Research Outline

Public Awareness: Harriet Jacobs & Slavery


To determine the percentage of the population that is aware of Harriet Jacobs and/or her book, 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl'. Also, to find any information that breaks this down by demographic (race, education level, age).

Early Findings

  • According to insights published by the Harvard Library, there is currently "no reliable, publicly-available way to get comprehensive statistics for book sales at this time." Despite this, Harvard Library says: "The only database with reasonably accurate information is Nielsen BookScan which reports point-of-sale data, but even that claims to represent only 75% of all retail sales." However, BookScan (which is now owned by NPD), requires a subscription, which the Harvard Library notes as being "very expensive". Based on this, Wonder was unable to access this database to obtain sales data about Harriet Jacobs's book. Attempts to find sales data elsewhere also proved futile. This is likely due to the fact that, as Harvard Library notes, "The bottom line is that only book publishers have comprehensive sales data, and they don’t usually make the information public."
  • According to SimilarWeb, a domain name dedicated to Harriet Jacobs ( receives less than 5,000 visitors per month.
  • According to Jaaxy, there is an average of 3,577 Google searches for 'Harriet Jacobs' per month and an average of 5,010 Google searches for 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl' per month. SimilarWeb did not have enough data to provide the demographics of visitors to this site.
  • A Google Trends analysis of the keyword 'Harriet Jacobs' revealed that the highest level of awareness (i.e. searches) is in the Southeastern U.S., as well as in the northeastern part of the Midwest and southwestern parts of New England. The states with the highest levels of awareness is in Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, and Tennessee. An analysis of the keyword 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl' returned similar geographic results; in this case, the states with the highest levels of awareness are Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Iowa, Rhode Island, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.

Results of Early Findings

  • There is not enough publicly available data that can be used to understand what percentage of the population is familiar with Harriet Jacobs and/or her book, 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.' There is neither direct data which answers this, nor is there a feasible path to triangulate an estimate based on publicly available data.
  • In attempts to find such data, we looked for book sale figures, surveys which ask the public about their awareness of this person or book, data about keyword searches related to the topic, number of visitors to authoritative sites about this figure, etc. Overall, very little data could be obtained and that which was obtained, while insightful, is not specifically useful in determining the percentage of the population that is aware of this Harriet Jacobs and her story.
  • Likewise, a similar approach was taken in regard to Jean Fagan Yellin and her work, yet again, no useful information was found to be publicly available.
  • As there is a lack of this data publicly available, the best course of action in answering this question may be to devise a survey and submit it to the general public. This research path involves primary research, which is not a service Wonder currently provides, however, we can help you accomplish this by building a list of options/survey service providers that can be used to answer this question.
  • We can also conduct research to find and collect data about general awareness of American Slavery and historical figures tied to this time in history. Although this won't help to directly answer the question in regard to Harriet Jacobs, it can be helpful in gauging overall the awareness of related topics within the American public.