Teasing out the unseen

How do we find the unseen?

Looking for hitherto unknown – or forgotten, hidden, obscured – BAME presence with a role in British politics in previous centuries relies on us being able to find some clue as to their identity.

The approach is the same whether done by a human or a computer, the search for indirect clues. As we are studying texts, those clues must be in the words themselves. What words?

We produced three lists of words to seed our search. The first list is simply descriptive of the person or their origin: negro, negress, mulatto, quadroon, quarteroon, fustee, mustee, dusky, nabob, anglo-indian, swarthy, blackamoor, moor, african, torrid zone.

The second list involved places, such as Antigua or Jamaica if focusing on the West Indies.

The third list involve ‘curious’ names such as Galgacus or Scipio, as were often given to illegitimate offspring.

Using these as our search terms, we could search large volumes of digitised text easily and retrieve the adjacent words or larger passages for close reading review. We can refine and repeat the searches as learn more about the source texts and the search terms.

Hence, the twin core tasks of this pilot project:

  • Can we access suitable digitised texts?
  • Can we identify suitable search terms?