A short story of institutional repositories, slaves, politics and the media.

Thomas Thistlewood was a slaver. Living in Jamaica in the 18th century his diaries detail the everyday oppressive conditions of his slaves, including the important connection between the black and white communities forged by white women, who while they were sexually exploited by white men also carried knowledge of the communities back and forward.

A 1994 History Master’s thesis about Thistlewood, “Thomas Thistlewood and Women Slaves” by Karen Rule (Rule, 1994) has rocketed in popularity on the UC research repository. There have been almost 2,000 downloads in the last week alone: far more than have looked at it since it was uploaded in 2010.

Why the sudden interest? A bit of detective work found that it was all about US congressional politics and media hyperbole.

I thought that because of the interest in recent domestic servitude and slavery cases in Europe and the US, people were searching about women’s slavery, but Google analytics showed that people were searching for information on Thomas Thistlewood. That l then lead them to Rule’s thesis, one of the top results in a Foogle search. In fact, looking at Google Trends, searches for Thistlewood have become very popular recently.

Google Trends search for "Thomas Thistlewood"
Google Trends search for “Thomas Thistlewood”

The answer to why Thistlewood had become so suddenly interesting came when I looked at a Google news search. Martin Bashir, a US TV news anchor had criticised Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s claim that the US was a slave to Chinese financial debt. In doing that, he had referenced Thistlewood, and some of the appalling acts that had Thistlewood had documented in disciplining the slaves. Palin had struck back, and Bashir had to apologise. (Ballhaus, 2013)

This had caused a swell in interest in Thistlewood, hence the searches, and the interest in the material in the repository which was one of google’s top results.

Note: the UC Research repository holds almost 10,000 theses and research articles created by scholars at the the University of Canterbury. It is one of the top 100 institutional repositories in the world. (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 2013)


Ballhaus, R. (2013, November 22). MSNBC host’s attack on Sarah Palin draws criticism. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304607104579214351423986422
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas. (2013, July). July 2013 Edition. Ranking Web of Repositories. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://repositories.webometrics.info/en/node/19
Google Trends. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://www.google.com/trends/explore
Rule, K. (1994). UC Research Repository: Thomas Thistlewood and women slaves. Retrieved November 25, 2013, from http://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/4674

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