Reflections on Blogging

It’s now been over a year since I started history-ing and over a month since my last post, so I thought I’d ease back into writing by reflecting on a year in the blogosphere.

1. Intellectual stimulation

One of the most jarring changes going from a college lifestyle to the workforce was the lack of academic stimulation on a daily basis. and problem-solving transitioned from a classroom to the office. Having a blog gave me an impetus to really think about issues. It forced me to write (semi) regularly, to think about issues, to engage in at least a limited conversation on intellectual topics I cared about. Instead of being a passive consumer of ideas, posts, articles, essays, and books, I became an active one.

The knowledge that my writing would be open and available for anyone to read and judge made me think even harder to develop my own ideas and opinions. If you write a shitty paper in a college seminar, the professor gives you a shitty grade and you file it away. If you write a shitty post, it’s out there for anyone to read. Employers, colleagues, professors, admissions people – all of them now have a growing body of my writing to read, disagree with, and critique if they’re so inclined. For an unestablished scholar like myself, this provides some major motivation to really think and work at what I write.

2. Joining a community

Blogging also let me jump into a vibrant online community of digital historians and humanists. Instead of being something of a sideline observer, I laced up and joined the fray. Doing so not only exposed me to a wide range of new ideas and possibilities, but also introduced me to a number of fascinating and inspiring people – many of whom I met in person at the AAHC and THATCamp conferences. Especially for a younger scholar like myself, having a blog gave me confidence in my credentials and allowed me to participate in a wider dialogue.

Moving forward, the connections I’ve made through blogging (and on a noisier level, Twitter) will serve me for a long time to come. I’ve been lucky in that before I’ve even stepped foot inside a graduate classroom, I’ve have had the opportunity to interact with so many people who I (hope) will be my future colleagues and collaborators. In the insular world of traditional academics, this is a relative rarity.

3. Feedback

I’m a firm believer that there’s no point in writing into a void. While much of my blogging was “for myself,” in that I wrote about what interested me, the most rewarding part by far is the response I’ve received. There is certainly an egotistical and superficial element to checking  site-visit stats. But there is some validity to the point that my writing has already reached a larger audience in a year than all of my undergraduate writing put together. By a long shot. For example, my most popular post, by almost a 2:1 factor, is a rudimentary text analysis of Venture Smith’s narrative. As of today, it had been viewed over a thousand times. This metric might be a tiny drop in the blogosphere bucket, but it will certainly eclipse any audience I’ll have for my traditional academic research, at least in the near future.

One of the more rewarding episodes occurred recently, when a local Connecticut writer contacted me through my blog because she was interested in  Venture Smith. She had stumbled across my posts talking about my undergraduate research on Venture Smith, and had been inspired to do some truly remarkable research on her own. We met yesterday, and I was thrilled to find that not only had she uncovered a fascinating new development, but that it directly related to work I had done. I was humbled to hear that my blog had been an impetus for her to get involved in the Venture Smith community. It served as a great reminder of how blogs can increase transparency and lower barriers between academics and the wider public.

I’m not sure what the future will hold for history-ing. There are bad as well as good aspects of maintaining a blog, and it remains to be seen whether it will survive the time-drain of graduate school. Regardless, blogging at history-ing has been, and I hope will continue to be, an enriching experience.

Digging for Treasure

When I embarked on a summer research project in 2006, I was lucky enough to have the chance to tag along with an archaeological team each Friday. The team, led by Lucianne Lavin and Marc Banks, was excavating the property of Venture Smith, whom I was researching. There was red tape galore – the site was on the property of a nuclear power plant that was in the process of being decommissioned. But through Lucianne and Marc’s kindness, I got a real taste for the grittier and messier cousin of history: archaeology.

I learned a lot about the discipline. Chief among these realizations was that I was not very good at it. My first day I learned how to dig a 30cm square by 1 meter deep test pit. Dripping with a potent combination of sweat and bug spray, I gamely attempted to dig straight down in even, 10cm increments, pouring the shovelfuls of dirt and stones onto my excavating partner’s sifter so she could look for artifacts. Needless to say our test pit gradually took on a fun-house mirror appearance, especially in comparison to the other, perfectly dug pits around us.

