragments spit out when I selected the “from text” response option. Thinking of temporary structures within a historical flow, from Moretti: I remember being in New York and being surprised to see ads on the subway about an app that would connect you with a therapist to text back and forth with. This format of a text conversation between therapist and “patient” feels like an example of Voyant’s playing around with a temporary structure (texting with a therapist, a structure of the current moment) within the historical flow of data visualization. (This is not even to get into the way that psychotherapy has evolved over the years into a dynamic that works through texting.)

Bornstein and the Experience of Reading "Prufrock"

It was supposed to be posted a week before, but it took me some more time to finish it after I started drafting last week. 

Bornstein’s article enlightened me about how the work of literary art can be interpreted better and more affluently by considering the whole context in which the text is placed. In “How to read a page: modernism and material textuality,” he breaks down the main ideas of recent editorial theory for page reading into several aspects: “awareness of its constructedness and of multiple alternatives” (6) and the recognition of “bibliographic code” along with “its linguistic code” (6). He then demonstrates through his reading of four sonnets by John Keats, Emma Lazarus, W.B.Yeats, and Gwendolyn Brooks how interpretations and readings of the same linguistic codes are changed by the different bibliographic codes. He shows that studying the multiple sites of appearance for the literary work enables the reader to see what’s been emphasized/erased from the work in each site and to read historical, political, or aesthetical context of the work.

 

His demonstration of reading sonnets reminded me of my experience of reading “Prufrock” last week. I first read it in The Norton Anthology and then the Catholic Anthology “Prufrock” and the comic version of it. When I read the poem from The Norton Anthology, it was like the poem was standing alone even though there were several other pieces that follow by Eliot because I didn’t read the introductory note for T. S. Eliot that comes beforehand as well as other works that come afterwards. So, my experience of reading “Prufrock” from the Anthology was to pay close attention to its aesthetics and message, connecting it to the other works by Eliot that I have read before. However, when I read it from the Catholic Anthology, it created a whole new story, totally different from what I got from The Norton Anthology. Yeats’s “The Scholars,” at the beginning of the book, opens a way to Eliot’s poems, and his poem sarcastically emphasizes the disparity between the poet and the scholars’ understanding of a love poem, which kind of sets a very different tone for reading Eliot’s poems from what Norton Anthology creates. And the collection of Eliot’s poems interacts with each other as if they were written as a set that provides both man and woman’s view respectively in a love relationship. Other poems by other poets in the Catholic Anthology after Eliot also add the similar tone to each other, which helps the readers to see more of an atmosphere shared by the contemporary writers than just the aesthetics of one poem. In the comic version, on the other hand, the background scenes I only vaguely imagined, such as the street scenes, personified “yellow fog” and “yellow smoke,” and the tea cups, caught my eyes and was lifted to the extent that has an equal importance as other things in the poem. As Bornstein demonstrates that “[t]racing the multiple sites of the poem reveals alternate material components of meaning” (31), reading “Prufrock” from different sites proves the possibility of varied interpretation of the poem depending on which site one encounters it.

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