This month students and faculty gain access to The ProQuest Historical Newspapers-Black Newspapers Database which houses nationally distributed, regionally diverse, historical black newspapers and provides students and faculty with perspectives and information on 19th and 20th-century Black life not found in mainstream newspapers. This resource will spur innovative scholarship and creative activities across the curriculum.
A Wilkinson College-led team consisting of Dr. Charissa Threat (History), Dr. Angelica Allen (Africana Studies), Dr. Stephanie Takaragawa (Sociology), and Dr. Kevin Ross (Leatherby Libraries) received an Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity award to procure the database.
These newspapers are unique as they provide the only available chronicle of Black communities, Black culture, and Black politics. Furthermore, Black Newspapers have been sites of cross-cultural communication that highlight the relationship between and among African Americans, Jews, Latinx Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and other minority groups and immigrant communities. 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.
For those 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 serve as t an important foundational primary-source research tool.
For example, Senior History major Austin Byran is currently using the database to complete original research for his thesis on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of white and Black Americans who volunteered to travel and fight in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Joseph Dickinson, a graduate student in the War and Society MA program, commented that “these newspapers provide a critically important and diverse perspective on American history that is not only vital for my work, but also to scores of other students and faculty whose work in both African-American history and American history in general would greatly benefit from their availability.”
Another example of the wide variety of research this collection will advance: Dr. Robert Slayton, Professor of History, used the Black newspaper archive to examine AfricanAmerican responses to Al Jolson’s use of blackface in the first talking film, The Jazz Singer, for a major book project that explores the urban-rural divide in American History, analyzed through the lens of different responses to New York films. Associate Professor of History Dr. Jeffery Koerber used the database to examine the Jewish experience in the United States in the first half of the 20th century and Black-Jewish relations. Finally, co-director of Africana Studies Dr. Angelica Allen will utilize the database for her current book manuscript that details the histories of Black soldiers and their descendants in the Philippines.
Wilkinson College is dedicated integrating curriculum, research, and community engagement on social justice topics, through programs like Engaging the World: Leading the Conversation on the Significance of Race. Making this type of historical material readily available to its students and faculty will ensure that conversation and research on the significance of race continue inside and outside the classroom for many years to come.