June 14, 2018
The WMQ on the OI Reader
8 min read
I’m delighted to announce that Simon Newman’s article, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Escaped Slaves in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Jamaica,” has just been published on the OI Reader app. This essay represents the first born-digital article published on the OI Reader, and as such is a significant milestone for the Quarterly.
The article will not appear in a print edition of the journal. Instead, it is freely available via the OI Reader. Anyone with an Apple or Android tablet or smartphone can go to the App Store or Google Play, download the OI Reader for free, and use the app to download the article.
What you will see when you do that is an article that uses a wide range of multimedia techniques to advance an argument about enslaved Jamaicans who ran away from their captors and were able to remain free for extended periods of time because of the African-dominated nature of Jamaican life. Newman believed from the beginning that presenting this argument effectively required more than the combination of assertions, anecdotes, and numbers that we traditionally use to describe plantation-era Jamaica. The OI Reader offered him the opportunity to present other sorts of evidence.
The article features:
- Interactive maps of a journey from an inland plantation to Spanish Town and Kingston, including one devoted to the topography along the route and another based on a contemporary map that has been modified to show runaway advertisements that refer to people who fled from slaveholders who lived on the roads in question.
- Images that work to problematize the sanitized, romanticized pictures painted by contemporary European artists. Most evocatively, urban scenes that all but efface Jamaican cities’ African-descended people now slowly ‘populate’ with images of those same people, images derived from other contemporary paintings. In another place, Newman uses modern video recordings to evoke sights and sounds of Jamaican life that have been obscured by the archives of slavery.
- Audio recordings that seek to present some of the sounds—from the various accents of the island’s African and European inhabitants to the songs sung by the enslaved people—that made up Jamaica’s aural landscape.
To produce all of these ‘digital affordances,’ Newman worked with a wide range of people. Anthony King produced the art; David Ely created the maps; and Marenka Thompson-Odlum provided videos and photographs. OI staff members also provided expert help, particularly Kim Foley, the OI’s webmaster. Every WMQ article relies upon the hard work of many people to move from new submission to publication, but a born-digital article, in particular, takes a village to bring to fruition.
For all that is unusual about Newman’s article, however, it is important to note that the essay also features what you’ve long come to expect from a Quarterly essay: exhaustive research, extensive historiographical engagement, and fine writing.
In every respect, in fact, “Hidden in Plain Sight” is very much a Quarterly article. It has been through the exact same review process as any other article that we publish, with five scholars providing readers’ reports and Newman revising extensively in response to the critiques he received from these experts in both Jamaican and digital history. The article has also been through our standard—which is to say, off-the-scale intensive—process of source verification and copy-editing. And it is copyrighted and will receive ISSN and DOI numbers, just like any Quarterly article. But, of course, the article will not appear in the printed pages of the journal – not because I wouldn’t publish the piece, but rather because trying to reduce the article to a print-only form would work against what Newman aims to accomplish with this project.
My hope is that “Hidden in Plain Sight” will be the first of many born-digital articles published by the Quarterly. The OI Reader is a powerful tool for presenting early American history in dramatically different ways. New types of evidence, novel styles of argumentation, non-traditional sorts of narrative techniques – the OI Reader can provide a platform for all of that. And each of those new possibilities can be married to the Quarterly’s rigorous processes of evaluation, verification, and editorial intervention.
Most of us will never write a born-digital article, but for those who wish to do so, you can now proceed secure in the knowledge that a journal like the William and Mary Quarterly might well provide a venue for it. And for those early Americanists who have no intention of doing a full-on digital article, it would still be worth considering how the OI Reader’s capacities can enhance a print-based article.
So, I urge you to read “Hidden in Plain Sight,” both for Newman’s insights and for the window it offers onto what the OI Reader allows us to do with our scholarship. And if you’re interested in producing your own OI Reader article, I’d be delighted to talk to you about the project you envision. Grab me at a conference; send me an email. As Newman’s article demonstrates, we have a lot to talk about.