Black Studies 103 – Brown – African American Culture

Tuskegee Airmen

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 six 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 use and cite at least four sources (including at least one encyclopedia article, at least one academic journal article, and at least two primary sources) using MLA or Chicago style.

Research takes time! Avoid waiting until the last minute.

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Have a question? Stop by the Reference Desk, or contact a librarian by phone, email, or chat for more help.Contact Us

Library Tutorials

Interested in learning more about the library on your own? Explore the library’s online tutorials.

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:

Encyclopedia Database

  • Credo Reference
    This database allows you to search over 800 encyclopedias at once.

Individual Encyclopedias Available Online:

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

About Secondary Sources

Secondary sources analyze, summarize, interpret, or comment on events or culture. They are usually created by someone who did not experience an event first-hand. They may include: textbooks; encyclopedias; scholarly journal articles; biographies; criticism of music, literature, or film; political or cultural analysis; and news reports other than first-hand accounts.


When searching for secondary sources 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

Finding Books

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

Finding Articles

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 Complete
    Provides full text for more than 8,500 periodicals (magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals), including full text for nearly 7,300 peer-reviewed titles, in all subject areas.
  • America: History and Life with Full Text
    Covers the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. Provides full-text coverage of more than 200 periodicals and nearly 100 books.
  • Ethnic NewsWatch
    Journals, magazines, and newspapers from ethnic and minority presses dating back to 1959. Depending on your topic, some older articles may be considered primary sources.
  • History Reference Center
    Includes periodical articles and primary sources related to history.
    Includes full text scholarly articles in a wide range of subject areas. Some articles were published as far back as the mid 1800s and may be considered primary sources, depending on your topic.
  • Project MUSE
    Provides the full-text of scholarly journals in a wide range of subject areas.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources. Primary Sources (evidence of history and culture): Photographs, Movies, Plays, Works of art, Songs, Recipes, Letters, Diaries, Autobiographies, Memoirs, Oral histories, Speeches, Birth/death certificates, Land deeds, Government documents, Live news footage, Interviews (usually). Secondary Sources (interpretation of history and culture): Scholarly articles, Political analyses, Biographies, Textbooks, Reference books, Literary criticism, Reviews of art/movies/music (usually), News articles/broadcasts other than first-person accounts (usually)

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, music, works of art, speeches, interviews, oral histories, memoirs, architectural plans, and many other kinds of artifacts.

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, because the journalist writing the article did not visit the moon herself. 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 (books+) 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.
    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 many free websites. View a list of recommended websites on our Resources for Black Studies Research Guide, as well as those listed here:

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. Source Evaluation Questions to help you determine whether the sources you find are credible:

  • Purpose: How and why the source was created. Is it intended to educate, inform, persuade, sell, or entertain? Do the authors, publishers, or sponsors state this purpose, or try to disguise it? Why was this information published in this particular type of source (book, article, website, blog, etc.)? Is the source designed for the general public, students, or experts?
  • Relevance: The value of the source for your needs. Does the type of source meet your assignment’s requirements? Does the information answer your question, support your argument, or add something to your knowledge of the topic? Is it too general or too specific? Is it too basic or too advanced?
  • Objectivity: The reasonableness and completeness of the information. Do the authors present the information thoroughly and professionally? Is it fact or opinion? Is it biased? Do the authors use strong, emotional, manipulative, or offensive language? Do they leave out, or make fun of, important facts or alternative perspectives?
  • Verifiability: The accuracy and truthfulness of the information. Do the authors support the information they present with strong factual evidence? Do they cite or provide links to other sources? What do experts say about the topic? Can you verify the information in other credible sources? Does the source contradict itself, include false statements, or misrepresent other sources?
  • Expertise: The authority of the creators of the source. What makes the authors, publishers, or sponsors of the source authorities on the topic? Do they have related education, experience, or other expertise? Do they provide an important alternative perspective? Has the source been reviewed in some way, such as by an editor or through peer review?
  • Newness: The age of the information. Is your topic in an area that requires current information (such as science, technology, or current events), or could information found in older sources still be useful? When was the information presented in the source first published or posted? Are newer sources available that would add important information to your understanding of the topic?

For more help locating reliable information online, see the Finding Credible Web Sources research guide.

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 a larger list of suggestions, check out the Luria Library Resources for Black Studies Research Guide.

Citation Guidelines

Below are some resources for creating citations for sources found on the internet and through library databases. More resources are available on the Citation Guides page.

MLA 8th Edition Style

Chicago Style