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AFAM 101: Prof. Gordon: Definitional Essay

This course guide is intended as a starting point for research assignments in AFAM 101.

Short Paper Assignment

Definitional Essay: What is African American Studies?

Note: Please review assignment guidelines posted on Canvas.

Your assignment is to use a minimum of two essays from Part I of A Turbulent Voyage (portions of the text are available on Google Books) and two others from the supplementary/additional reading list to write a definitional essay answering the question, What is African American Studies?

Address issues of the scope and function of African American Studies. Engage the following questions as conceptualizing and organizing points:

  • What is it?
  • What is its role?
  • What is its history?
  • What is its future?
  • How does it operate?

Length is 4-5 pages.

Use a minimum of four sources, two that we have read and two from the  supplementary/ additional reading list.  

Cite sources in the bibliography using the MLA style guide. See also the Collins Library quick MLA citation guide for commonly used types of sources.

Finding Supplementary Readings in Turbulent Voyage

The supplementary readings are listed at the end of each section of text. To use these sources for your short paper, you must first identify the citation. Is it a book or article? When a publisher is included, it typically means the source is a book. In the example below, the works by the first three authors are books. The work by Bailey is a journal article as it includes a volume number and pages. Use Primo to find books and journal titles.

Getting Started with Encyclopedias

The value of using encyclopedias in the beginning stages of the  research process:

  • a broad overview of a topic that is more in-depth than in general encyclopedias
  • Discussion of how scholars have approached, explored, and debated the topic over time (historiography)
  • words, phrases, names, dates, and events that can be used as keywords when searching a database
  • bibliographies in articles to find other sources (both primary and secondary)
  • cross-references to find related topics

Encyclopedias come in two varieties:  general and subject.

General encyclopedias are good for quickly looking up basic facts about a topic.  Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book are all examples of general encyclopedias.

Subject encyclopedias are best to use when you are in the first stages of a college-level research project.  Each entry is written by a scholar in the field. 
The scholar aims to provide not just the basic facts on a topic, but also a sense of how these facts have been debated or interpreted over time. The sources in the bibliographies are selected specifically as next steps to consult in the research process and typically include a mix of primary and secondary sources.

Oxford African American Studies Center

Type keywords in the search box to find background information about people, events, topics, and more in the Oxford African American Studies Center. This source incluldes the full text of the following reference works: Africana, Encyclopedia of African American History, Black Women in America, African American National Biography, and other key works.


Use the search phrase "black studies"

Note: Limited to 3 simultaneous users

If you are off-campus, use this link.

Search Oxford AASC

Online Encyclopedias

Searching Primo for Books

Use Primo to find resources on your topic at Collins Library and beyond. Request books held by Summit libraries for delivery to Collins Library in about 5 days. Books that are unavailable from Summit libraries can be requested via Interlibrary loan for delivery in about 12 days.

For books on the subject of African American Studies, click the following terms.

  • "African Americans -- Study and teaching"
  • "African Americans -- Study and teaching Higher"
  • "Americans    Study   and   teaching    History   20th century"
  • "Blacks -- Study and teaching Higher"
  • "Blacks -- Study and teaching"
  • "United States -- Race relations -- Study and teaching Higher"

Location Chart - Use this chart to to find which floor a book is shelved by call number. You can also check the map which shows what's available on each floor.

Database Search Tips

When search databases, keep these techniques in mind.

Quotation marks search for an exact phrase.

 "African American Studies"  finds results with that exact phrase.

   Without the quotation marks, you may also get African and American and Studies

Add more words when you want to narrow your search. Use the word AND to connect different concepts.

 "African American Studies" and curriculum

Use OR to find related terms.

  "African American Studies" or "black studies"

Use an asterisk * to find variant word endings. Be careful not to shorten your word too much, because this can bring back results that are not relevant.

defin* retrieves define, defines, defining, definition, defintional, etc.

General Databases

Subject Databases