Methodology


At odd moments in the course of the day, you might raise your head in surprise or alarm at the uncanny sensation of a half-known influence.

~ Kathleen Steward, Ordinary Affects

 

Methods

This research is a mixed-method case study that used city archives and slave narratives to research Amsterdam’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade by tracing back different historical places within this trauma. Through the archival research a sample of different haunting places in Amsterdam was made according to different sound themes. After the selection process, the different places from the sample were visited and the sounds were recorded. Before recording the sounds and shortly after arrival, I wrote down my emotions, thoughts, feelings and different bodily sensations that I experienced at that moment. After that, I walked around the site to first listen and feel the different sounds that reached me. Then I collected the sounds with an audio recorder and ended the process with the same task I started with – by writing in my field work diary. After the recording, a hauntological framework was used not to interpret the meaning of the sounds, but position the sounds in relation with the haunting history of Amsterdam. 

Sound themes

The main methodological challenge of this research in particular and the aftermath of slavery in general circles around the difficulty of attending to experiences and events that are unrecorded, denied or absent. Which representations of these lost memories then need to be used and which ones are most in sync? As Bell researched the haunting in abandoned detention centers in Chili’s deserts through photography with the aim to ‘learn something of the ways in which places ‘hold’ the stories’, this research will use sounds to investigate the past presence of certain places (2018, p. 129). This research proposes to include the subjectivity and corporeality that relate to these memories and that are produced and still felt in everyday life. Sound can help us show these relationships in a deeper way. When moving through a haunting city like Amsterdam, the immediacy and intimacy of sound can bring us closer to the lost memories. To contextualize sound within a corporeal and subjective methodology, I used a field work diary throughout the entire research. In this way, the subjective and affective realities were taken seriously and were actually used as data. Also the memories of my subconscious dreams were written in the field work diary. This resulted in a methodological interplay between traditional (and ‘official’) written archives from city libraries and the visceral and affective traces of sonic representations.

The way in which this research is presented is not only through texts. Taking into consideration that the concept of sound is the center of gravity in this research, this study is presented through a multi-media website. In this way, the sounds are integrated in a somewhat more intuitive experience of reading and listening. Beyond the unpracticality of presenting sound recordings through text, immersiveness can be seen as a general prerequisite for understanding this research topic. In other words, I argue that the whole approach of listening to ghosts can never be fully understood when reading a text. A more immersive and thus bodily experience through audial elements of presenting the work, will help us ‘come closer’ to the ghosts.

Beyond the presentation of sound, representation of sound was taken into account as well. In Sharpe’s work In the wake: On Blackness and Being, different chapters were named after a single term from the history of transatlantic slavery, like “The Wake,” “The Ship,” “The Hold,” “The Weather” (2016). Along similar lines, the sound themes in this research are centered around the concepts that played a pivotal role in Amsterdam’s involvement of the slave trade. By doing this, the research avoids to slip into an economic focus on organizations by instead moving toward human trauma. To elaborate more on the different places used in this research, in this part a brief explanation is presented about the different places that were selected for the sound themes. The place had to be either directly related to ghosts from the colonial history of Amsterdam or named after or owned by the people that have a strong connection with colonial terror. There are many signs that support the claim that there was an economic interest in the slave trade not only among the wealthy elite of Amsterdam, but among different socio-economic groups (Dillen, 1950, pp. 162-167). Dutch businesses thrived on the slave trade: from sailmakers and carpenters to butter and cheese sales people. They sold the goods to exchange or made the tools that enabled the slave trade to exist. So another focus, therefore, was on the means and goods that were intrinsically part of the transatlantic slave trade.

/ The ships
After archival research in the city archive, the different places of the seventeenth-century shipyards were mapped. The WIC did not own a shipyard, but hired privately-owned shipyards instead to build their ships. The biggest privately owned shipyards were located in the eastern parts of Amsterdam, that are nowadays still called Kattenburg en Wittenburg (Balai, 2013, p. 90). Many of the slave ships that were built in Amsterdam, were built in Kattenburg en Wittenburg.

