CFP for MLA 2017: Periodicals, Editorship, Race and Ethnicity

Edit August 4, 2016: we’ve been selected for inclusion in the 2017 MLA Convention Presidential Theme, “Boundary Conditions.”

Edit May 19, 2016: Accepted!

Cross-posted from

This roundtable invites consideration of how acts of collaboration and editorship might perforate historical acts of writing and reading. We thus respond to important recent work on immigrant, Latin@, and African American print cultures that intersect in their attention to periodicals. In doing so, we regard a structural lack—the dearth of scholarly conversations moving across boundaries of case studies or specific communities—while emphasizing the ongoing work of uncovering these important, “incomplete histories.” Using theories of archival attention, such as Frances Smith Foster’s African-American multilingualism, Rodrigo Lazo’s “migrant archives,” and Kirsten Silva Gruesz’s “cultural ambassadorship,” participants can compare notes on editorship, authorship, and periodicals across boundaries of race and ethnicity.

Specifically, we ask participants to engage larger methodological questions about the study of editorship and ethnic affiliation through case studies of historical newspapers. Organizing questions for this roundtable might include:

–How are processes of collaboration illustrated or dramatized in historical newspapers addressed to specific communities? How did writers, readers, and editors understand their inter-related goals in creating ethnic publics?

—How do specific examples help to posit or answer questions of address, readership, and circulation: how do papers focus on external or internal communities?

–What alternate formats (illustrations, weekly supplements, serial fiction, advertisement sections, special issues/topics) do editors pursue?

–How are editors reprinting in translation: what’s the relationship b/w reprint materials and language communities, and how do editors facilitate that?

–What are the historical or archival difficulties of emphasizing editorship instead of authorship in reading ethnic periodicals?

–How does our sense of various papers’ content, audiences, or circulation within or beyond their immediate communities shape our corresponding sense of how to read and interpret those papers? How does a focus on editorship and collaboration affect our contemporary methods in literary and cultural studies?

Please send 250-word abstracts and CVs by March 20, 2016 to Jim Casey ( and Sarah Salter ( Inquiries welcome.

13 Wildly Different Digitizations

In 1855, Frederick Douglass revised his earlier narratives for publication under the title My Bondage and My Freedom, published in New York by Miller, Orton & Co.

It sold well and many copies survive today in university libraries and archives. A good number of those institutions have digitized their copies to wildly different results.

Browsing all of these copies, I noticed some pretty big visual differences between all of the digitized versions I found. So I gathered all of the copies of My Bondage and My Freedom that are currently available on the Internet Archive and tossed their title pages into a deck. All of these are ostensibly digital surrogates for the same edition.

Perhaps there’s a talk or a lesson plan in there somewhere.

Topic Network of Slave Narratives, part 2

Screenshot 2014-12-15 16.56.48 (click the image to view the interactive network page)

Yesterday I put up the first version of a graph of slave narratives, but I wanted to take a second, closer look. On the second go-around, I improved the layout and the labels a bit, so that they now display the names of the author of each book-node.

Today I wanted to take a closer look at some of the features in the graph. The first thing I did was look to see where some of the most well-known narratives show up. Doc South’s collection isn’t strictly all slave narratives, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Below are some screenshots of what I think are the most interesting features of this network’s topology. If anyone wants to play along at home, you’re welcome to download the node and edge tables I’m using here. The nodes table is pretty self-explanatory. The edges table uses the topic model tool’s contribution to doc as the edge weight.

For the images below, click on each one to open it in a new tab to get a better look.

I’ll start with my favorite part of the graph: William Wells Brown. As Ann DuCille once wrote, Where in the World is William Wells Brown?

Well, according to this graph, pretty much all over the place. Almost everything he wrote shows up in different places in the network. Talk about a versatile guy.

William Wells Brown’s slave narrative in 1847.

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.37.33

William Wells Brown in another narrative in 1849.

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.37.20

In the 1850s, he wrote Three Years in Europe (1852) and The American Fugitive in Europe. Sketches of Places and People Abroad (1855). (There’s an interesting cluster of narratives written by women too). 

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.37.53

Then there’s Clotel, the novel William Wells Brown published in 1853—one of the earliest black novels.

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.38.31

William Wells Brown was still going strong in 1880, up to new things in My Southern Home.

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.38.09

There’s lots of other stuff to explore in this network too. For example, some components seem ripe for compare-and-contrast exercises, like this triad that connects two works by John Relly Beard to one by Robert Norris. How are they similar?

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.33.50

Frederick Douglass shows up in some interesting ways too. His 1853 narrative is distinct from the others, as here. 

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.34.09

Frederick Douglass’s other works are pretty similar by topic in this component.

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.34.44

Sojourner Truth’s narrative has long had a complicated authorship, but at least the 3 versions of her narrative are relatively alike in topic.

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.36.05

Booker T. Washington’s writings cluster pretty closely, as a last example. 

Screenshot 2014-12-15 15.32.13


Lots more to explore, I’m sure. If you find anything, I hope you’ll share.


Topic Networks of Slave Narratives, part 1

Sometime earlier this year Documenting the American South released DocSouth Data, a data portal for their online collections. DocSouth Data makes it easy to download the entirety of their collection of slave narratives. DocSouth has long been a guiding light and inspiration for us over at the Colored Conventions Project. (We’re starting a crowd-sourcing project to create downloadable texts like DocSouth, but more about that another time.)

Their collection of slave narratives has always struck me as one of the great achievements in the practice of American history. They have created online texts of 294 slave narratives—viewable online and now easy to download via DocSouth Data. Bill Andrews has an introduction to the collection over there that’s really worth a read. I think most people probably know about slave narratives through the move adaptation of 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup, but that is hardly a representative sample out of the 294 narratives. If you’re looking for something to read, why not check one out? Here’s a few of my favorites:

Given the massive size (~18,000 pages) and national importance of DocSouth’s collection of slave narratives in American history, I’ve wondered why there aren’t more people using such a large corpus to visualize and study.

Well, I used my Sunday to see what I could do.

I downloaded all of the narratives from this page. After I unzipped them, I generated 40 topics of the entire collection using this Topic Modeling Tool. A topic is, at its most basic, “a recurring pattern of co-occurring words.” More simply, it’s the patterns of words that often appear with each other.

After getting 40 topics, I used the TopicsInDocs file as the basis for my edges table to import into Gephi. That allowed me to create a table of links between a narrative and 1 of the 40 topics. Then I used the multimode network projection plugin in Gephi to create links between the narratives that are most affiliated with each topic. The results are somewhat interesting to browse. Click the preview below to see the full working display (warning: the page takes a minute to load).

Screenshot 2014-12-14 16.56.55


Credits for guides, instructions, and inspiration:

Top 10% Most Active Twitter Accounts (on Friday) at #2014ASA | NodeXL & Gephi

The American Studies Association started their annual conference yesterday in sunny Los Angeles. I’m not there, but I have been watching the conference on Twitter today–lots of cool, smart stuff.

Below is a graph of the top 10% most active Twitter accounts, as of Friday (11/7), out of the 700+ people tweeting at or about the conference. I managed to collect ~4100 tweets that use the conference’s hashtag, #2014ASA, using the surprisingly easy import function in NodeXL. I then filtered and colored the graph in Gephi.


2014.ASA.Friday(Click to view full size.)

Made using NodeXL and Gephi