To the Shores of Tripoli- Print Project Proposal

I was very impressed with the research conducted by Michael Whitmore and Jonathan Hope in Shakespeare by the Numbers: On the Linguistic Texture of the Late Plays, as the article revealed how quantitative analyses of texts can enhance one’s comprehension of their literary features.  In a similar manner, I hope to more fully understand the “linguistic footprint[s]” of documents from the Barbary Wars.[1]

Although I intend on doing a digital project for this course, my hypothetical print project would entail using Voyeur to evaluate primary source documents from the U.S. conflicts with the Barbary States (Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis).  Collectively known as the Barbary “pirates,” beginning in the mid-1780s the navies from these four nations began capturing American merchant vessels, enslaving the crews, and offering ships and sailors back for ransom money.  For this project, though, I would focus on 1796-1805, as this time period saw escalating tensions that culminated in the Tripolitan War of 1801-1805 (the first U.S. war against a non-white country).

As I have mentioned in class, my dissertation takes a cultural and gender approach to examining America’s relations with the Barbary Powers from 1784-1815.  I argue that the Barbary Wars created an early sense of American cultural exceptionalism, as American participants constantly denigrated the North African men’s masculinity through describing them as effeminate, militarily inept, sexually deviant, and unfit for democracy.

As a brief background, Presidents Washington and Adams preferred to pay tribute to purchase temporary peace and ransom, creating a sense of humiliation and emasculation among many American officials.  Shortly after becoming president in May 1801, however, Thomas Jefferson dispatched the young American navy to the Mediterranean Sea; various naval battles occurred throughout the next four years.  Concurrently, U.S. consul in Tunis William Eaton aspired to implement a coup in Tripoli, which led to a smashing victory in the coastal city of Derne in March 1805 that is commemorated in the Marine Corps Hymn lyric “from the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.”  Shortly after, a treaty was signed with the bashaw (ruler) of Tripoli, in which the U.S. paid $60,000 for peace and the freedom of three hundred captives from the ship Philadelphia.

By utilizing Voyeur to gather diction, grammar, and verb tense data from the correspondence among American diplomats, naval officers, and politicians, I could determine linguistic patterns from which to draw conclusions.  Sources are readily available, as the federal government printing office produced the six-volume Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers during FDR’s administration.[2]

Using Voyeur would also add additional layers of subtlety to my research by allowing me to easily compare the correspondence of different classes of Americans to discover if they used significantly different language to describe the Barbary pirates.  American sailors came from the lower social order, while the diplomats and politicians hailed from the middle-to-high classes.  I would have to decide which documents to choose, as looking through volumes of sources for this course project would be unfeasible.  I think it would be best to draw both from texts that I have already cited in my research and those that I have reviewed, but did not include.  Perhaps Voyeur could help me see importance that I have overlooked.  Further, I would like to examine change over time.  Did descriptions of the North African men written by these groups of American participants change in intensity as the Barbary conflicts intensified?

I have known that my dissertation would be interdisciplinary in nature since it will incorporate a substantial amount of literature, including captivity narratives, plays, and poems (I can eventually use Voyeur to examine these, too).  Coming into this semester, I was unaware of the potential impact digital tools could have on my research.  I am delighted to have to learned about many of them and, although I intend to build a website about the Barbary Wars for my class project, I plan on using Voyeur during my dissertation research.


[1] Michael Whitmore and Jonathan Hope, “Shakespeare by the Numbers:  On the Linguistic Texture of the Late Plays,” Early Modern Tragicomedy, eds. Subha Mukherji and Raphael Lyne (Woodbridge, Suffolk:  D.S. Brewer, 2007), 150.

[2] Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, 6 vols. (Washington D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1939).

One Reply to “To the Shores of Tripoli- Print Project Proposal”

  1. Great proposal. It is fantastic that that GPO 6 volume set exists. Even better it looks like the whole thing is digitized and available in full text. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000367640

    I think the parallel you are drawing between your project and the Shakespeare by the numbers piece is great. Particularly as you focus in on the kinds of words that different kinds of individuals are using to describe the conflict over time.

    If/when you get around to looking at these texts in this way I think the critical part is going to be developing categories of them to test out ideas on. In the case of the Shakespeare texts, the lit scholars had already developed a set of theories about what they would find and then were able to substantiate those ideas through the analysis.

    With this noted, I think you are going to get some more valuable material from our upcoming discussion of Google ngram and Mike Davies work on the corpus of American english.

    Glad to see that you are making use of this for your work even if your not planing to pursue this particular project. Looking forward to reading about your digital proposal.

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