/ The shipped
The story of the slave trade can be re-told through detailed documentation of companies and governing institutes. A lot has been written about the enslaved as direct objects in stories. Detailed instructions were given to captains and officers employed by the WIC about the way to buy people in Africa, the exact arrangements in the slave ships and the prices that people paid for the purchase of the enslaved (Balai, 2013, p. 85). However, the voices of the enslaved were documented far less. In a way, slave narratives can be the solution to listen directly to people who experienced slavery. However, as Banner discussed, there is a problematic nature of interpreting slave narratives without considering white editorial involvement. And although Banner presented relevant reasons to still listen to the true speakers beyond the white abolitionist plots (2013, p. 300), this research will center around a physical place close to the city of Amsterdam since no written histories from enslaved people themselves living in Amsterdam has yet been found. There are stories that partly took place in the Netherlands. For instance, the story of Grennisosaw who went to the Netherlands for a short while to testify in front of Dutch clergy (Banner, 2013, p. 298). Or the slave narrative of Johanna, which was actually written by a white, slave owner called Stedman who fell in love with her (Mok, 2018). With its strong focus on Amsterdam and the lack of direct accounts from Amsterdam, this research will mainly focus on a physical place just outside Amsterdam. This place is the final resting place of Elieser, a formerly enslaved person that lived in Amsterdam.

/ The stored
An intrinsic part of the transatlantic slave trade were goods such as sugar, cocoa and coffee, that were widely distributed to and stored in Amsterdam. The iconic warehouses in the canal belt, owned by prominent merchants and slaveowners, functioned as sites to store the goods that were produced in the colony of Suriname, which was owned with more then one third by the city council of Amsterdam (v
an der Meiden, 1987). To focus on the unheard sounds of Amsterdam the former group of goods were centered in this sound theme. During the archival research, the Bicker family came up many times as a wealthy and influential family in Amsterdam that was known for its involvement in the slave trade.

/ The water
The complete urban structure of Amsterdam has been designed around water with the seventeenth-century canal belt as a well-known example. As DeLoughrey (2010, p. 704) quoted Gaston Bachelard: “water is an element that remembers the dead”, I argue that through closely (re-)listening to the water, the ghosts will show us the contours of the ongoing systemic oppression and resistance in Amsterdam.

Ethics

This research listened to the haunting sounds of the city of Amsterdam. Although no living human participants were involved in this research, lost memories of traumatic experiences are central to this study and had to be taken seriously and treated carefully. An important issue that is dealt with in this study is the ways in which to avoid representing memories in a way that could repeat and reproduce existing structures of violence. This leads to the question: what kind of ethical listening, reading and writing practices must be employed in order to avoid repetitions and reproductions that solidify structures of violence and oppression?

In her discussion on Black annotation and Black redaction, Sharpe provided a methodological corrective for the erasure of Black experience and the appropriation of Black suffering which are both represented by white dominated cultural production (Donovan, 2017). Furthermore, she presented an argument that highlights the relationship between ‘imaging’ and ‘imagining’ and called forth a critical attitude towards images in which Black suffering is presented:

Most often these images function as a hail to the non Black person in the Althusserian sense. That is, these images work to confirm the status, location, and already held opinions of spectacular Black bodies whose meanings then remain unchanged.
(Sharpe, 2016, p. 116)

Black annotation and redaction brings the ethical aspect of this research in focus. Without fundamentally addressing this tension, representing the suffering of others through my own white perspective will be produced in an inadequate and misplaced manner. Therefore, when addressing suffering and trauma of other people, I aim to use a way of underwriting in an effort to shift away from reproduction, which is introduced in the theory section. In her interpretation of Sharpe’s work, Black explained how ‘underwriting as an ethical choice’ is also echoing Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s concept of the undercommons (Black, 2016, n.p.).

