Three Opportunities to Learn More About Early African American Lives

Spring is springing, the bees are buzzing, and we are coming into the busy season here at AAS. Opportunity is knocking. This week AAS will be involved with two wonderful lectures on the lives of African Americans, so it’s a perfect time to tout the wide-range of material we have supporting the study of African Americans.

A wonderful example that just came across the reference desk is this illustration of an African American wedding from The Child’s Story of Cotton in our children’s literature collection.

Opportunity #1: April Haynes, the Hench Post-Dissertation Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society, will be presenting what promises to be a fascinating academic seminar tomorrow afternoon. For more information, click here.

  • Please note: this is not at AAS!

“‘Abuse Not’: Flesh and Bones in Sarah Mapps Douglass’ Classroom”
Wednesday, April 21, 2010, at 4:30pm
Pavilion Room, Peter Green House
Brown University, Providence, RI

Sarah Mapps Douglass (1806-1882) was an African American Quaker and a founding member of the Philadelphia Female Antislavery Society. In the 1850s, she became the head of the girls department of the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth and delivered a number of lectures on physiology. Douglass overtly challenged racism while subtly navigating the politics of benevolence and channeling resources toward autonomous black institutions. Using the reports of philanthropists and colleagues who visited her classroom, this talk will show reform physiology in action. In the context of antebellum Philadelphia—where popular physiology lecturers taught thousands of white auditors how to read flesh and bones for racialized, gendered, and sexual meanings—Douglass created a protected, dynamic environment in which African American girls learned to speak about embodiment.

Opportunity #2: You could also come to AAS this Thursday, April 22, at 7:30 p.m. for another AAS fellow’s eagerly anticipated illustrated talk: Ezra Greenspan’s “Researching and Writing African American Biography: The Life of William Wells Brown.”  More information about this free public lecture is available by clicking here.  (This one is at AAS.)

Opportunity #3: And if these talks inspire you, do your own research! A good place to start is our African American Resources page.

Here are some tips to get you started searching our online catalog for African Americans:

  1. To get a glimpse of the range of material the American Antiquarian Society has to support research on early African Americans, try a Guided Search of the Society’s online catalog for “Blacks” OR “African American?”. You will get over 4,000 hits!
  2. A more manageable approach would be to go back and do a Basic Search changing the Search Type to Subject Browse. Then type one of the subject headings suggested below into the Find This box.
  3. Typing in “African American” as a Subject Browse will pull up a different list of subjects than putting in “African Americans” so you may want to try both. Either one pulls up a whole range of subjects for you to examine. Click on the blue number to the far left to pull up all the records of items that match each subject.
  4. A Subject Browse for either “African?” or “Blacks?” will pull up people of African descent generally, not just Americans.
  5. To search collections that have been inventoried but are not yet in the online catalog (including wonderful visual material from the graphic arts collections), you can go to the listing of inventories and browse through the graphic arts collections. You could also search the website using the Search this Site box in the upper right hand corner of the American Antiquarian Society’s homepage. Typing in a keyword here, such as “African American” and “Blacks,” will pull up different hits than searching the online catalog.

Some subjects to search in AAS’s online catalog:

  • African Americans–Caricatures and cartoons
    African Americans—Genealogy
    African Americans—History
    African Americans—Humor
    African Americans—Juvenile fiction
    African Americans—Legal status, laws, etc.
    African Americans—Music.
    African Americans—Pictorial works (over 100 titles)
    African Americans—Songs and music
    African Americans—Social conditions
    African Americans—Suffrage
    Blacks—Juvenile fiction.
    Blacks as Authors (the subject is then subdivided by each author’s name)
    Blacks as Illustrators
    Blacks in the printing and publishing trades
    Free African Americans
    Free Blacks
    Race relations
    Slavery –Justification.
    Slaves –United States –Songs and music
    United States–Race relations
    Women Slaves

Searching these subjects will only pull up a sampling of the materials we have that may be relevant to your research. But that’s what librarians are for! So come on in, or email us with questions about how you can best direct your search. We would be delighted to help.

Published by

Elizabeth Watts Pope

Curator of Books, American Antiquarian Society

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