Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jan. 30, 2013 – Burying of Black History and Exhibit Images

I spent an inordinate amount of time this week looking at the numbers of books and articles written about blacks in different time periods.  It was frustrating because I couldn’t replicate earlier searches that I’d done.  Also, using consistent search terms, in order to ensure that I’m ‘comparing apples with apples’ doesn’t make sense.  While in the 20th century, I could search for ‘blacks’ or ‘coloured’ or ‘colored’ or ‘african american’, these terms wouldn’t find any matches in the 18th century.  There is also the problem of searching for words in French, which I also did.  Then there is the issue of what is considered ‘history.’  If I include the word ‘history’ in a 20th century search, that might well turn up documents about black history.  But in the 18th century, black history was not a subject, so writings about blacks tended to be reports and news articles.  All that to say that, eventually, to make my point, I did what most students would do and quoted an expert on black history saying that black history has been buried.  I’m sure this would be a worthy subject to pursue – confirming the absence or ‘burying’ of black history – but it is not the main subject of my present study.

As planned, I have now gone back to my exhibit.  I’ve got a plan for my exhibit structure.  I spent quite a bit of time looking for images and now have a fairly good selection.  They represent the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s.  They also represent British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.  And they represent various migration patterns, including blacks who came from Portugal, Jamaica, and the United States, both free and slave, and those who were brought by others and those who escaped and came on their own.  I also have different kinds of materials, including text documents, maps, paintings and photographs – and word clouds.  All up, there are 18 items.

So far, my earliest artifact is dated 1734.  I would love to get something from the 1600s and will spend time this week looking for that.  I also presently only have three from the 1900s, and there are lots to choose from, so I may pull in a few from that period.  But first I need to think about what kind of message I’m trying to send with the 20th century images.  I also want to spend some time on the essay, if I can.


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Jan. 23, 2013 – Style versus Message

I read two more historical pieces on black history in Canada this week.  One was from 1864 and the other more recent, from 1955.  Both continued to support my theory about historical writing linking in style to societal movements of their times.  However, both also showed deviations from my theory that the message contained in black history in Canada was consistent over time.

The piece published in 1864 was an American work by S.G. Howe. It was commissioned by the U.S. government to study black success in Canada West – today’s Ontario – as the U.S. prepared to deal with their plans for emancipation, which had been put in place the previous year.  As a report, it had a scientific tone, which links it to the Enlightenment style.  But in the Romantic style, it included the author in the narrative.  However, the message was less positive about the situation of blacks in Canada than many Canadian-authored works of the time.  While it confirmed that blacks were well supported under Canadian law, it found that prejudice and the climate were major roadblocks to black success and contentment in Canada.

The piece published in 1955 appears to be by a Canadian: Ruth Danenhower Wilson.  It was an article in the Negro History Bulletin and is the most recent work I have studied for this project.  As a 20th century publication, it seems to follow my theory about style and reflect the Realist movement by excluding the ‘self’ from the narrative and by taking an empirical tone.  However, it seems to have a negative view of black’s experience in Canada, speaking of the rampant prejudice towards blacks.  This is a message that becomes common in the 1960s and onwards, but, with it, Wilson seems to be an early adopter of this message in Canada.

This week I also confirmed the outline of my historiographical essay, and started writing the introduction.  One thing that came up in this initial paragraph is that I wish to say that black history has been criticized for being buried in Canada.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at black historical writing in early Canada.  So to substantiate this claim I want to look briefly at how much history, by comparison, was written about whites and possibly aboriginals in Canada during these same time periods.

This week I want to do this comparison to white and aboriginal history, and I want to go back to my online exhibit, to consider how I want it to be structured.

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Jan. 16, 2013 – Review of Styles of Historical Writing

In a promising way, I found some more material that seems to support my original theory about style and message in historical writing.  I found three more articles in the Provincial Freeman, in 1854 and 1855, that demonstrate the Romantic and/or Realist style of writing.  This evidence supports the notion that, by the mid-19th century, the Enlightenment style had petered out, and been replaced by the Romantic style, and that the Realist style was emerging.

To get clearer in my mind about what these styles mean, I spent some time reading a book I recently acquired: Simon Gunn’s History and Cultural Theory.  A characteristic of Realism is the absence of the historian in the story. (Gunn: p. 27) Roland Barthes wrote about this later in the 20th century, saying “history seems to tell itself” and asking about “what really happened.” Realism was belatedly influenced by what Leopold Ranke said in the early 19th century about empiricism, but his ideas did not emerge as such until the late 19th and early 20th century and were taught in schools of history at that later time as one basis for Realism. (Gunn p. 8)

But these Realist schools of history that taught about Ranke seemed to forget that Ranke was also influenced by the Romantic style with ideas of “German idealism… romanticism, … nationalism, conservatism and reverence for the state.”  And in keeping with the various religious movements that emerged in the late 18th and throughout the 19th century, Ranke also argued that “in certain instances it was possible to discern the ‘finger of God’ at work.” (Gunn p. 6) Also through this period, the concepts of “sex, gender, [and] class” emerged, as a part of the emergence of self and personal identity.  Charles Taylor speaks of these concepts as “culminating in Romantic ‘expressivism’, the urgent voicing of an inner truth.” (Gunn p. 150)

The Enlightenment, in the 17th and 18th centuries, is characterized by a throwing off of mysticism and the church, a turn towards secularism, an emergence of the public sphere and examination of egalitarianism. However, Jürgen Habermas argues that the influence of the public sphere was beginning to decline, in the late 19th century, just as the influence of gender and race were taking root, and “challeng[ing] the authority of propertied masculine whites.” (Gunn p. 87-88)

So as I go about trying to categorize the historical writing I find, I conclude that Enlightenment writing speaks in a scientific and egalitarian tone, and neglects or even criticizes the church.  Romantic writing is idealistic, involves the historian as ‘self’, and may include the influence of God.  And Realist writing is empirical, and omits the ‘self’ or the historical writer.

