New Orleans, LA

Literature Professor investigates the influence of black people on pop culture

Pierre St-Jean
Scott Graham/Unsplash

NEW ORLEANS, LA - Jacinta Saffold, African American literature professor at the University of New Orleans devised a research project to keep her students engaged while also conducting original research during the coronavirus pandemic that forced courses to be delivered online.

The result was a literary compilation that helps document Black people's influence on contemporary popular culture through the extensive career of hip hop music video director Harold "Hype" Williams called The Hype Williams Effect Project.

Using digital humanities tools to visualize some of the data, students in Saffold's graduate-level Hip Hop Literature course created an excel sheet of metadata containing demographic information about each song for which Williams directed a music video. The information includes song title, artist, album, song lyrics, number of likes and dislikes on YouTube, and Billboard ranking.

The project will be published in a newly established journal at Emory University, according to Saffold, Post45 Data Collective.

“After inputting more than 300 music videos, I knew the project was too big for me to complete independently,” Saffold admitted. “I have kept the project tucked in my back pocket, hoping for an occasion to finish the work. Teaching Hip Hop's Literature for the first time during a pandemic seemed like the right occasion.”

Saffold is currently working on “The Essence Book Project,” a digital archive that explores Essence Magazine's bestsellers list for fiction published monthly from 1994 to 2010. According to her, the majority of the nearly 500 titles were written by and about Black people. She described the project as cataloging and computationally conceptualizing the Black literary landscape at the turn of the twenty-first century.

“The Essence Book Project helps illuminate how robust Black reading communities helped ensure that Black culture remained ahead of the digital turn,” she said.

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