Voices of the enslaved: corpus-based discourse analysis of historical slave narratives

  1. Irene Elmerot
  2. Klas Rönnbäck

There is a vast field of research on the history of slavery, but very little of this research has depicted the institution from the perspective of the slaves themselves. We will in this project collect a large body of historical slave narratives, and then combine corpus-assisted and researcher-driven discourse analysis of how the slaves themselves described slavery. The narratives are to be gathered form a number of different historical records; estimates from previous research suggest that around 6,000 such narratives from the United States exist in various collections of records. These have been used for very little previous research. We will in this project focus upon socio-economic aspects of the slave narratives, including how the slaves depict their working and living conditions, but the corpus will also allow for future research on other aspects of slavery.

Currently, some of the narratives are already in .txt format, whereas other are digitised as pictures of book pages, an others are still physical books in archives. One aim of this presentation is to get useful feedback on corpus tools and methods to eventually create one semi-large (rough approximation is 10 million words) meta-tagged and annotated corpus divided into about a handful of subcorpora. We would also appreciate general scientific feedback on the feasibility and timeframe of this project, which is currently in a planning phase.