My partner suggested we switch off so she could fix some of my mistakes. I was relieved, until I realized that I had to sift dirt while looking for any kind of material culture. Easier said than done. She carefully showed me the difference between a piece of fire-baked pottery and a normal pebble. I nodded understandingly, confidently lifted up the sifter, and promptly realized I was at an utter loss to tell the difference between a rock and pottery shard. Over the weeks, I got slightly better – to the point where I was throwing out more rocks than pottery, but only just. They finally learned their lesson and ended up having me map out each boulder, tree, and test pit on the small section of property using a tape measure and a series of graphing sheets.

Despite my incompetence, I managed to gain a deep appreciation for both the immense challenges and rewards of archaeological research. There is something truly thrilling to be standing and digging on the very spot where your subject of historical research lived. Although I get the same thrill from a manuscript or document, they lack the tangible reality of a material artifact you excavate in the field. Marc and Lucianne’s analysis led to a series of insights into my research that I never would have gained – they discovered the remnants of a dry dock that implied extensive river trade and activity, a faded cart path that likely corresponded to one mentioned in a land deed, and the foundation of a two-bay house and at least two other structures on the homestead. All of these were exciting and valuable contributions.

On the other hand, I was met with the frustrations of what I saw as broad speculation. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I couldn’t tell the difference between a rock and a nail, but hearing theoretical conjecture about Venture Smith’s life and activities based on tiny bits of pottery raised up red flags for the careful, source-oriented historian in me. I am guessing it is simply another form of source evaluation, one that I am far less comfortable or adept with. Just as I would judge a historical record based on its author, writing style, and context, I’m sure Marc and Lucianne bring to bear an equally careful evaluation of material artifacts.

Finally, I can’t resist linking to an article from the Economist’s Technology Quarterly – titled “Armchair Archaeology.” The article discusses how archaeologists are using satellite imagery such as GoogleEarth to plan expeditions, identify sites, and do surprisingly complex analysis. One cool example is using imagery to identify the quarrying and transportation routes of pre-Hispanic obsidian stone: “Mapping these routes has helped archaeologists reconstruct production and trade patterns, and hence economic, social and political relations in the region…” And the best part? It’s free.

Story of a Thesis, Part 4: Maturation

(This is the fourth installment of a multi-part post detailing my undergraduate thesis. See part one, part two, and part three.)

As I continued my research into Venture Smith’s life as a free man, GIS allowed me to construct a visual narrative of his forty years in Haddam, CT. After reconstructing each of his real-estate transactions, I was left with a surprisingly nuanced and revealing portrait of a free black man riding the tumultuous waves of Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary New England. In this post I will present a selected sample of some of these recreated transactions, and briefly discuss what they reveal about Smith’s life and the broader world in which he lived.

By 1778, Smith had gone from the owner of a meager ten-acre parcel of low-quality land, to the proprietor of a sprawling 128 acres:

Venture Smith Property - 1778
Venture Smith Property - 1778

The fifty year-old Smith faced the enviable prospect of having simply too much land to effectively use. Consequently, later that year he sold a twelve-acre tract to two free black men named Whacket and Peter:

Sale to Whacket and Peter - 1778

In effect, the modest real-estate transaction provided Smith with four additional laborers for his land (Whacket, Peter, and their two wives), while allowing him to recreate a semblance of black communal life in an overwhelmingly white town and region. On several occasions in his narrative, Smith mentions buying the freedom of slaves. In exchange, the men would work under Smith for a period of time. His sale of land to Whacket and Peter marks yet another instance of utilizing black labor, possibly in the tradition of “pawnship,” a West African practice described by Paul Lovejoy and David Richardson. The 1778 real-estate transaction offers a glimpse into both the economic and social motivations of a black man deftly maneuvering within a white world.

Another revealing transaction occurred in 1787, when Smith embarked on a joint business venture with a local man named William Ackley. Smith leased a small island in the nearby Salmon River to Ackley, and in the deed, spelled out with precise detail a contract for the two men to construct a fishing seine on the island. The enterprise was divided equally, with each man supplying half the labor and equipment, including lead, hair for ropes, twine for nets, a boat, and general repairs. In attempting to geographically locate this deed, I turned yet again to GIS. The deed spelled out its locations as “off of Beaver Point.” After finding a nineteenth-century map that labeled Beaver Point, I knew roughly where the island was. Unfortunately, the GIS datasets I had been using didn’t adequately portray the island. This time, I employed aerial photographs of the region in order to locate the island:

Lease to William Ackley - 1787

As is often the case, GIS offered up as many questions as answers: The island wasn’t entirely contiguous to his property, so how did Smith come to own its leasing rights? Was it a clause within a previous land deed, or was it an entirely separate transaction? I never found answers to these questions, and this investigative process provided me with the valuable (and frustrating) realization of the limits of historical inquiry. Instead, what the transaction did reveal was the phenomenally diverse activities of an independent property owner in the eighteenth-century. Beyond fishing in the river, Smith engaged in prolific woodcutting, tended an orchard, raised livestock, and engaged in trade throughout southern Connecticut and Long Island Sound.

