Mapping Caribbean Diasporic Networks by way of the Correspondence of Andrew Salkey


It is a visitor submit by Natalie Lucy, a PhD scholar at College School London, who lately undertook a British Library placement to work on a mission Mapping Caribbean Diasporic Networks by way of the correspondence of Andrew Salkey.

Challenge Goals

The mission, supervised by curators Eleanor Casson and Stella Knowledge, focussed on the in depth correspondence contained inside Andrew Salkey’s archive. One of many preliminary aims was to digitally depict the motion of key Caribbean writers and artists, as it’s evidenced throughout the correspondence, lots of whom travelled between Britain and the Caribbean in addition to the USA, Central and South America and Africa. Though Salkey corresponded with a various vary of individuals, we due to this fact centered on the letters in his archive which had been from Caribbean writers and teachers and which illustrated  patterns of motion of the Caribbean diaspora. A lot of the correspondence stems from Sixties and Nineteen Seventies, a time when Andrew Salkey was significantly lively each within the Caribbean Artists Motion and, as a author and broadcaster, on the BBC.

Photograph of Andrew Salkey's head and shoulders in profile

{Photograph} of Andrew Salkey

Andrew Salkey was uncommon not just for the panoply of writers, artists and politicians with whom he was linked, however that he sustained these relationships, fastidiously preserving the correspondence which resulted from these networks. My private curiosity on this mission stemmed from the truth that my PhD seeks to think about the ways in which the Caribbean trickster character, Anancy, has traditionally been reinvented to say one thing about heritage and id. Vital to that query was the way in which that the Caribbean Artists Motion, a dynamic group of artists and writers shaped in London within the mid-Sixties, and of which Andrew Salkey was a founder, appropriated Anancy, reasserting him and the folktales to convey one thing of a literary ‘voice’ for the Caribbean. For that reason, I used to be additionally within the writing networks which had been evidenced throughout the correspondence, along with their impression.

What’s Gephi?

Previous to beginning the mission, Eleanor, who had catalogued the Andrew Salkey archive and Digital Curator, Stella, had recognized Gephi as a potential software program utility by way of which to visualise this knowledge. Gephi has been utilized in a wide range of initiatives, together with a number of at Harvard College, examples of the breadth and variety of these initiatives might be discovered right here. A number of of those initiatives have social networks or historic buying and selling routes as their focus, with apparent parallels to this mission. Others notably use correspondence as their important knowledge.

Gathering the Information

Andrew Salkey was generally known as one thing of a chronicler. He was eager about letters and journey and was additionally a severe collector of stamps. As such, he had not solely retained the vast majority of the letters he acquired however categorised them. Eleanor had initially recognized potential correspondents who is perhaps helpful to the mission, deciding on writers who travelled broadly, whose correspondence had been individually saved by Salkey, partly due to its quantity, and who is perhaps of wider curiosity to the general public. These included the acclaimed Caribbean writers, Samuel Selvon, George Lamming, Jan Carew and Edward Kamau Brathwaite and publishers and political activists, Jessica and Eric Huntley.

Our preliminary intention was to restrict the info to easy information which may simply be gleaned from the letters. Gephi required that we did so on a spreadsheet ,which needed to conform to a specific format. Within the first phases of the mission, the info was confined to the dates and placement of the correspondence, info which may counsel the patterns of motion throughout the diaspora. Nonetheless, the letters had been so wealthy intimately, that we finally recorded different info. This included any further journey taken by any of the correspondents,  and which was clearly evidenced within the letters, along with any passages from the correspondence which demonstrated both one thing of the character and high quality of the friendships or, alternatively, the mutual advantage of these relationships to the careers of so lots of the writers.

Creating a visible community

Dr Duncan Hay was invited to collaborate with me on this mission, as he has appreciable experience on this discipline, his analysis pursuits embody net mapping for tradition and heritage and knowledge visualisation for literary criticism.  After the preliminary knowledge was collated, we mentioned with Duncan what visualisations may very well be created. It grew to become obvious early on that making a visualisation of the social networks, versus the patterns of motion, is perhaps comparatively easy by way of Gephi, an utility which was significantly helpful for this sort of graph. I had ready a spreadsheet however, Gephi requires the info to be introduced in a strictly constant method which meant that any anomalies needed to be eradicated and the info successfully ‘cleaned up’ utilizing Open Refine. Gephi additionally requires that info is introduced by the use of a system of ‘nodes’; ‘edges’  and ‘attributes’ with corresponding spreadsheet columns. In our mission, the ‘nodes’ referred to Andrew Salkey and every of the correspondents and different people of curiosity who had been particularly referred to throughout the correspondence. The sides referred to the way in which that these individuals had been linked which, on this case, was by way of correspondence. Nonetheless, what added to the potential of the mission was that these nodes and edges may very well be additional described by reference to ‘attributes.’ The potential for assigning a variety of ‘attributes’ to every of the correspondents allowed a wealth of further info to be offered concerning the networks. As a consequence, and with the intention to make any visualisation as informative as potential, I additionally added temporary biographical info for every of the writers and artists to be inputted as ‘attributes’ along with some rationalization of the character of the networks that had been being illustrated.

The visible illustration beneath reveals not solely the amount of letters from the pattern of correspondents to Andrew Salkey (the pink strains),  but additionally reveals which different correspondents shaped a part of these networks and had been referenced as associates or contacts inside particular gadgets of correspondence. For instance, George Lamming references educational, Rex Nettleford and author and activist, Claudia Jones, the founding father of the Notting Hill Carnival, in his correspondence, connections that are depicted in gray. 

Data visualisation of nodes and lines representing Andrew Salkey's Correspondence Network

Gephi: Andrew Salkey correspondence community

The purpose was, nonetheless, for the visualisation to even be interactive. This required appreciable additional manipulation of the format and instruments. On this illustration you possibly can see the data that’s revealed concerning the outstanding Barbadian author, George Lamming which, in an interactive format, might be accessed by way of the ‘i’ symbols beside lots of the nodes colored in inexperienced.  

While Gephi was a useful gizmo with which for example the networks, it was much less useful as a strategy to exhibit the patterns of motion, one of many main aims of the mission. A problem was, due to this fact, to create a map which may very well be each interactive and illustrative of the particular areas of the correspondents in addition to their motion over time. With Duncan’s enter and experience, we opted for a hybrid strategy, utilising two principal methods for example the info: we used Gephi to create a visualisation of the ‘networks’ (above) and one other software program instrument,, to point out the diasporic motion.

A static model of what finally might be a ‘shifting’ map (illustrating correspondence as regards to particular person, date and placement) is proven beneath. In addition to demonstrating patterns of motion, it must also be potential to entry details about particular letters in addition to their shelf numbers by way of this map, hopefully making the archive extra accessible.

Data visualisation showing lines connecting countries on a map showing part of the Americas, Europe and Africa

Patterns of diasporic motion from Andrew Salkey’s correspondence, illustrated in

While we’re nonetheless exploring the potential of this mission and the way it would possibly intersect with different areas of analysis and archives, it has already revealed one thing of the advantages of this sort of knowledge visualisation. For instance, a mission of this sort may very well be used as an academic instrument, offering one thing of a easy, however dynamic, introduction to the Caribbean Artists Motion. Having the ability to visualise the mission has additionally allowed us to enter info which confirms the place particular letters of curiosity is perhaps discovered throughout the archive. In the end, it’s hoped that the mission will supply methods to make a wealthy, but arguably undervalued, archive extra accessible to a wider viewers with the potential to copy one thing of an introductory mannequin, or ‘pilot’ for additional archives sooner or later. 


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