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Information Literacy

Africana Studies

Majors Research Skills

All majors in Afro-American Studies are expected to be capable of doing research in three major areas—literature, history, and social science—as well as to bring those and other methodologies together in interdisciplinary efforts.  By the time they graduate, all majors should understand how scholars of Afro-American Studies conduct research and how they communicate the results of their work to colleagues. One way of describing this understanding is “information literacy” – i.e. the ability to conceptualize what information is needed combined with the skills necessary to locate, evaluate, and effectively and ethically use this information.

Writing Intensive Classes

Before entering upon work in their major, students should take at least one writing intensive class. Students who have taken writing intensive classes should have learned the following skills:

  • To define and articulate the need for information and identify a variety of types and formats of potential sources for information beyond the web search engine [AT THE VERY LEAST – students will be able to identify and locate the two most appropriate types of information needed to complete their assignment.]
  • To articulate and apply initial criteria for evaluating both the information and its sources [AT THE VERY LEAST – students will be able to distinguish between popular and scholarly materials in a variety of formats such as books, periodical literature, and websites.]
  • To acknowledge and cite the sources used in conducting research for an assignment using an acceptable style guide [AT THE VERY LEAST – students will be able to locate the appropriate style guide and emergency online help.]

These skills may be regarded by all students as a base for further study. Help is available through the Neilson Library Reference Department's Ask a Librarian options.

Any student contemplating Afro-American Studies as a major is encouraged to take the department's writing intensive course, FYS 148: Migration Stories: Border Crossing and Becoming in African-American Literature.

Beginning Afro-American Studies Majors

Two of the four required courses for the major are introductory, and both provide a chance to learn particular research skills. In AAS 111: Introduction to Black Culture, students will:

  • Focus on major debates, aesthetics and turning points in black culture
  • Learn to recognize interdisciplinary approaches to scholarship
  • Begin to acquire the skill of textual close reading (of written, visual and sound texts)
  • Complete an annotated bibliography assignment

In AAS 117: The History of Afro-American People to 1954, students will learn to:

  • Analyze primary documents
  • Differentiate between primary and secondary historical sources
  • Examine a variety of historical sources including written documents, audio, visual and archival materials

In both courses, students will also learn to:

  • Recognize the limitations of web search engines for academic research
  • Perform basic background research (see below)
  • Use the Five College Library Catalog to locate known items, perform basic subject searches, and access print reserves
  • Access basic article databases to locate scholarly articles (see below)
  • Apply questions to a specific text
  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it
  • Appropriately acknowledge print and non-print sources using a standard citation format (e.g. MLA, Chicago or APA)

Basic sources for Afro-American studies majors

Background Call Number/Access
Oxford African American Studies Center Articles & reference sources including primary source documents, images, maps, charts, more...
Encyclopedia of African American Culture & History SC Neilson ref E 185 .E54 2006
Five College Library Catalog Search for books and more in the online catalog.
Academic Search Premier (1965+) Covers the social sciences, humanities, arts, and sciences.
JSTOR Back issues excluding most recent 2-5 years, plus current coverage for selected titles. Includes journals in African-American Studies
Project Muse (recent issues) Arts and humanities including journals in African-American and African Diaspora Studies
Journal Locator Search by journal title for full text online, print holdings, and connect to Interlibrary Loan

Intermediate-Level Study in the Major

The primary course at the intermediate level is AAS 201: Methods of Inquiry. The course is designed to introduce a student to the history and practices of various disciplinary methods used in Afro-American studies. A student in 201 will learn how to propose a research question, as well as how to pursue it to completion. This course is the gateway to further research practice in the major.

Because Afro-American Studies is an interdisciplinary major, students must become familiar with the research practices of at least three disciplines. At the intermediate level, students learn to hone specific disciplinary skills in history, literature and social science, while extending the introduction they had to interdisciplinary work in AAS 111. This is also where students are introduced to doing presentations.  In these courses, students will learn to:


  • Engage in critical analysis, with an emphasis on writing interpretive essays on literature
  • Use literary critical terms and various methodologies of interpretation and argumentation
  • Become more perceptive readers and persuasive writers
  • Use critical essays and historical sources to contextualize the literary texts


  • Locate primary sources available in the Five Colleges or beyond from references in secondary sources
  • Become familiar with digitized primary sources such as The Chicago Defender, The Christian Recorder, The Colored American/Weekly Advocate, etc.
  • Assess primary sources, determining what constitutes evidence, opinion, or contradiction; and recognize the varying perspectives of participants in the same event
  • Explore the methods relevant to historical documents

Social Science (Sociology & Anthropology)

  • Engage in qualitative and quantitative research material to interpret and analyze human behavior
  • Read and interpret social scientific explanations of culture and identity
  • Use census and survey data, semi-structured interviews, and genealogical research

Interdisciplinary Research and Intersectional Analysis

Some of our intermediate courses are grounded firmly in interdisciplinary methods that emphasize intersectional analysis; in these courses, students will:

  • Perform close reading of various kinds of texts (visual, written and sound)
  • Conduct research using historical, literary and social science methods
  • Examine race, gender, sexuality, class, region and other sites of identification as interdependent and fundamental aspects of the social world
  • Use library databases
  • Create original arguments applying philosophical/theoretical concepts introduced in class
  • Recognize and execute both descriptive scholarly writing and analysis organized through the provision of a thesis or argument

Intermediate and Advanced Sources for Afro-American Studies Majors

Background Reference Call Number      
Encyclopedia of African American History 1619-1895 ref E 185 .E545 2006
or online
Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture ref DT 16.5 .E53 2008
Black Women in America ref E 185.86  .B542 2005
or online
Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration ref E 185.6 .E54 2006
Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions ref BL 2462.5  .E53 2001
Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature ref PS 153 .N5  G73 2005  
Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore ref GR 111 .A47  G74 2006
Writing African American Women: An Encyclopedia of Literature by and about Women of Color ref PS 153 .N5  W756 2006


WorldCat Extensive catalog (OCLC) of books, serials, media, web resources, and more worldwide.


