Monthly Archives: December 2012

Dec. 5, 2012 – Writing in the Enlightenment Style.

This week I went looking for more historical writing from the 19th and 18th centuries to support my idea about Black history writing having a common message over time but with different styles.  What I found was a much earlier document from 1803.  The next earliest work I had was Alexander Milton Ross’s 1875 autobiography.  The 1803 publication is Robert Charles Dallas’s “History of the Maroons.”  It seems to support my theory in that it has a kind of “Enlightenment” tone to it, using words like proof, public, humane, persons, and revolution.  While it was published after what is generally considered the end of the Enlightenment, at the time of the French Revolution, I find that it doesn’t make reference to individual Blacks, so doesn’t have the “heroes and villains” features of the Romantic era.  Rather, the Blacks are portrayed as a group.

The document is a bit hard to read with a lot of s’s written as f’s, although as a narrative it was remarkably clear.  When I fed it into the Voyant tool, I wondered if it would work, given that it was an unusual text, as well as being a PDF document and over 540 pages long.   It was kind of exciting, therefore, when, after several minutes of churning, the word cloud came pouring out, with words like houfe and aflembly (as in Houfe of Aflembly), ifland and ftate.

Word Cloud Analysis of Dallas Article

While Ross’s 1875 autobiography used many of these same words, Dallas didn’t use the religious terms that Ross’s document was filled with.  But I think the religious overtones of the three Great Awakenings might be considered a second “style” layer of religious movements that ran in parallel to the more philosophical movements of the Enlightenment, the Romantic era and Realism.  So, in effect, Ross could be influenced by both the religious aspects of the Great Awakening as well as, for example, Realism.

With regard to the messages, Dallas’s 1803 attitude towards Blacks in Canada is quite sympathetic  to their situation, as a group, although he definitely sees them as a separate community from the Whites.  However, he also talks about the members of the church as a distinct community, and not in a positive way.  At the end of his book, he spends an entire chapter on the lamentable situation of the Black community in Nova Scotia.  Recall that at this time, slavery was still legal in the British colonies, and only Upper Canada had a law limiting slavery.  So the Maritime colonies had a mix of free blacks, largely Black Loyalists, and slaves, and the number of enslaved people had increased as White Loyalists came north, bringing their slaves with them.  It was not until 30 years after Dallas’s publication that slavery was abolished in the British colonies.

I also began to wonder how many publications I might expect to find on the subject of Black history in Canada.  I did a search on Books at the Carleton library, as well as journal articles in JSTOR.  The keyword search terms I used were “blacks” or “negro” and “history” and “canada”.  It’s a pretty rough estimate since much of the writing about Black history in the U.S. will also make some reference to Canada.  However, there is an interesting increase in the number of journal articles published about Black history between 1800 and 1850.  Likely many relate to the sectional debates in the run-up to the American Civil War.

Time Period Number of Years Books (CU Lib) Books per year Journal Articles (JSTOR) Journal articles per year
1964-present 48 1508 31.4 8066 168
1920-1963 43 78 1.8 1854 43
1850-1919 69 45 0.7 638 9
1800-1849 49 10 0.2 1786 36
1700-1799 99 21 0.2 0 0
1600-1699 99 6 0.1 0 0

I also tried to log on to the TexTexture tool, and created an account, but never received the activation email.  And the contact info is in some foreign land.  There may be a feature within Voyant to do this type of analysis, called Knots.  Next I want to look at some of the journal articles to see if I can confirm some of my theories.  So I may poke away at this over the next few weeks but, unless I hear otherwise, I am going to resume this blog in January.  Happy holidays.

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