Black Studies 103 – Brown – African American Culture

Tuskegee Airmen

Members of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, from the Library of Congress

About this guide

This guide provides students with suggested print and online resources for research on African American culture, for Black Studies 103 with Professor Brown.

Use the tabs above to navigate through the guide.

Your assignment

A 8-10 page research paper on an African American cultural expression from the colonial period to the present, such as music, language, art, religion cuisine, etc. You must cite at least 3 primary sources and 6 scholarly secondary sources (including both books and articles), using Chicago Style.

Remember: research takes time! Avoid waiting until the last minute.

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Choosing a Topic

Your topic should be focused, but not so narrow that you cannot find enough information about it. For topic ideas, look at your course syllabus and readings, look at some of the reference sources on the “Background Info” tab of this research guide, or look at some of the websites on the “Primary Sources” and “Websites” tabs.

Research Questions

A research question articulates exactly what you want to know about your topic, and helps guide your research. Your research question should be specific, but open-ended.

The video below offers some tips for creating open-ended research questions.


Keywords are the words you type into a search box to search for information on your topic. The words you use to describe your topic may be different from the words used by the library catalog and databases. If you have trouble finding information on your topic, ask a librarian for help choosing the best keywords to use in your search.

Watch the video below for a short tutorial on keywords.

Video courtesy of Ray Howard Library at Shoreline Community College (CC BY-NC 3.0 US)

Reference Sources

References sources are a good place to start to get background information on your topic.

Online Reference Sources

To access these resources from off campus, you will need to log in using your Pipeline username and password.

Print Reference Sources

These resources are available in the Luria Library Reference section.


    • Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, Vol. 5: African Diaspora Traditions and Other American Innovations – R 200.973 G162i, vol. 5
    • Encyclopedia of African and African American Religions – R 299.6 G553e

    Social Issues and Culture

    • The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Civil Rights: From Emancipation to the Twenty-first Century – R 301.45196 L917e
    • Encyclopedia of American Race Riots – R 305.800973 R911e


    • Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance – R 810.9896 A145e
    • The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature – R 810.9896 O85g


    • Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience – R 909.0496 A647a
    • Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century – R 973.0496 F499e 2009
    • Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration – R 973.0496 R347e


When searching for information in the library catalog and databases, try combining some of the terms below with words that describe your specific topic. For example, if you are doing research on music, you might search for African Americans AND culture AND music.

  • African American
  • African American children
  • African American men
  • African American women
  • African Americans
  • Afro-Americans
  • Black Studies
  • Culture
  • Popular culture
  • Social conditions
  • Social history


Search the library catalog for books on your topic, using some of the keywords suggested above.


To find articles from periodicals (newspapers, magazines, and academic journals), search the library databases. To access databases from off campus, you will need to log in with your Pipeline username and password.

Use one of the following general databases, or ask a librarian to suggest the best database for your specific topic:

  • Academic Search Premier Provides abstracts for articles from nearly 13,200 periodicals (journals, magazines, and newspapers) in all subject areas.
  • Ethnic NewsWatch Journals, magazines, and newspapers from ethnic and minority presses. dating back to 1959.
  • History Resource Center Includes primary sources as well as periodical articles.
  • JSTOR Includes articles from as far back as the mid 1800s, which may be considered primary sources, depending on your topic.
  • Project MUSE Provides complete, full-text versions of scholarly journals in subject areas such as: ethnic studies; art and architecture; literature; education; film; theatre and performing arts; history; language; medicine and health; philosophy; religion; science, technology, and math; social sciences; and gender and sexuality.

About Primary Sources

Primary sources are first-person accounts or direct evidence of the topics or events you are researching. They may include letters, diaries, photographs, autobiographies, records such as birth certificates or land deeds, treaties and other government documents, news footage and eyewitness articles, plays, movies, works of art, speeches, interviews, oral histories, memoirs, architectural plans, and many other kinds of artifacts.

Secondary sources analyze, summarize, interpret, or comment on primary sources. They are usually created by someone who did not experience an event first-hand. They may include biographies, scholarly journal articles, literary criticism, political analysis, news reports other than first-hand accounts, reference books, and textbooks.

What About Newspapers? Some sources may be considered primary or secondary, depending on how you use them. For example, a 1969 newspaper article that discusses the moon landing that year could be considered a secondary source. But if you are interested in how NASA was portrayed by the media during the Cold War, the same article could be considered a primary source as an historical artifact. Watch Newspapers – Primary Source? for more information.

For more information on different types of primary and secondary sources, review the presentation from class below, and remember: sometimes whether a source counts as primary or secondary depends on how you are using it. When in doubt, ask your professor, or a librarian.

Finding Primary Sources Through the Library Catalog

Use the library catalog to find primary sources on a topic. Choose from the keywords listed below and add them to your search to explore what primary source material we have on your topic:

  • personal narratives
    Sample search: “slavery” and personal narratives
  • sources
    Sample search: music and sources
  • correspondence
    Sample search: “civil rights” and correspondence
  • diaries
  • charters
  • early works
  • interviews
  • manuscripts
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • speeches
  • letters
  • documents

Finding Primary Sources Through the Library Databases

Some of the library databases include primary source materials. When you access these resources from off campus, you will be prompted to log in with your Pipeline username and password.

  • History Reference Center: Primary source material in this database includes treaties, photos, maps and videos. Use the advanced search and select “primary source document” in the “publication type” menu. Or, select the “primary sources” tab found in the menu to the left of the list of results after your search.
  • Alexander Street Press Videos Search for African American
  • ARTstor Find images of artwork.
  • JSTOR Some journals found in JSTOR were published as early as the mid 19th century and could be considered primary sources depending on your research topic. Use the advanced search and limit your search by date to find materials written during a particular time period.

Finding Primary Sources on the Internet

You can also find primary source materials through several free websites:

Evaluating Websites

Figuring out whether the information you find online is credible enough for college research can be challenging. Use the P.R.O.V.E.N. Test for Evaluating Sources to determine whether the sources you find are credible:

  • Purpose: The reason the information exists. Is the purpose to sell, to entertain, to inform, to teach, or to persuade? Do the authors and publishers/sponsors make their purposes clear? Is this source designed for general readers or academic readers?
  • Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs. Does it relate to your topic? Does it meet the requirements of your assignment? Is it too basic or too advanced?
  • Objectivity: The reasonableness of the information. Is it fact or opinion? Is it biased? Do the authors use strong or emotional language, or leave out important facts or alternative perspectives?
  • Verifiability: The truthfulness and accuracy of the information. Where does the information come from? Can you verify it in other sources? Are there citations or links to other sources? What do experts say about the topic?
  • Expertise: The source of the information. Who are the authors, publishers, or sponsors of the information? Are they experts, or has the information been reviewed by experts? Is it posted on a personal website or blog?
  • Newness: The timeliness of the information. When was the information published or posted? Is it up to date? Is your topic in an area that requires current information (such as technology or current events), or will older sources work as well?

Internet Search Tips

For tips on advanced searching in Google, check out the video, Know More Now: Searching Smarter in Google.

Recommended Websites

Consider using some of the websites below to find reliable information on your topic. Some of these websites may include links to primary sources.

For more suggestions, check out the Luria Library Resources for Black Studies Research Guide.