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African American Studies: Getting Started

Resources on African American history, literature, biography, and arts as well as racism and statistical resources

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How to access the Library's online resources from home

Why start with background information?

Four African American women seated on steps of building at Atlanta University, Georgia




Four African American women seated on steps of building at Atlanta University, Georgia, (1899 or 1900). Image from the Library of Congress.


Reading some general information about your topic before formulating your research question or beginning research gives you several benefits:

  • confirms what you already know
  • helps you identify gaps in your knowledge
  • introduces you to vocabulary used around your research topic that can help you state your research question and search for further information
  • provides context for your topic and may suggest various directions you might take your research

You can search specialized encyclopedias and other reference books through our databases:

Subject encyclopedias

You may also find articles about African Americans and their experiences in specialized encyclopedias. You can find more articles like the examples given below by searching keywords for the topic along with the keyword African Americans in our reference databases such as Gale eBooks and Credo Reference.

Research Tip

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects that were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts that retell, analyze, or interpret events, usually at a distance of time or place (Library of Congress). Primary sources are the evidence of history, original records or objects created by participants or observers at the time historical events occurred or even well after events, as in memoirs and oral histories (RUSA). Examples of primary sources include diaries, photos, memoirs, newspapers, speeches, interviews, audio or video recordings, and more.

Please note that terminology in historical materials and in their descriptions does not always match the language preferred by members of the communities depicted and may include negative stereotypes or words some may consider offensive. 

To learn more about what primary sources are, check out this brief video.




Museums and Libraries

Check out our related subject guides

Search terms

Her are some terms you can try when searching in Library resources to find information about the African Americans experience:

  • African Americans
  • African American women
  • African Americans--Social conditions [also history, economic conditions, intellectual life]
  • Working class African Americans [also Middle class and Upper class African Americans]
  • Racism--United States
  • Race discrimination--United States
  • African American [group of persons] For example, African American athletes, African American mothers, African American Catholics, etc.
  • African Americans in motion pictures [also mass media, popular culture]
  • Black theology
  • Racial justice--United States
  • United States--Race relations
  • African American art [also cooking, music]
  • African American studies
  • Black studies

How to combine search terms

When searching in the Library's OneSearch or databases for books and articles, you often need to find materials about more than one concept (food traditions of African Americans) or search for various ways of expressing these concepts (food traditions/cooking/cuisine) in order to find more of what's available.

Here's a video tutorial that explains how to do this efficiently using the Boolean connectors AND & OR

How to find topics in ebooks

If the table of contents of an ebook isn't helpful in guiding you to the information you need for your research, you can try two other ways.

First, you can scroll to the end of the table of contents to check if the book has an index. If it does, use that to see if your topic is in the alphabetical list of things covered in the book. Be sure to try any alternate forms if you don't see what you're looking for at first. For example, if the heading "African American sailors" isn't in the list under A, maybe it's a subheading under under "Navy" in N or "United States Navy" in U.

Another method is to use the search with book feature that most ebook platforms have. For example, on Proquest Ebook Central, you can choose Read Online and then you'll be able to use the Search within book feature.

Articles & Databases


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