Hymns

Summary

This project analyzes 144 hymns sung by southern black Christians from varying denominations, geographic locations, and time periods. Hymns, by definition, are songs or poems of religious context typically used to praise God. While every denomination and congregation have hymns worthy of study, this project focuses on southern black hymnody specifically. African Americans used hymns as a means of emotional and spiritual expression, rather than just praise. Due to this uniqueness, the history of the various black churches can be studied through a hymnological lens that brings new insights to the history of the southern black church community.

The word cloud above portrays the most common words within the entire collection of hymns. Obviously, “Jesus,” “God,” and “lord” are central themes of all the hymns. More interestingly, “gwine” (a southern contraction of “going to”) and “come” also appear in many of the hymns, hinting that there is movement, or the idea of movement. The word “free” appears to be a common word throughout, which indicates that there is discussion of freedom in both a physical and spiritual context. 

This TermsBerry displays similar information to the word cloud. While most of the terms are religious by nature, we get a sense of movement again with this visualization. “Farewell” co-occurs with “brother” and “dear” which implies that one is leaving their home, assumingly for something worth leaving one’s family. Additionally, the link between “promised” and “land” indicates that the term “promised land” is mentioned 4 times throughout the corpus of hymns. This may refer to heaven, but for former slaves and victims of structural discrimination, the promised land may also refer to a land to escape to such as the North, another country, or even Africa. 

The above heatmap is a visualization of the locations at which hymns were found to be sung. There is a large concentration in Virginia and Maryland, while the others are spread out across North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Missouri.