The State Department Cables relating to Operation Boulder present us with a lexicon of terms used for official purposes. By looking at the most frequently used words, we can start to trace patterns from these telegrams. Using the word cloud generator Voyant, we have worked with a corpus of words from all of the declassified telegram messages in telegrams containing the subject heading “Boulder Name Check.”
Voyant performs lexical analysis on texts by examining a body of text as a collection of words or lexemes, and by counting their frequency and distribution. It then visualizes these component words, weighting the most frequently used ones by giving them a larger font size.
What do these words tell us? What do they obscure?
These name check telegrams were issued, as a matter of course, for visa applicants traveling to the United States, as part of the Operation Boulder screening procedure. Some frequently occurring words, like telegram and page, strike us as banal, routine language.
Others tell us a bit more about the people who were being screened—or really, the most salient details that registered in their screenings. The high frequency of the words brown, black, hair, and eyes, suggests that certain bodies were marked as suspicious—we will go as far as to say that this language actively racializes the screening process. The repetition of these phenotypic markers gives them an extra degree of marking, a visibility produced through language.