Of course, as with almost any rural inhabitant with a large tract of land, Smith was a farmer. In order to investigate his agricultural pursuits (which both deeds and court files allude to), I looked for farming data I could use in GIS. Fortunately, the US Department of Agriculture created an extensive dataset of soil quality data for the state of Connecticut. I imported this data into GIS and overlaid it onto Smith’s property, creating a precise summary of Smith’s agricultural activity:

Soil Quality Data of Venture Smith's Property - 1790

I filtered the data to isolate only high-quality soil well-suited for farming. Two factors go into this characterization: the slope of the land, and content of the soil. Armed with this information, I found that Smith enjoyed a particularly rich area of farmland in the upper region of his property. I could personally attest to the suitability of this area, as I had walked through it several times:

The land lent Smith with several advantages. It was a short walk to both his homestead and the Salmon River, allowing for easy access, storage, and transportation of goods. In lieu of employing an official currency (which was famously wracked with inflation at the time), Smith, along with much of the rural populace, often utilized goods and produce as a means of exchange. His lucrative pasture provided him and his family with not only sustenance, but a means of obtaining goods with which to participate in the regional economy. As a black man and former slave, his land granted him with a critical foothold within the dominant economic framework of rural New England.

Without GIS, I never would have been able to effectively analyze the relationship between Venture Smith’s freedom and his property. Instead of making abstract conjectures based solely on written primary documents, I was able to add a visual and quantitative element to my investigation. Suddenly I could answer with precise and revealing detail the questions of where, what, how much, and to what degree. I could now recognize patterns, rebuild processes, and craft a visual construction of Smith’s land. With GIS at my fingertips, “ten acres of land” no longer a set of words on a yellowed property deed, but became a deeply nuanced story of where and what the land consisted of, how it reflected and revealed Venture Smith’s motivations and decisions as a free man, and finally his place within the wider world of late eighteenth-century rural New England.

Story of a Thesis, Part 3: Growth

(This is the third installment of a multi-part post detailing my undergraduate thesis. See part one, part two, and part four.)

When faced with the challenge of exploring the real-estate transactions and land holdings of Venture Smith, I ran up against the methodological barrier of analog technology. Reading the boundary descriptions were not enough. Neither was drawing them out by hand on a piece of paper. I needed the accuracy, fluidity, and versatility of a digital environment. This challenge led me down the path towards GIS, and I introduced myself to Beverly Chomiak, a geology professor at Connecticut College who kindly let me into her computer lab and showed me the basics of the software.

It was overwhelming at first, and the simple polygons I created in the beginning felt a lot like a student driver inching their way around an empty parking lot in a Porsche. I could literally feel the power of the software, as the computer’s hard drive frantically whirred and spun just to boot up the program. But what I was doing with it was almost comically simple. As I grew more comfortable with the interface, I began to explore, and soon hit that eureka moment of placing a series of puzzle pieces together: by creating polygons of neighboring parcels and overlaying them onto a basic map of the general area where I knew his property was located, I could place his first purchase in Haddam:

Once I had those pieces in place, I quickly learned it was a matter of finding data to add to the system. Next up was a hydrography layer, which gave phenomenally detailed information about various bodies of water across the state:

Specifically, this layer revealed something important: Venture Smith’s first purchase in the town, besides being small and narrow, had its eastern portion in a swampy marsh called Dibble’s Creek. Back at Pomona, I enlisted the generous help of Warren Roberts, GIS specialist at the Claremont Colleges’ library. He suggested I look into topography layers, and showed me how to obtain a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) for the region online. DEMs allow the user to minutely examine the elevation and slope of the land, and the regional DEM for Haddam, CT turned out to be exceedingly well-detailed:

Like the hydrography layer, this additional information provided another insight into the quality of his land for that first 1775 purchase: it was incredibly hilly, especially in the eastern portion near the river. Warren also showed me how to create an elevation profile, as if one were walking from west to east across the narrow parcel:

The end conclusion was that this piece of land was not particularly valuable, especially for agriculture: marshy on one end, hilly in the middle, and with a steep bank on the other side. This evidence, supported by a clause within the deed itself, pointed towards Smith using this first parcel of real estate for two purposes: as a spatial placeholder within the town, and as a base of operations for his more lucrative pursuit: cutting timber.

