Introduction: “Tweets of a Native Son”

November 05, 2016

I started this blog largely because I wanted to start sharing some thoughts and updates about my project “Tweets of a Native Son,” a large-scale computational analysis of tweets that mention “James Baldwin” in relationship to Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Like many other Americans, I was glued to my Twitter feed in August, 2014 as I watched the protests unfold in Ferguson, MO, just miles away from my home and university in St. Louis. The weeks and months following Michael Brown’s shooting revealed a rapidly developing relationship between social media, especially Twitter, and racial justice, as it provided new platfroms for organization, counternarrative, and conversation. As a literary scholar, I was particularly interested in the ways that people were invoking and quoting literature in their tweets about Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter, particularly when they were invoking and quoting James Baldwin, which seemed frequently.

What about Baldwin seems to resonate with our particular historical moment and this particular platform? Which of Baldwin’s texts and which kinds of texts—fiction, non-fiction, interviews, etc.—are being most frequently cited? What might this tell us about how Baldwin’s legacy is being constructed and used by readers? My project seeks to answer these questions and more by conducting a large-scale computational analysis of tweets about Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, as well as a careful close reading of individual tweets and narrative patterns.

The project is still very much in-progress, but I’m sharing my findings, thoughts, and continuing questions in this space. If you decide to follow along, I’d really appreciate feedback, so feel free to leave a comment below, email me at [email protected], or tweet me at @mellymeldubs.