Blog Post #8

I have chosen the “Funerals” theme from “Documenting the American South”. My reason for selecting Funerals was to know whether the Slaves reserved the right to bury (or other rituals) their dead just like the slaveholders. I have selected 4 (4 out of 5) text documents except for the document of John Dixon because I could not find it in the database provided.

My research question: Whether or not the Slaves reserved the basic humane right to bury their dead ones? If the funerals were conducted in a different way, then what were they?

My question is pretty simple, and I tried to come up with words that would relate to the slave’s rights to funerals, and the words were: Funeral*, Slave, White, and Slaveholder*. The Cirrus sections’ result was disappointing because finding out the highest frequent (which were Burns, Slave, Said, Time, and etc.) words used in the documents would give me answers. The Terms berry section was also not helpful. The trends section only gave me a number of the selected words used in each document that I uploaded into Voyant.

However, I found a little evidence that clearly does not answer my research question in the Contexts tab at bottom of the left side screen. When I double-clicked at most of the results displayed, I found out that when many slaves had been dead, they had to ask for their master’s permission to bury their dead, usually the slaveholders would permit them. Also, the slaves had to get back to their usual routine after they had completed the funeral even though they had to bury them at night so that the daily work was not reduced.

I have clearly not found the answer to my research question, but Voyant has helped me to locate the words and read specific sentences which are enough to come to a conclusion. Maybe, Voyant would be more useful in the area where the census might be helpful to answer the research question. One difficulty I faced was to locate the text document relating to the person of interest, it was not easy. So, I had to click on the link provided and copy the content displayed and then paste it in my search dialogue box to locate the file with that sentence. It took me several tries and minutes to find out about this technique to locate the documents.



One thought on “Blog Post #8

  1. Great choice in theme and I like the research question you formulated based on this interest. I also understand your frustrations in using text analysis to answer your research question. Your question was actually fairly complex, and I wonder how it might be revised to get some answers from word frequencies in Voyant. I think at the most basic level, you would want to see how words like “death”, “bury”, “sick”, “dead”, “funeral” (just guessing here) would appear in the text and in what quantity. From your experience, however, you quickly saw the need for context in order to answer your question, which is a great step! Text analysis takes a lot of tinkering to figure out what exactly you are looking at. In some ways, going in without a research question will allow the results to guide you in the right direction. At the same time, this process requires “close reading” (as you noted) as well as distant reading. I’m sorry the result weren’t very fruitful for you, but I appreciate the amount of work you put into this and I think you received a very real experience of the ups and downs of text analysis. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about this!

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