To elaborate more on this, Sharpe’s insights of Black annotation and redaction were related to the visual as the following part shows:

Redaction and annotation toward seeing and reading otherwise; toward reading and seeing something in excess of what is caught in the frame; toward seeing something beyond a visuality that is.
(Sharpe, 2016, p. 117)

Black redaction and annotation within a sonic dimension thus means to listen to the things in excess of what is caught in the recording, towards listening beyond the audible that is. Toni Morrison’s concept of re-memory gives much insights to this (Morrison, 2015). Re-memory occurs when a memory is revisited, whether physically or mentally. However, this is not a verb, but a noun – something that actually exists. Sethe, the protagonist explains:

What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head … even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.
(Morrison, 2015, p. 36)

As re-memory is the act of remembering a memory this research proposes a way of re-listening to move sounds to a hauntological framework. Re-listening is a way in which to revisit the past and physically and mentally revisit certain memories. Through re-listening sounds can be positioned in relation to the haunting archive by not only listening to sounds we hear, but also to the sounds in excess. Furthermore, re-memory will be used to question instead of answer in an attempt to resist attaching exact meaning to the sounds. 

Moreover, to deal with traumatic experiences that still move through the social fabric of Amsterdam means to deal with human and affective relations and histories. When constructing a soundscape the researcher is an intrinsic part of the process and not only the passive and neutral receiving device. In other words, my body is not only influenced by the affective trace of the haunting, but is part of a complex interplay between body, city, sounds and affects. Therefore, this research moves with the call for ‘affect as ethics’ by Gunaratnam (2009, p. 4). Beyond the argument presented in the theory section for the democracy of the senses, Gunaratnam emphasized on the importance of auditory sensibility as a part of research ethics (2009, p. 4). In other words, proximal sense experiences like sound can be a vehicle for ethics, because it operates ‘at a membrane between the sensible and the thinkable’ (Marks, 2008, p. 123). This can be seen as a crucial aspect of the methodological and ethical strengths of the sonic in hauntological research, because it focusses on the affective relationship between certain bodies. In this research text, both the practice of re-listening, personal memories and affects are presented in fragments and placed as inline quotations. 

By centering affect and the ethical practice of re-listening, this research enables me to critically reflect on the echoes of whiteness within the analyzed soundscape. Why do we hear certain sounds over others? How do these sound feel? What does it do to my body? What are the distinct relationships between sound and whiteness? As a white, cisgender male, educated and abled body with a Dutch citizenship that lives in the 21st century, I am aware that truly understanding the horrors of a person from the 17th century will be unattainable. Therefore, centering affect and using the ethical practice of re-listening does not only enable me to be critical at my own positionality within the research, it also contributes to a research that does not solidify the very structures that the haunting is trying to tell me.

Methodology


Methods

This research is a mixed-method case study that used city archives and slave narratives to research Amsterdam’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade by tracing back different historical places within this trauma. Through the archival research a sample of different haunting places in Amsterdam was made according to different sound themes. After the selection process, the different places from the sample were visited and the sounds were recorded. Before recording the sounds and shortly after arrival, I wrote down my emotions, thoughts, feelings and different bodily sensations that I experienced at that moment. After that, I walked around the site to first listen and feel the different sounds that reached me. Then I collected the sounds with an audio recorder and ended the process with the same task I started with – by writing in my field work diary. After the recording, a hauntological framework was used not to interpret the meaning of the sounds, but position the sounds in relation with the haunting history of Amsterdam. 

Sound themes

The main methodological challenge of this research in particular and the aftermath of slavery in general circles around the difficulty of attending to experiences and events that are unrecorded, denied or absent. Which representations of these lost memories then need to be used and which ones are most in sync? As Bell researched the haunting in abandoned detention centers in Chili’s deserts through photography with the aim to ‘learn something of the ways in which places ‘hold’ the stories’, this research will use sounds to investigate the past presence of certain places (2018, p. 129). This research proposes to include the subjectivity and corporeality that relate to these memories and that are produced and still felt in everyday life. Sound can help us show these relationships in a deeper way. When moving through a haunting city like Amsterdam, the immediacy and intimacy of sound can bring us closer to the lost memories. To contextualize sound within a corporeal and subjective methodology, I used a field work diary throughout the entire research. In this way, the subjective and affective realities were taken seriously and were actually used as data. Also the memories of my subconscious dreams were written in the field work diary. This resulted in a methodological interplay between traditional (and ‘official’) written archives from city libraries and the visceral and affective traces of sonic representations.

