Blog Post 8

For this week’s blog post, I chose the North American Slave Database for my research question:

Did enslaved people have to ask their enslaver before performing this religious sacrament (baptism)? 

I thought this question was particularly interesting, especially as a Christian. Baptism is a huge sacrament in the Christian faith, and I was curious about how this process looked for enslaved people. When first dwelling on this process, I wondered if these people had to ask for permission. The thought was sickening, but it led me to click on a few links. 

I utilized the documents Brown, Henry Box, and Charles Stearn, Narrative of Henry Box Brown (1849), 23-24 p, Johnson, Thomas Lewis, Twenty-Eight Years a Slave (1909), 17 p., and Marrs, Elijah P., Life and History of the Rev. Elijah P. Marrs (1885), 15 p. in my voyant activity, because they all touched on how the process of baptism looked for those who were enslaved. 

I think text analysis really helped me answer my question. If you look at the voyant picture with all the words, you can see how frequently the word master is used. While the word ‘permission’ is not used as much as ‘master’, it is still visible that the enslaved peoples’ enslavers played a large role in their baptismal practice. When you read through the sources, too, you find this to be true. When you look at the graph, you find that the word master is used very often throughout all three sources, which is even more nauseating. So the answer was yes: enslaved people sometimes did have to ask their enslavers for permission to get baptized. 

An advantage to using text analysis is that it can help us know how much a topic we’re interested in is talked about in an article. However, there are disadvantages to this. Without reading the articles I spoke about, the word ‘master’ could loosely apply to other things. Perhaps people referred to another person, or even to God, as their master, but that master wasn’t necessarily their enslaver. Somebody might have a false notion about what the article is about.  Nevertheless, text analysis is beneficial in helping us loosely analyze documents without diving into them. 

Voyant also produces cute word pictures, so that’s fun too. 😉


One thought on “Blog Post 8

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your workflow beginning with your research question through the results/interpretations. At first, I was wondering if your research question was broad enough for results through text analysis, but your approach towards Voyant and choice of specific terms seemed to offer strong insights into your inquiry! I think what helped was the fact that you gave these sources a “close reading” first to be certain that they related to baptisms. From there, looking at terms in Voyant like “master” and “permission” definitely point in the direction that both of those terms carried weight in baptismal practices. I am really glad that you found text analysis to be a beneficial tool for historical analysis, but I also appreciate your concerns about some of the weaknesses (like uncertainty of definitions/usage). Thank you for sharing your illustrative examples and analysis!

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