Secondary Articles:  Journals/Newspapers/Articles
International Index to Black Periodicals (1900+) International coverage of culture, history, multidisciplinary politics, religion, and social issues.
G.K. Hall Index to Black Periodicals SC Neilson Stacks:  AI 3  .O4    
The Kaiser Index to Black Resources (1948-1986) SC Neilson Reference/1 North: E 185  .K24 1992
America: History & Life (1953+) American and Canadian history, popular culture, anthropology, sociology, economics, education, and politics.
Historical Abstracts (1956+) Covers history after 1450, excluding U.S. and Canada; lists articles, books, collections, and dissertations.

MLA International Bibliography (1926+)

From the Modern Language Association of America, index to literature, language and more.
Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL) (1920+) Index to books, articles, critical editions of literary works, book reviews, essays and dissertations
Social Sciences:  
Sociological Abstracts (1952+) Abstracts for articles, papers, books, and dissertations in the social and behavioral sciences.
ASSIA: Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts (1987+) Abstracts for articles in social services, health, psychology, sociology, economics, politics, race relations and education.
Anthropology Plus (late 19th century to present) Indexes articles and reports in anthropology, ethnology, archaeology, folklore, etc.
AnthroSource (coverage varies) Scholarly journals from the American Anthropological Association.
Primary Source Articles

Ethnic NewsWatch (1960+)

Full text newspapers, magazines and journals of the ethnic, minority and native press.
African American Newspapers: The 19th Century (coverage varies) Articles from The Christian Recorder, The Colored American/Weekly Advocate, Frederick Douglass Paper, Freedom's Journal, The National Era, The North Star, and Provincial Freeman.
Chicago Defender Historical (1905-1975) Online archive of articles, editorial cartoons, photographs, advertisements, etc. from this important African-American newspaper.
Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang SC Neilson Reference/1 North: PE 3727 .N4  M34 1994b  

At this level, students will also become familiar both with discipline-specific scholarly journals and more general publications that nonetheless publish articles on Afro-American topics:

Core Journals Access        
African American Review click here
Afro-Hispanic Review click here
Callaloo click here
The Journal of African American History click here
Journal of Black Psychology click here
Journal of Black Studies click here
Journal of Negro Education click here
Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism click here
Race and Class click here
Review of Black Political Economy click here
Slavery and Abolition: a Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies click here
Other Important Journals  
African Studies Review click here
American Historical Review click here
Journal of Marriage and Family click here
MELUS: Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States click here
Transition click here
Transforming Anthropology click here
William and Mary Quarterly click here


At the advanced level, Afro-American studies students are expected to be expert in doing research in at least one discipline, familiar with the other areas, and able to engage interdisciplinary projects. Students are expected to be strong writers, to be familiar with using library databases to find scholarly and popular references, and to be able to critique and cross-reference sources.

These research skills are highlighted in the capstone seminar, which will be selected and designated annually from among the seminars being offered by the department. This course is intended to encourage students to study a particular topic, era, or figure in depth and with a greater attention to research excellence.  In this course, a student will be asked to engage a research project of some length, using the tools of a particular method of study, or of interdisciplinarity.  The expectation in this course, as in all seminars, is a finer and deeper exploration of ideas based on strong research skills. Finally, in all seminars, students are expected to give presentations.

At this level, students will:

  • Show a range of critical thinking across various genres of expression (plays, poetry, essays, novels, history, or ethnography)
  • Integrate varying bodies of knowledge (historical, sociological, literary, and philosophical)
  • Exhibit and practice writing and oral presentation skills
  • Engage in a research project that involves work with primary and secondary sources


Afro-American Studies courses assess students’ attainment of information literacy in various ways, appropriate to the level of the course. Class discussions, examinations, and papers call upon students to demonstrate interpretive skills appropriate to the course topic and level. Their performance in these areas may directly or indirectly determine their grades. Through formal grading and informal feedback during office hours, instructors and librarians help students develop critical awareness of their own abilities.

Assignments requiring students to demonstrate and take advantage of information literacy vary depending on the skills involved. In general, introductory courses devote more explicit attention to acquiring, developing and testing basic skills; while more advanced courses assume students have reached a basic level of competency and can deploy information literacy skills independently. As students develop, they will be expected to recognize and execute both descriptive scholarly writing and analysis organized through the provision of a thesis or argument. In all cases, library staff is available to assist students and faculty members in devising, completing, and assessing such work.

Ethical Issues

Plagiarism is a serious violation of the College’s Honor Code. When using someone else’s words, ideas, or arguments, students must acknowledge their sources. It is important to identify and attribute all sources of new ideas, except for commonly shared knowledge, such as dates and facts found in encyclopedias and dictionaries. For more information on the College Honor Code, look here:

February 13, 2013