The way in which this research is presented is not only through texts. Taking into consideration that the concept of sound is the center of gravity in this research, this study is presented through a multi-media website. In this way, the sounds are integrated in a somewhat more intuitive experience of reading and listening. Beyond the unpracticality of presenting sound recordings through text, immersiveness can be seen as a general prerequisite for understanding this research topic. In other words, I argue that the whole approach of listening to ghosts can never be fully understood when reading a text. A more immersive and thus bodily experience through audial elements of presenting the work, will help us ‘come closer’ to the ghosts.

Beyond the presentation of sound, representation of sound was taken into account as well. In Sharpe’s work In the wake: On Blackness and Being, different chapters were named after a single term from the history of transatlantic slavery, like “The Wake,” “The Ship,” “The Hold,” “The Weather” (2016). Along similar lines, the sound themes in this research are centered around the concepts that played a pivotal role in Amsterdam’s involvement of the slave trade. By doing this, the research avoids to slip into an economic focus on organizations by instead moving toward human trauma. To elaborate more on the different places used in this research, in this part a brief explanation is presented about the different places that were selected for the sound themes. The place had to be either directly related to ghosts from the colonial history of Amsterdam or named after or owned by the people that have a strong connection with colonial terror. There are many signs that support the claim that there was an economic interest in the slave trade not only among the wealthy elite of Amsterdam, but among different socio-economic groups (Dillen, 1950, pp. 162-167). Dutch businesses thrived on the slave trade: from sailmakers and carpenters to butter and cheese sales people. They sold the goods to exchange or made the tools that enabled the slave trade to exist. So another focus, therefore, was on the means and goods that were intrinsically part of the transatlantic slave trade.

/ The ships
After archival research in the city archive, the different places of the seventeenth-century shipyards were mapped. The WIC did not own a shipyard, but hired privately-owned shipyards instead to build their ships. The biggest privately owned shipyards were located in the eastern parts of Amsterdam, that are nowadays still called Kattenburg en Wittenburg (Balai, 2013, p. 90). Many of the slave ships that were built in Amsterdam, were built in Kattenburg en Wittenburg.

/ The shipped
The story of the slave trade can be re-told through detailed documentation of companies and governing institutes. A lot has been written about the enslaved as direct objects in stories. Detailed instructions were given to captains and officers employed by the WIC about the way to buy people in Africa, the exact arrangements in the slave ships and the prices that people paid for the purchase of the enslaved (Balai, 2013, p. 85). However, the voices of the enslaved were documented far less. In a way, slave narratives can be the solution to listen directly to people who experienced slavery. However, as Banner discussed, there is a problematic nature of interpreting slave narratives without considering white editorial involvement. And although Banner presented relevant reasons to still listen to the true speakers beyond the white abolitionist plots (2013, p. 300), this research will center around a physical place close to the city of Amsterdam since no written histories from enslaved people themselves living in Amsterdam has yet been found. There are stories that partly took place in the Netherlands. For instance, the story of Grennisosaw who went to the Netherlands for a short while to testify in front of Dutch clergy (Banner, 2013, p. 298). Or the slave narrative of Johanna, which was actually written by a white, slave owner called Stedman who fell in love with her (Mok, 2018). With its strong focus on Amsterdam and the lack of direct accounts from Amsterdam, this research will mainly focus on a physical place just outside Amsterdam. This place is the final resting place of Elieser, a formerly enslaved person that lived in Amsterdam.

/ The stored
An intrinsic part of the transatlantic slave trade were goods such as sugar, cocoa and coffee, that were widely distributed to and stored in Amsterdam. The iconic warehouses in the canal belt, owned by prominent merchants and slaveowners, functioned as sites to store the goods that were produced in the colony of Suriname, which was owned with more then one third by the city council of Amsterdam (v
an der Meiden, 1987). To focus on the unheard sounds of Amsterdam the former group of goods were centered in this sound theme. During the archival research, the Bicker family came up many times as a wealthy and influential family in Amsterdam that was known for its involvement in the slave trade.

/ The water
The complete urban structure of Amsterdam has been designed around water with the seventeenth-century canal belt as a well-known example. As DeLoughrey (2010, p. 704) quoted Gaston Bachelard: “water is an element that remembers the dead”, I argue that through closely (re-)listening to the water, the ghosts will show us the contours of the ongoing systemic oppression and resistance in Amsterdam.

