What follows is the full text of the paper that I presented at the 2012 MLA, “‘A Report Has Come Here’: Social Network Analysis in the Papers of Thomas Jefferson,” slightly reformatted for the web. The panel, “Networks, Maps, and Words: Digital-Humanities Approaches to the Archive of American Slavery,” also featured talks by Cameron Blevins, of Stanford University, and Aditi Muralidharan, of the University of California, Berkeley, as well as a response from Amy Earhart, of Texas A&M.
I convened this panel out of a desire to address the unique set of challenges posed to the literary scholar by the archive of American slavery—for instance, how does one account for absences in the archival record, both those inscribed in the archive’s contents, and those introduced at the time of the archive’s construction? How does one account for the power relations at work in the relationships between the enslaved men and women who committed their narratives to paper, and the group of (mostly white) reformers who edited and published their works? How does one identify and extract meaning from the unique set of documents that do remain—letters, inventories, ledger books, and personal narratives—documents that, in the words of Susan Scott Parrish, we must struggle to make “mean something more?” And how does one do so without reinforcing the damaging notion that African American voices from before emancipation—not just in the archival record, but the voices themselves, are silent, and irretrievably lost?