Papers presented by Jennifer Black since 2019

2023 Detroit, MI, United States

"Reinventing Discourse Analysis with Big Data: Business Jargon in the 19th Century "

Jennifer Black, Misericordia University
Jeff Stephens, Misericordia University

Abstract:

On January 14, 1837, James Green “respectfully” informed his “friends and the Public” that, “thankful for past favors,” he had been able to enlarge his New York City store and stock of dry goods and “respectfully solicit[ed] a call” from all who might be interested. Formal phrases like these commonly appeared in business correspondence, helping entrepreneurs assert their identities as educated members of the middle class. In the unpredictable market economy of the antebellum years, one’s economic and cultural capital was dependent upon subjective valuations of status and reputation. Green’s advertisement suggests that, like other members of their class, merchants and tradesmen learned how to use language cues to signal status in the public sphere. This paper takes a longitudinal look at newspaper advertising to understand how business jargon changed over time. Using open-access repositories, we compiled a sample set of approx. 1,200 American newspaper pages (containing ~20,000 advertisements) dating from 1830-1900. To account for regional distinctions, the sample set contains both African-American and mainstream publications, in both rural and urban locales in the eastern and mid-western US. We developed a Python script to crawl this dataset and locate keywords, adjusting the script to account for variations in typography and other idiosyncrasies. Details about the publication, the specific keyword, and the surrounding context were automatically added to a spreadsheet for later evaluation. From this data, we have identified broad shifts in the language used over time, with intriguing variations along regional and racial lines. These discursive shifts suggest that the business community responded to changes in American politics and culture at different paces and along segregated frameworks. Future work will extend this analysis backward to the colonial period, to trace the rise of respectability politics in newspaper advertising and further tease out the contextual factors that shaped American business language.

Keywords:

advertising
digital humanities

2022 Mexico City

"Whiteness as a Business Strategy: A Comparative Look at Newspaper Advertising in the Age of Jackson"

Jennifer Black, Misericordia University

Abstract:

The American advertising industry was born in the aftermath of the Panic of 1837, when Volney Palmer established the first dedicated newspaper advertising agency in Philadelphia. Palmer pitched his services as a shrewd investment that would ensure one’s business could weather subsequent economic challenges. The surest way to do this, Palmer stipulated, was to earn public trust through advertising that transparently represented one’s “character.” Cultural constructions of character permeated the early advertising trade in the US, as merchants and others clamored to develop positive reputations that would translate into future profits. In print and on the city streets, individuals performed their classed and racial identities in the language they used, the fashions they wore, and the behaviors they deployed. From the 1830s forward, advertisers drew upon the same signaling language to build rapport with potential customers, relying upon educational benchmarks, language fluency, and familiarity with commercial discourse and practices to communicate one’s middle-class identity. Yet such language was laced with coded frameworks that excluded people of color, working-class individuals, and immigrants from the middle class. The resulting public dialogue—between those who would extend middle-class respectability to nonwhites, and those who restricted and policed the boundaries of the middle class—played out, in part, in the vernacular of American newspaper advertising. This study offers a close and comparative reading of ads appearing in the mainstream and ethnic presses to trace the ways in which representations of whiteness reinforced cultural exclusivity in business. Using the language of whiteness as an advertising strategy, white middle-class entrepreneurs appealed to other whites as potential customers, drawing an imaginary line that excluded those who could not or would not conform to such codes of identity. In these ways, the standards of “good character” held up by the business community could serve as a euphemism for whiteness.

Keywords:

advertising
printing and publishing
race
US 19th

2021 Hopin Virtual Events Platform

"Visualizing Character: American Advertising Personalities in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era "

Jennifer Black, Misericordia University

Abstract:

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Franco-American, an American soup manufacturer, unveiled a new advertising personality called the “Little Chef.” Ads featuring the fresh-faced boy often touted the pure ingredients used in Franco-American soups, and invited readers to visit their “kitchens.” “My standard is high,” began one 1909 ad. “I select all food materials before they enter the Franco-American kitchens, and test all our products before they go out,” the boy proclaims. His eyes gleaming, he brings his finger to his smiling lips, to get a taste of the dish he’s prepared. “In this way,” he explains, “the Franco-American reputation for Quality never diminishes.” The boy’s angelic smile invites the reader into his space, providing visual reinforcement for the ad’s textual references to purity, and the intimate conversation crafted by the first-person perspective of the copy. Word and image work together in this ad to construct a humble and virtuous public persona for Franco-American. Historians of capitalism have shown that middle-class understandings of virtue and reputation—what contemporaries called “character”—were central to the development of the credit, banking, and insurance industries in the early nineteenth-century United States, and remained an important factor in successful salesmanship through the end of the century. This paper explores the ways that this concept of character was visualized through branded personalities like the Chef at the end of the nineteenth century. Corporations used such figures in an attempt to build an imagined emotional connection between consumers and producers, cultivating the fiction of personal interaction in a highly impersonal market. Visual media—and especially brand characters—became the conduits through which corporations built, maintained, and quantified their reputations and goodwill, or what today's practitioners would call "brand value."

Keywords:

brands
business and culture
consumer goods
marketing