Ethics

This research listened to the haunting sounds of the city of Amsterdam. Although no living human participants were involved in this research, lost memories of traumatic experiences are central to this study and had to be taken seriously and treated carefully. An important issue that is dealt with in this study is the ways in which to avoid representing memories in a way that could repeat and reproduce existing structures of violence. This leads to the question: what kind of ethical listening, reading and writing practices must be employed in order to avoid repetitions and reproductions that solidify structures of violence and oppression?

In her discussion on Black annotation and Black redaction, Sharpe provided a methodological corrective for the erasure of Black experience and the appropriation of Black suffering which are both represented by white dominated cultural production (Donovan, 2017). Furthermore, she presented an argument that highlights the relationship between ‘imaging’ and ‘imagining’ and called forth a critical attitude towards images in which Black suffering is presented:

Most often these images function as a hail to the non Black person in the Althusserian sense. That is, these images work to confirm the status, location, and already held opinions of spectacular Black bodies whose meanings then remain unchanged.
(Sharpe, 2016, p. 116)

Black annotation and redaction brings the ethical aspect of this research in focus. Without fundamentally addressing this tension, representing the suffering of others through my own white perspective will be produced in an inadequate and misplaced manner. Therefore, when addressing suffering and trauma of other people, I aim to use a way of underwriting in an effort to shift away from reproduction, which is introduced in the theory section. In her interpretation of Sharpe’s work, Black explained how ‘underwriting as an ethical choice’ is also echoing Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s concept of the undercommons (Black, 2016, n.p.).

To elaborate more on this, Sharpe’s insights of Black annotation and redaction were related to the visual as the following part shows:

Redaction and annotation toward seeing and reading otherwise; toward reading and seeing something in excess of what is caught in the frame; toward seeing something beyond a visuality that is.
(Sharpe, 2016, p. 117)

Black redaction and annotation within a sonic dimension thus means to listen to the things in excess of what is caught in the recording, towards listening beyond the audible that is. Toni Morrison’s concept of re-memory gives much insights to this (Morrison, 2015). Re-memory occurs when a memory is revisited, whether physically or mentally. However, this is not a verb, but a noun – something that actually exists. Sethe, the protagonist explains:

What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head … even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.
(Morrison, 2015, p. 36)

As re-memory is the act of remembering a memory this research proposes a way of re-listening to move sounds to a hauntological framework. Re-listening is a way in which to revisit the past and physically and mentally revisit certain memories. Through re-listening sounds can be positioned in relation to the haunting archive by not only listening to sounds we hear, but also to the sounds in excess. Furthermore, re-memory will be used to question instead of answer in an attempt to resist attaching exact meaning to the sounds. 

Moreover, to deal with traumatic experiences that still move through the social fabric of Amsterdam means to deal with human and affective relations and histories. When constructing a soundscape the researcher is an intrinsic part of the process and not only the passive and neutral receiving device. In other words, my body is not only influenced by the affective trace of the haunting, but is part of a complex interplay between body, city, sounds and affects. Therefore, this research moves with the call for ‘affect as ethics’ by Gunaratnam (2009, p. 4). Beyond the argument presented in the theory section for the democracy of the senses, Gunaratnam emphasized on the importance of auditory sensibility as a part of research ethics (2009, p. 4). In other words, proximal sense experiences like sound can be a vehicle for ethics, because it operates ‘at a membrane between the sensible and the thinkable’ (Marks, 2008, p. 123). This can be seen as a crucial aspect of the methodological and ethical strengths of the sonic in hauntological research, because it focusses on the affective relationship between certain bodies. In this research text, both the practice of re-listening, personal memories and affects are presented in fragments and placed as inline quotations. 

By centering affect and the ethical practice of re-listening, this research enables me to critically reflect on the echoes of whiteness within the analyzed soundscape. Why do we hear certain sounds over others? How do these sound feel? What does it do to my body? What are the distinct relationships between sound and whiteness? As a white, cisgender male, educated and abled body with a Dutch citizenship that lives in the 21st century, I am aware that truly understanding the horrors of a person from the 17th century will be unattainable. Therefore, centering affect and using the ethical practice of re-listening does not only enable me to be critical at my own positionality within the research, it also contributes to a research that does not solidify the very structures that the haunting is trying to tell me.