This month we are honoring Black History Month in our Reference Book of the Week features. Today we are highlighting a double set:
- Encyclopedia of African American History 1619- 1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass (3 volumes). Call number: REF E 185 .E545 2006.
- Encyclopedia of African American History: 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-First Century (5 volumes). Call number: REF E 185 .E5453 2009.
The two sets were developed by the same editorial group. Basically, two sets were created in order to provide a comprehensive view on African American scholarship and history. With a total of eight volumes between the two sets, it is clear that there is a wealth of information available.
The encyclopedia provides entries on people, places, events, and concepts related to African American history. For key figures, readers will find substantial biographical information. For larger topics in areas such as military, science and technology, family, marriage, etc., readers will find large entries that are then subdivided into sub-entries. For example, the entry on "Abolitionism" (found in the first set) includes the following sub-entries: "Abolitionism as a Concept," "Early Abolitionism: the Onset of Slavery through 1830," and Immediate Abolitionism and the Civil War." This allows readers to find discussions of similar topics under one major heading.
The encyclopedia's entries are alphabetically arranged. The first volume of each set does have a list of contents for each set. Entries are signed. Entries include cross-references and a selected bibliography of works and primary sources for further reading.
What makes this specialized encyclopedia, or any other, useful? Here is a research hint I use when teaching library instruction or just at the reference desk. A good reference work like this one will give you a good overview of a topic. For African American history, you cannot go wrong with these two sets; their overviews are excellent, and they are written in clear language; in fact, the editors made an effort to keep jargon to a minimum. Next, a good reference work can give you ideas for terms and keywords. It can help you learn the lingo of your topic, the vocabulary. I often use the cross-reference terms on a work like this as keywords when I do database searching. Finally, a good reference work will give bibliographic lists of items for further reading. This work certainly does that bringing in primary and secondary sources. Something you can do is look up items in our library catalog (for books) or use our "Find a journal" feature on our website to see if we have a specific journal that may be mentioned. As always, if you need help, librarians are glad to help.
Overall, this is a very comprehensive, scholarly, and accessible work on African American history. It also reminds us that African American history is not just something for one month, or something that was just for Blacks. African American history is American history. The editors of the encyclopedias reinforce that by including various biographies of people other than African Americans-- from activists fighting for Black freedom to slaveholders to those who opposed Black freedom. American society has an impact on African American culture and life as African Americans have an impact on American society, culture and life. It is all one great story.
And if you are wondering how the editors set the dates, here goes. For the first set, it goes from Colonial Times when the first slaves came to America to the death of Frederick Douglass (1895). For the second set, 1896 marks the upholding of the Plessy .v Ferguson case (the "separate but equal" doctrine), and it goes to the 21st century.