In September of 2020, the Chapman University Office of Research announced a new funding opportunity, the Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity program, designed to support critical gaps in knowledge related to equity, diversity and inclusion or to benefit impacted communities. In mid-December, it was announced that, among a number of winning projects, one of the awards was given to a project on which Leatherby Libraries Interim Dean Dr. Kevin Ross was a collaborator: “Researching the Lives, Interests, and Experiences of African Americans and the African Diaspora.” We spoke with Interim Dean Ross about the project and the impact it will have on the Leatherby Libraries and Chapman University as a whole, as well as speaking with his collaborators, Dr. Charissa Threat of the History Department, Dr. Angelica Allen of the Africana Studies program, and Dr. Stephanie Takaragawa of the Sociology Department.

Interim Dean Ross wrote, “The library wanted to acquire the Black Historical Newspapers collection to demonstrate our commitment to diversity and research using primary documents, and to support university-wide diversity initiatives. When Tom Piechota, Vice-President of Research, informed the campus that a Diversity, Inclusion and Equity grant was going to be made available through his office, I saw an opportunity to partner with interested and supportive faculty members in pursuit of securing funding for this unique resource.

“But this was not an individual effort. In fact, it was a collaborative effort between the Office of Research, the Leatherby Libraries, three Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences faculty, and senior administrators.

“I want to personally thank and recognize my three faculty colleagues, Dr. Charissa Threat, Dr. Angelica Allen, and Dr. Stephanie Takaragawa, for their thoughtful contributions to the grant itself and for their willingness to work with us in the library in support of acquiring this resource. Additionally, the support provided by President Struppa, CIO and Vice-President Helen Norris, and Vice-President Tom Piechota helped make this dream a reality, and I am truly thankful for their encouragement and support. Without this collaborative effort, it would have been very difficult to acquire this resource during a pandemic, and it just goes to show what collaboration between colleagues can accomplish for the benefit of our students and faculty.”

This project seeks to fill a critical gap in access to resources at Chapman University to support the investigation of the African American and the African Diasporic Experience through the acquisition of the ProQuest Historical Black Newspaper Database. Mainstream newspapers of the 19th and 20th centuries rarely published news of and by African Americans in the United States. Black newspapers are unique and fundamental to our present understanding of the lives of people of African descent in the United States and beyond and provide the ability to critically examine the concerns, interests, and values relating to the Black community. Access to these nationally-distributed, regionally diverse, historical Black newspapers provides our faculty and students with perspectives and information on 19th and 20th-century life not found in more mainstream newspapers and sources that rarely provided access to the debates taking place within the African American community. These newspapers are unique as they provide the only chronicle of Black communities, Black culture, Black politics anywhere.

Professor Threat wrote, “I was drawn to a collaboration with Leatherby Libraries on this grant because as a scholar of African American history, access to the ProQuest Historical Black Newspaper Database was vitally important to my research and teaching; Black newspapers are unique sources as the only consistent chronicle of Black communities, Black culture and values, and Black politics in the United States from the 19th through the 20th century. For anyone interested in learning or conducting research and teaching in the fields of race and race relations, social justice, African American history, and the African Diaspora, these newspapers are the most important foundational primary-source research tool and therefore acquisition of this database supports Chapman University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and their support of ground-breaking and revolutionary research on race, and provides students with the very best pedagogical tools for their personalized education at Chapman University.”

Professor Allen also spoke to the ways in which the new database will be an excellent resource for many faculty and students on campus: “Access to these newspapers provides Africana Studies scholars—as well as scholars studying the histories and experiences of people of African descent—the ability to incorporate digital archives and resources into their work. This becomes imperative as we navigate the challenges of teaching and conducting research in the midst of a global pandemic. On a personal level, as an interdisciplinary scholar working on a book manuscript, I rely on Historical Black Newspapers to examine Black Internationalism and military histories. Having this database will support my work and will become important in helping to uphold Chapman University’s recent Research II designation. Scholars from various fields are likely to benefit from the potential of this database for new (and older) knowledge production.”

Finally, Professor Takaragawa addressed the demand on campus for this resource: “For many years students and faculty in Wilkinson College had asked for access to this database, with the recognition that is quite expensive. However, for the last decade students really have privileged digital access above all else, and making this accessible to our newly developed Africana Studies minor faculty and students was important to me. In addition, as someone who uses a historical lens to explain and analyze contemporary cultural beliefs about race in the contemporary US, I feel that these types of resources are indispensable to use as teaching tools. I know this database will not only help in the classroom, but also with new scholarship.”

The Leatherby Libraries congratulates Interim Dean Ross and his colleagues for securing this grant; the access to these unique and important historical resources will have lasting impact on research and instruction at Chapman University.

Chapman University students seeking research assistance in Africana Studies can start with the Africana Studies research guide, or reach out to our Sociology liaison librarian for assistance.

Cover Image: Blacks to play key role in democratic convention: Blacks protest cop killing. (1976, Jul 03). New York Amsterdam News (1962-1993) Retrieved from