This is the third in our series of guest posts from researchers with proposals for how the domain dark archive can be interrogated. Saskia Huc-Hepher of the University of Westminster writes:

Calculating the precise number of French people living in the capital and specifying where they live within the sprawling city has to this day never been achieved. The French Embassy itself admits to its ignorance in this respect, stating that there are approximately 120 000 individuals registered at the French Consulate in London, but that they estimate the true number of French Londoners to be somewhere between 300 000 and 400 000. I have devised several strategies to try to determine with more certainty an accurate figure, from scrutinising the number of French-native speakers in London’s state schools (by borough) to examining the quantities of French citizens registering for UK National Insurance cards (by year), and my next tactic is to consult the electoral rolls of each London constituency, pending the publication of the 2011 census data (which now includes questions on identity and language). Whilst I am aware of the limitations of a geo-indexing study, that is, that it will not provide a ‘hard’ figure for the specified period, my hope is that targeted searches might serve to triangulate my current findings. My aim is therefore to use the geo-indexing tool to map out the areas of London with the greatest concentrations of French inhabitants on the basis of the post-codes associated with ‘French’ web sites / spaces. This data would have the potential to confirm either the unexpected findings of the Francophone-schoolchildren investigation mentioned above (unexpected in that the borough with the highest number of French speakers was Lambeth, not Kensington and Chelsea as the stereotype might suggest) or, on the contrary, reinforce the stereotype, as depicted in a map reproduced by the Think London (A. Wlores) report which identified Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Wandsworth as having the largest concentrations of French residents. It would also have historical value in that it would ascertain whether or not there was any relationship between the areas most associated with the London French today and the areas favoured in previous waves of migration to the capital. The findings could then be used in the multi-layered e-resources referred to in the context of the aforementioned AHRC bid.

A study of this kind, focused on the French community in London, would be unprecedented and therefore make an entirely novel and original contribution to both academic and political spheres.

In addition to the ‘physical’ demographic mapping process I describe above, my doctoral research will also involve a multi-modal analysis of the French community websites selected for the Special Collection. Given the inherent and increasing multi-modality of the Internet, an ethnosemiotic approach to the examination of the London French web content would seem to be the most appropriate. My intention is to depict the visual landscape constructed by the French community websites and, using semiotic theory, attempt to infer meaning from the images and draw ethnographic conclusions regarding the community’s sense of belonging; how they perceive and conceive London and its inhabitants; how they (re)present and define their own identity through images; what elements of France and Frenchness they portray and promote, etc. In order to give this visual study greater temporal contextualisation and depth, I intend to conduct a parallel micro-study on the Domain Dark Archive visual data using some kind of image-tagging analytical tool which would allow a word, or combination of words, such as ‘French’ and ‘London’, to search for photographs or images only that have been uploaded onto the (London French) websites contained in the archive. This study could also serve to triangulate the findings of the geo-indexing investigation in that the images and spaces associated with key words such as ‘London’, or specific areas within London, may overlap with the places and spaces that were identified as being particularly French through the geo-indexing process and/or historically. This investigation would therefore be binary in its objectives: visual data for both ethnosemiotic analysis and triangulation of geo-indexing data.

Further investigative mechanisms, comparable to the image-tagging search and analysis tool described above, could also be envisaged with the focus being on, by way of example, video or soundtracks. They were deemed, however, within the framework of the Domain Dark Archive, to be of reduced pertinence given that the earlier websites would undoubtedly contain less meaningful and more restricted data as a result of the technical constraints of the era. It is worthwhile considering such studies, nevertheless, for future scholarly research or AADDA pilots.

Saskia Huc-Hepher

Author; Jonathan Blaney

Originally published 12/11/2012