Team 1 Progress Report 4/7 Part 2

We have been making progress as a whole, both in the close reading essay and the search and comparison of the ad texts using digital tools.

Daniel’s initial findings through Voyant-

Initial searches of the Arkansas ads did not yield huge amounts of information, but enough to demonstrate that Voyant as a tool can help answer questions about the data.  Some of the use for Voyant can simply be demonstrating a lack of a strong trend on a certain topic.  The first question I used Voyant to answer was whether or not Texas slaves appeared to be receiving greater abuses or punishments than those in Arkansas.  This required a search for vocabulary sets related to this.  The close reading revealed that “scar”, “disfigure” and “lame” were used to describe slaves who seemed to have suffered injuries.  While there are many specifically listed injuries, those are the most frequently used.  By searching these words in all the sets of ads, I was able to reveal that Arkansas seemed to have proportionally more references to scars than Texas.

In our previous readings, we had talked about how slaves could have been more likely to have carried guns in dangerous Texas locations.  Searching the text for references to armed runaways carrying rifles, shotguns, or knives, I found the results to indicate that there were proportionally less references to guns in Texas than in Arkansas.

Searching for references to Mexico and Mexicans, I found nothing in the Arkansas ads referencing Mexico.  It does seem to be a Texas-specific location so far in terms of a destination for runaways.

There were proportionately more references to horses and mares in the Texas ads.  This could tie into the sheer size of Texas for escaping across, a higher likelihood of property owners having horses, or perhaps that the acquisition of horses was necessary to try to make it all the way to Mexico.

From the first search through the ads, there were a few specific improvements I had in mind for future searches.  One is to make a simpler way to compare numbers in data sets of different sizes.  I was using rough proportions to compare the quantities of occurrences, but somehow finding specific sets within the States that were the same size would make a more straightforward process.

Another issue is the inclusion of jailor’s ads.  For references to weapons and means of transportation, these will not be included as frequently in the ads of those already captured.  Thus, different proportions of included jailors ads in the sets will further skew results.

Future searches include terms describing the intelligence of slaves and descriptions of their skilled labor, to be compared to negative terms, as well as searches for references to accomplices, thieves, or others who might have persuaded or forced slaves to escape.

One Response to Team 1 Progress Report 4/7 Part 2

  1. Interesting thoughts, Daniel. I’d like to see a little bit more detail about the methods you are using. For example, when you say the results of Voyant indicate a particular conclusion, what were those results and why do they indicate what you say? Without more specificity it’s hard to tell exactly what you are feeding into Voyant and what you are getting out.

    I also wonder whether coming up with search terms from a close reading is the best (or, at the very least, the only) way to answer your questions. Unless you have “close read” every single ad from all three corpora, the danger in that method is that some word used to refer to physical abuse did not make your vocabulary, and therefore will be missed when you search for specific words. Does your first question require a set of keywords to search with, or are there other methods that would allow you to get at this question without a set of keywords?