Warren then taught me how to use the DEM data to render a beautiful, shaded effect. Using the elevation data, GIS can create an artificial light source and “raise up” the land to create shadows and highlights. After getting in touch with my artistic background and playing around with transparency, topo lines, and color schemes, I managed to create something that I thought looked pretty good:

While I had spent countless hours examining Smith’s land, both on a computer screen and through on-site exploration, I realized that anyone reading my thesis would have only their imaginations and my flat, two-dimensional maps with which to recreate his property holdings. Fortunately, the seemingly limitless toolkit of GIS allowed me build a 3-D tour of the land through the ever-handy DEM data:


Beyond creating pretty pictures of Smith’s first two property transactions that I could later use as a visual supplement, GIS allowed for in-depth historical analysis of Venture Smith’s real estate. Without this tool, I would have no idea what his first ten-acre purchase actually consisted of. Instead, I knew that it was poor land, and with this knowledge, the technology gave me a glimpse into the motivations and perspective of the middle-aged Smith during those first two years in Haddam. It allowed me to recreate his experience: cutting wood on the side of a hill, moving his timber down the steep embankment and onto the cart path mentioned in the deed, and stockpiling it for transport downriver to a town market center. Using GIS, I knew that these first years were more precarious than Smith let on in his narrative. He faced the daunting prospect of providing for a wife and children, one of whom was a newborn, moving to a new town as black outsiders, and settling onto a narrow strip of land with little to no value. All of this occurred against the backdrop of a quickly-erupting war between the colonies and Great Britain. Armed with the toolkit of GIS and peering through the lens of property and land, I was ready to construct my own narrative of Venture Smith’s life as a free man.

Story of a Thesis, Part 2: Birth

(This is the second installment of a multi-part post detailing my undergraduate thesis. See part one, part three, and part four.)

The need to specialize is a lesson that any undergraduate history major is forced to confront at some point in their studies. I learned this lesson early on in the summer after my sophomore year, when I came to understand the wide extent of the scholarly community who, like me, was studying Venture Smith. In order to find my specialty within this community, I turned to the most obvious starting place: his widely-read narrative.

The one aspect of Smith’s narrative that struck me again and again was his near-obsessive focus on money. Dictated at the age of sixty-nine, the elderly and ailing grandfather managed to recall the exact prices of financial transactions from three or four decades in the past. Scholars such as David Waldstreicher and Philip Gould have written articles about Smith’s sometimes-disturbing commodification of just about everything, including relationships with family members. As an example, on two separate occasions he mourns the death of a child not only with grief, but an exact recounting of how much money their deaths cost him. This narrative theme offers up room for fascinating historical inquiry – had Smith deeply internalized early American capitalist values? Was it a reflection of his childhood experience in Africa, when he witnessed his father tortured to death while refusing to tell his captors where he had hidden his money?

These questions, while interesting, had already been asked and discussed by scholars. Instead, Smith’s exacting financial memory offered up another opportunity. Included in these transactions were several scattered remarks concerning property purchases and sales. Some of these memories included not only a location, but the seller/buyer and sometimes the price as well. I quickly recognized this might be my opportunity for completing something original. So I drove to the town vault of Haddam, Connecticut, and immersed myself within their land records with the happy abandon of someone who was quickly discovering the addictive appeal of archival investigation. After some searching, I managed to find Smith’s first real-estate purchase in the town, when he bought 10 acres of land from a man named Abel Bingham for twenty pounds in the spring of 1775:

Abel Bingham Sale to Venture Smith

I have always known that I was a nerd. But nothing drove home that point more than when I let loose an involuntary and decidedly undignified fist-pump upon turning the page and seeing “Venture a free negro Resident in Haddam” written on the yellowed page. The thrill of discovery, the firecracker string of additional questions that immediately rose with each new piece of evidence – I was hooked. This is what I wanted to do.

