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front page statement about racial descriptions #21

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wcaleb opened this Issue Apr 25, 2014 · 10 comments

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@wcaleb
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commented Apr 25, 2014

It occurs to me while reading this webpage that we may want to include a statement on our front page about the nature of some of the nineteenth-century language that viewers will encounter on the site---words like "negro."

While scholars use these contemporary vernacular terms (in quotes) all the time in books and articles discussing historical sources, it occurs to me that people encountering them on a website will be viewing them in a different kind of context and may not as readily see that they are being used only because they were in the historical sources.

Should we provide a statement about potential "trigger" words or about racial descriptions on our front page, perhaps with a citation to readings like Marcus Wood's about the deindividualizing nature of slavery in the nineteenth century? To express our awareness that in talking about all these words we don't want to lessen or distract from the dehumanizing nature of the institution we are studying?

If you think such a statement would be advisable, what do you think it should include?

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commented Apr 25, 2014

I think this is a good idea. After all, one of the things that struck us most about the runaway ads is the dehumanizing nature of them, so I definitely think we should be sensitive to the emotional impact of the material when we present it. I like your idea of referencing Marcus Wood.

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commented Apr 26, 2014

I agree with Alyssa. I think that this is definitely necessary, and I really like the idea of referencing Marcus Wood. Especially since our focus has moved from the runaway slave ads themselves to the digital tools we used, readers might be surprised to see that kind of language and perhaps even deterred from our site if a warning is not provided.

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commented Apr 26, 2014

Good points @KaitlynSisk and @ara4. What should such a statement say? Ideas about wording?

Are there particular quotes from the Marcus Wood reading that would be effective here? I seem to remember one about ads being an "archive of horrors" or something to that effect, which may be helpful here.

On Apr 26, 2014, at 10:37 AM, KaitlynSisk notifications@github.com wrote:

I agree with Alyssa. I think that this is definitely necessary, and I really like the idea of referencing Marcus Wood. Especially since our focus has moved from the runaway slave ads themselves to the digital tools we used, readers might be surprised to see that kind of language and perhaps even deterred from our site if a warning is not provided.


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@br0nstein

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commented Apr 26, 2014

I don't think it's necessary. Our audience, historians interested in digital history, no doubt implicitly understand that words like "negro" are used to stay true to the source material. I don't see how anyone could take offense.

@wcaleb

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commented Apr 27, 2014

@br0nstein, I definitely agree with you that few people in our primary targeted audience would be offended. We can't guarantee that our audience will be restricted to the thoughtful and informed, though. I, like @KaitlynSisk, am more concerned about the person who sees a word like "negro" prominently displayed in our icons and doesn't take the time to read on long enough to figure out what we are actually doing. Moreover, news stories just in the last week like this one and this one suggest that there are still plenty of people ignorant of the history of slavery who might well stumble upon our site; so we may have an opportunity even as we talk mainly about digital history methods to say something about the subject that would push back against still somewhat prevalent opinions.

Of course, even a statement like the one I was musing about won't necessarily affect all the sorts of people who will come to the site. But the comments by @ara4 and @KaitlynSisk also made me start to think that a statement about our sources, perhaps referencing Wood, would even be relevant to our target audience of historians interested in digital methods.

We may want to underscore that one limitation of methods that seek primarily to quantify information in sources about slavery is that it doesn't always give the best insight into what slavery was actually like for specific individuals. As we've discussed earlier in the semester, sometimes that kind of insight may come more easily from a "close reading" of an "outlier" case than from an analysis of general patterns, more from a narrative like Stephanie Camp's or Susanna Ashton's than from a statistical analysis like Franklin's and Schweninger's.

We are trying to make that point---and provide the opportunity for such close reading---with our Twitter experiment, and we could mention that in on our "note on sources." But it might not hurt to say up front that we are aware that these means of analyzing ads are not the only means a historian could use, and that one limitation in using them may be that we don't get to see as much of the institution's detail as we would with other methods.

I realize as I'm typing this now that the idea for this brief statement has expanded somewhat from the original idea at the top of this issue, which is why it's so helpful that you all are weighing in!

@ClareCat21 @mrmontalvo @DanielBurns1, what do you all think?

@ClareCat21

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commented Apr 27, 2014

I agree that we should include some sort of disclaimer. Our project is presented as a digital history project, and will not necessarily be viewed by people familiar with the context of runaway slaves. The website is not exclusive to digital historians, and since the project is not about runaway slaves, people may not consider it in that context as naturally. I like the idea of including a paragraph on how close readings and outliers can help us with the element of personal insight. I think a paragraph on this topic would cover the disclaimer without being too blatant about it and while capturing the spirit of our website (best methods/practices for various historical analyses).

@wcaleb

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commented Apr 27, 2014

In 5b7195b I wrote up a first draft in based on our discussion above, but I would like your feedback. Please comment here, or feel free to make further edits directly in the splash page file.

It may be too long, and it may not reflect your own views exactly, so please give feedback on how to improve!

@ClareCat21

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commented Apr 28, 2014

It ends kind of abruptly and I also think the addition of a line like the following could help round it out: For the most part, our project focuses on the presentation of digital tools; for a clearer understanding of the personal struggles of slaves, see a close reading such as the one by Franklin and Schweninger.
Wanted to run it by you first - what do you think?

@wcaleb

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commented Apr 28, 2014

Sounds good! Can you add it?

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On Apr 27, 2014, at 8:57 PM, ClareCat21 notifications@github.com wrote:

It ends kind of abruptly and I also think the addition of a line like the following could help round it out: For the most part, our project focuses on the presentation of digital tools; for a clearer understanding of the personal struggles of slaves, see a close reading such as the one by Franklin and Schweninger.
Wanted to run it by you first - what do you think?


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@ClareCat21

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commented Apr 28, 2014

yup! done

@wcaleb wcaleb closed this Apr 28, 2014

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