With regard to my online exhibit, I found and made note of about eight more images that, assuming I can find copies of them, I could post in my online exhibit.  I have not actually posted them because I am still considering how I want to go about restructuring my exhibit and don’t want to have to re-do any more work than necessary.  As well, I will take this opportunity to note that, ever since I agreed to present my exhibit at the year-end HUgS event, I have been struggling to separate the best way to build a good exhibit for online consumption, with how it will appear at the HUgS as a presentation.

This week I will continue to review historical writing and classify it according to style and message.  Also, while I normally post to my blog on Wednesdays, next week I will not post until Thursday.

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Jan. 9, 2013 – Inconsistencies that Fail to Support my Theory

I have spent time over the past few weeks looking at journal articles in the hopes of finding corroboration of my theories.  You may recall that I had found that the messages in works about black history in Canada remained fairly consistent from 1750 until around 1960:  i.e., that Canada was a relatively good destination for blacks seeking to make a home, and while it had racism and a harsh climate, it offered, starting early on, protections under the law that improved with time.  However, the style of that writing changed.  You may recall that I had drawn linkages between the writing style in works about Black history in Canada when compared to the Enlightenment, the Romantic and the Realism movements.  I had also drawn style linkages to religious movements, such as the three Great Awakenings.  However, what I found was not encouraging and didn’t always support my theories cleanly.

First of all, there isn’t much to be found pre-1800.  JSTOR had 5-10 items from 1744-1793, but a couple were just indices.  The rest support my theory and coincide with the Enlightenment movement being scientific or statistical, and egalitarian.  None made allusions to Christianity despite the fact that the period overlapped with the New Light and Allenite religious movements.

In the 1800-1850 period, JSTOR contains 100-150 articles with keywords ‘blacks’ or ‘negro’ or ‘african’ and ‘canada’ or ‘canadian’ or ‘nova scotia’ or ‘new france’.  Many were scientific or statistical reports.  This may indicate that the Enlightenment ideas of the 1700s resulted in scientific or statistical government agencies that continued on into the 1800s and that these agencies continued to expect scientific and statistical reporting since many of these JSTOR items looked like reports to agencies rather than articles in magazines.

But there is also in this period an emergence of the travelog as a narrative form.  Often these items were written by British travellers on extended visits around North America.  Most spoke negatively about slavery, but in virtually every case this criticism was pointed at the United States.  These travellers may have been biased by the fact that Canada and Nova Scotia were still British.  Or they may have found that either slaves were fewer in number in BNA than in the U.S. or that they were treated more like regular servants, such as indentured servants.  Also, slavery in Canada was declining through this period and abolished in 1834. The best item I found was dated 1814, and is a very short anecdote.  It describes the role of British Lt. John Clarkson who was organizing the blacks of Birchtown NS to resettle in Sierre Leone in 1791, and it describes a heart-wrenching story of a black enslaved man.  This story with its tragic, personal narrative is indicative of the Romantic movement, and coincides, again, with my theory.  In this 1800-1850 period I still found nothing to support the parallel religious movements.  Also, the overlap of the Enlightenment-style of writing that runs into the 1800s runs contrary to my theory but may be explainable as a style that continues even to today, while Romantic writing emerged in parallel.

When I tried other databases looking for relevant articles, I found that most don’t go back in history very far.  One that does is the Periodicals Archive Online (PAO).  One PAO article published in 1832 is specifically about blacks in Canada.  It is by the American Colonization Society.  The most noteworthy thing about this American article is that it is much less glowing about Canada’s response to, and reception of, blacks in Upper Canada.  It reprints a couple of resolutions that were raised in the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly that show a negative attitude of whites towards black fugitives in Canada.    The article also highlights the fact that the fugitives were not succeeding in the difficult climate to the extent that Canadian reports on this subject seem to imply.  The tone of the article is positive and supportive of black fugitives and does not bear any relationship to Enlightenment, Romanticism, or any of the religious movements.  It is neither personal nor scientific.  Despite being published in 1832, it seems more Realist in tone.

All this indicates that the tone and style of writing about black history in Canada was not consistent and does not line up neatly with my theory.  As well, even the messages contained in the writing about black Canadian history are not as consistent as I had thought, although the inconsistency emerges more as I look at views of Canada from outside Canada.  I plan to spend time this coming week going through more articles in the hopes that with more data, I will come to a clearer understanding.  I have begun to tabulate my results in a spreadsheet to try to track the changes in style and message over time.

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