Over the course of a week or two, I spent most of my days in the cramped quarters of the Haddam town hall vault, flipping over crackly pages underneath a horrible fluorescent light. I quickly decided to transcribe every deed I could find, which, while laborious, felt like the scholarly thing to do. And during this time, I learned the frustrations and rewards of working with 230 year-old documents. Deed indices, while occasionally helpful, were often incomplete or inaccurate. Venture Smith’s name could be spelled any way from “Venter” to “Vinter” to “Ventur,” and varying had either his surname or simple “negro,” “free negro,” or “a resident in Haddam.” And while transcribing was usually fine, there were several occasions when I labored over a string of words that I simply could not decipher.

As I typed all of these deeds (at the final tally, I found 29 land deeds that bear Smith’s name), I found myself wondering what exactly these pieces of property might look like. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a real-life idea, as I had been tagging along once a week with the archaeological team that was excavating his homestead:

In exchange for granting me access to the property (as I mentioned, it was on the site of a decommissioned nuclear power plant), I did my best to help out and learn the rudiments of archaeology. Of course I likely did more harm than good, as to my untrained eye, most pieces of pottery tended to look exactly like rocks to be tossed aside. Regardless, the experience made me wonder exactly which transactions referred to what parts of his property.

The land deeds used a metes-and-bounds system of measuring the parcels in question, whereby the description would start at one corner of the land’s boundaries, and follow the edges until it met back up at the point. The standard for measuring length were rods (1 rod = 16.5 feet), with direction given either in exact degrees (ex. “sixteen degrees north of south”), or with less precision (ex. “northerly along Abel Bingham’s land”). So one day I decided to sit down with a pencil, ruler, and protractor, and draw out these pieces of real estate. It was strangely therapeutic to become wrapped up in a quantitative exercise of units, conversions, and angles, after countless hours dealing with written words. Of course, my end result was far from ground-breaking:

After completing a few more of these drawings, I became frustrated. Not only was it time-consuming, but my attempts to put it onto a paper map largely failed – issues of transparency, scale, and unit conversion tripped me up repeatedly. But I was still obsessed with the problem: where were these pieces of property, and what did they look like? This frustration with the inadequacies of pencil and paper ultimately drove me into the arms of a digital technology that would widen my perspective on the possibilities of historical research: Geographic Information System (GIS).

Story of a Thesis, Part 1: Conception

(This is the first installment of a multi-part series detailing my undergraduate thesis. See part two, part three, and part four.)

It has been nearly three months since I graduated from college, and almost four months since I submitted the final draft of my senior thesis. I remember dropping off my three freshly-bound copies to the history department in a surprisingly anti-climactic ritual. In my sleep-deprived state, eyes bleary from hours of proofreading close to a hundred pages of my own writing, I experienced more weary relief than triumphant euphoria. Those pages represented the culmination of not only close to two years of work, but in many ways my collegiate career. Despite this, on that day my mind was too burnt out to clearly reflect on the process. Now, with a couple of months to clear my head, I’m ready to revisit the subject. I was always told that you should be able to summarize your thesis in thirty seconds to someone with no prior knowledge of it. This is a modified version of that summary, with a narrative slant on the story and process behind it, and with a special focus on its digital methodology.

The road to my thesis began my sophomore year (2006), when Pomona’s Hart Institute for American History generously gave me a summer research grant. My original proposal included the intention to examine prominent free black merchants in the New England shipping industry. Once at home in Connecticut, I sat down at my computer and had the crippling realization that I might be in over my head. In my grant proposal, I had confidently listed a wide variety of sources, libraries, and archives that I would use. Abstractly thinking about doing research proved much easier than facing the hard reality that I was a 19 year-old who had only a couple of months in order to produce some kind of original historical research that would justify the grant I had received.

This intimidating reality forced me to narrow my topic, so as simply to avoid getting overwhelmed by the challenge ahead of me. I focused my area to a single historical figure: Venture Smith. Smith was born in Africa around 1728 the son of a wealthy regional leader, was kidnapped by slave traders as a child, and sold to a Rhode Island merchant who named his new purchase “Venture.” He spent the next three decades in coastal New England, working under various owners until he managed to purchase his freedom in 1765. Over the next decade, he bought the freedom of his wife, children, and several other slaves and established himself as a prosperous businessman. In 1798, seven years before his death, he dictated an autobiography that survives as a vivid account of northern slavery.

