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AFRAMER 217X Themes in the History of African American Political Thought:

Spring 2021

Contexts, Backgrounds, Overviews



Black Perspectives is an award-winning blog produced by the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) and is considered the leading online platform for public scholarship on global Black thought, history, and culture.

In addition to daily short essay posts, Black Perspectives highlights new scholarly books and and features topically themed roundtables on ideas in debate. 


The Oxford Bibliographies Online

OBO combines the best features of the annotated bibliography with an authoritative subject encyclopedia  in order to help you identify some of the most important and influential scholarship on a broad topic (culturally responsive pedagogies, , science education, educational policy in the U.S., and so forth).

Often the issue in information-seeking isn't scarcity of material but overabundance.  OBO entries can help you solve the problem of  knowing what or who to read or which voices in the conversation you should give some fuller attention to.

The database updates quarterly, to keep material current. 

lightbulb iconSEARCH TIP

From the advanced search screen, choose the categories AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES, POLITICAL SCIENCE, and SOCIOLOGY (or some other combination that works for you) before you run your keyword search.  Personalizing a bit will help you surface  appropriate entries more easily.



African American Studies Center

Produced by Oxford University Press and overseen by Harvard's Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the AASC bills itself as the "online authority on the African American experience." It draws its content from some of the most important reference works in the field and is continually updated. 

At present, it contains more than 10,000 articles by top scholars from around the world, over 1,750 images, more than 300 primary sources with specially written commentaries, maps, charts, tables, timelines, and 6,000 biographies. 

Special Focus On essays are added twice yearly to address the past and present of black culture and history.  


IMAGE: Black Power Activists Stokely Carmichael, LeRoi Jones, and H. Rap Brown in Michaux's Bookstore in Harlem, 1967. Photograph by James E. Hinton. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; rpt. in "Black Power Movement." Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century, edited by Ed. Paul  Finkelman. Oxford African American Studies Center. 

Major Databases for Researching Black Thought



An online directory of online academic research in all aspects of philosophy.  Among its helpful features is the ability to browse a topic list that has been defined and is maintained by the site's philosopher-community. One of its current aims is to classify all its contents according to a finely grained taxonomy.

For some topics, including several of those linked below, headnotes summarize major trends, influential works, controversies and debates, and even identify good introductory texts for those new to a philosophical concept.  Examples:


International Index to Black Periodicals (part of ProQuest's Black Studies Center)

The only periodical database of current titles pertaining exclusively to black studies and culture, IIBP covers journals and magazines from the United States, African nations, and the Caribbean. Its coverage is deep -- reaching as far back as 1902, making it useful as a primary source repository for intellectual history and theory.  

Also included as part of the IIBP search is the very first compilation of black serial publicationsThe Marshall Index, which covered 42 core African-American periodicals published between 1940 and 1946. 

The larger Black Studies Center, from within which you access IIBP, includes the Black Literature Index, essays on Black culture and history produced by Schomburg Center scholars, and supplementary materials, like timelines. 

lightbulb iconTIP: Results display in reverse chronological order in IIBP, rather than by relevancy (the more common default.  You can change the sort order before or after your search to see items that algorithmically "most relevant," when necessary.



Worldwide Political Science Abstracts 

WPSA provides citations to and summaries of journal literature in political science and related fields, including political sociology, political theory, economics, law, and public policy. 

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TIP: If you want to skew your search results toward the theoretical (rather than the empirical), adding keywords is a good strategy: theor*  or intellectual* or historiograph*  (for example). 


America: History and Life

The premier database for deep access to scholarly books, journals, and dissertations on the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. AHL included all the leading English-language historical journals as well as some international publications. Its companion database for world history is Historical Abstracts.

lightbulb iconTIPS:

  •  In a historically-focused database like AHL you can set date parameters (a range of years or centuries) to identify the historical period a book or article covers and is about. Most other databases only let you limit to publication date of the articles themselves.
  • The historian's equivalent of a literature review is the historiography.  Sometimes adding the root word historiograph* is useful in AH&L.


Finding Primary Sources on Black Political Thought


harvard shield TEXTUAL SOURCES

Black Thought and Culture: African Americans to 1975 

Non-fiction writings of major American black figures—teachers, artists, politicians, religious leaders, athletes, war veterans, and more—covering 250 years of history.



African American Newspapers 1827-1998

Ethnic News Watch 

ProQuest Historical Newspapers -- Black Newspapers

A suite of 9 publications:


harvard shieldORAL HISTORY 

The History Makers

The nation's largest video oral history archive of interviews with  notable African Americans. 



Civil Rights and the Black Freedom Struggle (ProQuest History Vault)


harvard shieldTHEMED DATABASES

The Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives, 1960-1974


Vharvard shieldIDEO

Black Studies in Video


The pre-eminent library for the history of women in North America, Schlesinger's collections document such things as  women's rights and feminism; health and sexuality; work and family life; culinary history and etiquette; education and the profession; women as creators and consumers of culture.

 Schlesinger is the repository for papers of such prominent Black intellectuals as Angela DavisFlorynce Kennedy and Pauli Murray.

Expert to contact: Tamar Gonen Brown


Hharvard veritas shieldOUGHTON LIBRARY

Houghton collections are physical, visual, literary, performative: they run the gamut, in other words, and represent all time periods, including the late 19th and 20th centuries, areas covered in this course.  Potential collections of interest might come from its Modern Books and Manuscripts division, Printing and Graphic Arts, the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, the Theatre Collection, and the Woodberry Poetry Collection (housed in Lamont). 

Among many other items, Houghton Library has a collection of Black Panther Party materials

You can inquire about items that might match your interest by using this form:


Primary sources abound in the Harvard Library, even at places, like Widener or Lamont, that are neither "special collections" nor a designated "archive."  As a researcher, your job is to think creatively about what constitutes primary evidence and where you might find it. 

How can you search efficiently for primary sources? Here are strategies to use in the library catalog portion of HOLLIS:


  • Look for the  limiter on the right side of the results screen. 

The HOLLIS catalog is massive -- and old in the best sense.  Publications produced contemporaneouslyduring the era or time period or lifetime of a figure you're studying may become visible that way. 

With smallish result sets, you can also resort results by date (ascending), so you'll see the oldest items in the catalog first. 

  • Limit your results by to one of our special collections or archives (Schlesinger, Houghton, Harvard University Archives, etc.).

Once you've chosen the archive or special collections from the list, you can add additional precision by limiting again, to Archive /Manuscript (under ).

  • Use the  limit to display materials by type. Primary sources will be identified with real granularity by these means; they exist as everything from photographs to correspondence to diaries to clipping files and scrapbooks (for instance). 


  • Add a century marker to the keyword search (19th, 20th, 21st, for example). 
  • Try adding  the word sources  to a keyword string.  This trick will sometimes help you pull up primary materials that have been republished  or that have been reformatted (as microfilm or microfiche). 
  • Other words to try adding to a keyword search include  anthologycollected, collection, readerdocumentary or documents


Browsing in the catalog  (as on the shelves) is an under-appreciated research strategy. It can help you see how the writings ABOUT an author, an idea, an event, etc. has been broken down and categorized. So instead of getting the typical list of titles, you see results in terms of sub-topics. Inspiration may lie there!


Open HOLLIS. Click on the  link above the search box. Then select SUBJECT. 



African American Perspectives (Library of Congress)

​UmbraSearchBrings together hundreds of thousands digitized materials from over 1,000 libraries and archives across the country.