Words and Representation-Central District, Port Moresby 1944-1946 Jia Li Week 4

For my aboutness statement, I first perused the primary sources, the assigned patrol reports for Central District, Port Moresby, 1944-1946. During this process, I took two types of notes respectively: a comprehensive summary of observations, key terms, key events (“key” means showing up most frequently and consistently) and aboutness statement mostly in my own words, and a detailed timeline of the quotations related to the key terms and key events I found in the aforementioned summary. I personally prefer to embed the “timeline” in the corresponding parts of the “summary” as I believe it could make it clearer holistically and easier to analyze. This habit of note taking comes from my experiences of programming. Before I really start typing up my codes, I begin with drawing a diagram of the data structure that I am about to create, in which each class is clearly defined with instance variables, methods and so on. Then I figure out the general logic among those classes and this helps me better understand my project as a whole. I don’t know whether this style of organizing information was correctly applied on patrol report analysis, but I think it might be helpful with locating the main ideas or key themes of a given material, which sometimes may have too many subthemes and branches which may or may not be significant comparing with the core concepts.

My chosen words are “census”, “inspection”, “recruitment”, “pre-war”, “return”, “ration” – in a word, reconstruction. The reason that I chose them was that the routine matters associated with those key terms occupy at least 8/12 (12 patrol reports in total) of the whole volume according to my personal account. In addition, those keywords seems all highly relevant to reconstruction or post-war affairs. For example, health, garden, roads, food, house .etc. all seem related to the key terms above. Garden, food and house are the most obvious matters about reconstruction. Several places in the volume mention that the natives needed to reconstruct gardens for food source, as rations were not going to be distributed forever after the war. Also they recruited more carriers for the reconstruction of roads and houses with statistics attached. The return of natives to their homes keeps showing up throughout the reports. All this implies at least 8 patrol reports of the volume is mainly about post-war reconstructions. The other 4 reports are either mainly about murder investigations or garden damage caused by rain, which seems like a “detour” around the main subjects.

But of course, I have to say, this way of narrowing down the main themes of the primary material which seems rational and fair, is indeed subjective and farfetched. A patrol report can neither be summarized based on mathematical means nor over-categorization. For example, even if we use a frequency tool to count the frequency of a chosen word to decide whether it is a keyword, it is biased, because it may have a high frequency but have no sufficient information about the key themes, vice verse. For example, “health” and “roads” are quite frequently used throughout the volume, but they are also frequently used in many other volumes, which therefore does not necessarily implies they are keywords supporting the key themes in this volume (they can only be confirmed as “common words”). Again, “pre-war” is not a term with high frequency, but there are many relevant issues about “pre-war” in this volume, can we be sure that it is not a key term? Also the patrol reports might not necessarily all relate to the distilled theme “reconstruction” and those keywords chosen might not actually be the real key terms as they were chosen based on my own pre-educated knowledge (cultural context).

By talking to Margo with her aboutness statement, I think I have made a big mistake. Even though Margo had trouble with narrowing down topics and picking key terms, she did a great job of being objective and open-minded. She did not “intentionally” try to find a main focus of the volume she studied, instead, she took notes on a broader scale and patiently summarized them specifically according to the subtle differences between the subjects. Her aboutness statement even informed me about the diseases I had never heard of, such as dysentery. Instead of condensing different groups of information and deliberately looking for the main inter-relationships among them, she naturally generalised them in an objective way so that the audiences can interpret the lives of the natives in her studied district with much less bias. For the highlight, at the end of her blog post, she mentioned about the probable bias against the natives from the patrol’s perspective and I think it’s a good point.

For the future audiences, I don’t really recommend them to read my aboutness statement before the patrol reports. I don’t even recommend them to read my cultural context beforehand as I think that was possibly the whole reason why I tried to match the main themes with the cultural context with bias. However, I do recommend them to know my chosen key terms after their experiences with the raw materials. I think it provides my own perspective of understanding the natives in Central District at that period of time. But whether they think it’s mainly about post-war reconstruction, it is all up to them to judge by themselves. For me, the implications of my chosen words should suggest some main focuses of the how the natives dealing with post-war reconstruction after WWII and their life conditions during 1944-1946 in Port Moresby.

PNG Patrol Report: Central District, Port Moresby, 1944-1946

One Comment Add yours

  1. Rachel Hicks says:

    Hi Jia, this is a very thoughtful reflection. It is great to recognize two different ways to identify key terms. It would be worth bringing this up in class and seeing what others think. I think that reconstruction does represent much of what you encountered and because of the time period and location, there may have been a more consistent them then some of the other volumes. However, that doesn’t mean it is the only thing worth noting. If you think that your aboutness statement needs improvements, this is one of the adjustments you should make for your final curation of the blog posts. This is also something you can reflect on more specifically in your final blog post.

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