Over the course of the summer, Venture Smith seemed to pop up everywhere I turned. On the very first day I began research, my local newspaper ran an article (the first of many to come) on him. Within the week, I had met the head of an archaeological team who was excavating his former property (which happened to be on the site of a nuclear power plant). Within a month I went on an informal walking tour of another piece of his  former property, led by a UConn professor studying Smith. On this tour I was introduced to John Sweet of UNC, leading national scholar of colonial race and identity and who also happened to be working on a possible biography of Smith. The third person of note on the tour was Connecticut’s state archaeologist, just for good measure. Later that summer I saw a regional museum exhibit which paired paintings with a series of poems composed by the state’s poet laureate, inspired and culled from Smith’s narrative. And the icing on the cake became a project to excavate Smith’s gravesite in an attempt to recover genetic material for DNA analysis. This caught international attention, and included a BBC film crew that ended up making a short documentary of the project. In short, Venture Smith became a historical celebrity.

In the midst of this three-ring circus of film crews, archaeological teams, and nationally-renowned history scholars, was little old me: a teenager with barely two years of college experience. As the full extent of Smith’s popularity as a subject for crowded academic study dawned on me, I became increasingly convinced of the impossibility of completing anything original. The entire experience proved to be a baptism of fire in the perils of doing research on an explosively popular subject. By the time I realized this challenge, I was at an awkward point of no return, as I had already invested too much time into the topic to change course. As such, I decided to take a two-pronged approach to the rest of the summer: collaborate and specialize.

First, instead of trying to engage in an intellectual turf war for the topic, I would embrace the monumental wave of interest and research going on around me. I forced myself to contact anyone and everyone even remotely connected to studying Venture Smith. Second, I needed to carve out a niche for myself, to do something unique and creative in my approach to studying Smith. It was this second realization, of the need for creativity and originality, that would eventually lead me onto the academic and intellectual path that I am still walking down to this day.

Text Analysis of Venture Smith’s Narrative

After reading Lisa Spiro‘s latest blog post addressing text analysis for comparison based research, I decided to try out some of these tools for myself. For my text I chose the narrative of Venture Smith, who was the subject of my senior thesis. Smith was an eighteenth-century black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child in Africa, labored as a slave in New England for several decades, then managed to buy the freedom of himself and his family and become a successful businessman. He narrated an autobiography near the end of his life that is becoming more and more widely used by educators. Following Spiro’s example, I went over to Wordle and created a word cloud of the narrative. Here are the results:

Venture Smith Narrative word cloud

A cursory glance at the cloud shows some basic results. The first recurring text theme was that of MASTER, not surprising given the amount of time he spends discussing his time as a slave. The second theme was that of time (TIME, YEAR, YEARS, AFTER). As an elderly man at the time of his narration, this is also not surprising, and supports the overall sense of reflection one gets from reading the text. Finally, the third theme is that of money (MONEY, POUNDS, PURCHASED, BUSINESS, PAID). One of the striking, and at times disconcerting, aspects of Smith’s narrative is a near-obsessive focus on all things financial. He recounts detailed transactions, including placing the purchase of his pregnant wife’s freedom in terms of the money he saved from not having to purchase his yet-unborn son.

I then went over to TAPOR and used a basic word frequency tool to examine the list. The advantage of this tool over the word cloud at Wordle is that you can set more parameters, including the exclusion of “stop words,” such as “a, the, and, etc.” that comprise the majority of text. Controlling for these stop words, here are the top twenty words in Venture Smith’s narrative:

What is surprising is the sheer frequency of the word “master,” far outstripping any other other word. If we combine “money” and “pounds” together, it would be roughly comparable, however. The middle column displays the location within the text, divided into segments. For example, it shows that master was almost exclusively utilized during the middle third of the text, or a close correlation to the middle chapter of the narrative describing his time as a slave. Simiarly, “money” and “pounds” come up most often during the last third of the text, during which time Smith was a free man and likely more concerned with financial issues.

In order to move beyond simple text frequency, I decided to examine some key words. My thesis explored the role of land and property in Smith’s life as a freeman, so I used TAPOR’s visual cocollator tool and created a basic diagram of the words that appeared most often in the two sentences surrounding the word “land”. From there, I decided to link up a similar visual diagram for the word “time” in order to see any links between these two often-used, but seemingly unrelated phrases:

The two main words that linked “land” and “time” were “money” and “purchased.” It is interesting that the common connector between these two elements of Smith’s life seemed to be a financial one. Or perhaps it points to the fact that his focus on money seemed to permeate many other aspects of his worldview and identity. If I had more time I’d like to do a comparative analysis, similar to Spiro’s, to other contemporary black narratives (Olaudah Equiano, John Marrant, etc.). A lot of room for possibility here.