Early US Literature

Home » Annotated Bibliography » Annotated Bibliography of Databases Relating to 18th and 19th Century African American History

Annotated Bibliography of Databases Relating to 18th and 19th Century African American History


Abstract: My recent research relating to the use of slavery-era spirituals led me to 19th century author, William Wells Brown’s early compilation of abolition songs. In attempting to draw distinctions between the music of slavery and abolition, I added Brown’s novel of mixed-race enslavement, Clotel, to the scope of my research, and ultimately utilized these databases to aid in my understanding of 18th and 19th century racial categorizations and their use in the fiction of the era.

African American Newspapers. Readex, Web. 27 July 2013.

        This database of 19th and 20th century African American newspapers allows the user to choose between searches of “Full Text,” “Headline,” “Standard Title,” and “Title as Published.” My research, however, was best completed using simple keyword searches. One of the database’s most useful features was the user’s ability to select a particular era of American History for browsing or narrowing search results. These historical eras were explained with headings such as “Jacksonian Era” or “Roaring Twenties,” and were followed up with basic keywords relating to major events in African American studies. In terms of the functionality of the database and ease of use, the zoom feature lacked subtlety in the levels of focus, but in light of the microfilmed source material, the inconsistency was not terribly problematic. The various tabs at the top of the page allowed for a number of distinctions in searches, with the “Article Types” tab, in particular, narrowing searches between the journalistic and social aspects of newspapers. Additional tabs at the top of the search, including one for language, allowed users to select English or French. Ultimately, this database was functional, not fancy. While the previously mentioned zoom feature was inconsistent, I did find that it worked better in Google Chrome than in Internet Explorer.

Annual Bibliography of English language and Literature.

         Modern Humanities Research Association. Web. 29 July 2013. ABELL is a subscription-based service only available to those with institutional access; however, this database seems like a must have for a legitimate research university. The search engine was through and allowed users to choose between the standard options of “Keyword,” “Subject,” and “Author,” while also providing options for searching ,materials using the ISBN number. In terms of my research, I was able to view scholarship on the origins of the spiritual as an art form and its study as an academic discipline. The database was, additionally, useful for determining recent areas of William Wells Brown scholarship, which has steadily increased since 2004. In providing a through listing of recent Brown scholarship, the ABELL database’s results allowed me to continue my research into the compilation of spirituals and abolition songs with confidence that the topic was not redundant and was still worthy of additional scholarly consideration.

Index to Black Periodicals Full Text. Chadwyck Healey. Web. 30 July 2013.

        This database was accessible through Kent State University’s Pan-African Studies Databases, and is available as an annual subscription. The search engine contained all of the expected keyword and subject modifiers, although the search by year was limited to 1900, which, initially, appeared to hinder some of my research into racial categorizations and their use in earlier American literature. After selecting the “Refine Search” option, I was returned to the main search page and provided the same search modifiers as before, which effectively meant there were no distinctions between a basic and refined search. The browse feature was an additional option for every basic search; however, the pull-down menu options were confusing and used terms, including unusual number combinations (not years), that were unfamiliar and unrelated to basic keyword searches. In the end, the Index to Black Periodicals was more useful for my research into the history and etymology of quadroons and octoroons than it was for researching spirituals and work songs. However, there were a number of clear limitations to the search engine, as the majority of articles relevant to my research were written after 1990. Perhaps this was the best I could hope for a periodical index concentrating on 20th century articles. Based on my use of this database, the Index to Black Periodicals seems most relevant to more recent African American scholarship.

Music Index Online. Ebsco Host. Web. 26 July 2013.

        The Music Index Online is accessible through EBSCO Host and provided a nice point of cross reference with the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South collection of spirituals. UNC’s webpage’s vast catalog of African American spirituals provided titles and lyrical variations I was able to paste into the Music Index Online in my efforts to locate scholarly resources. EBSCO host, however, with its obvious limitations, required a number of search term modifications for me to glean meaningful results. In terms of these searches, I was better served by using “negro” and “spirituals” rather than “slave” and “spirituals” to obtain better results. Additionally, the search engine only allows users to search back to 1914, a limitation that may benefit a contemporary understanding of spirituals and works songs, but ultimately hinders an examination of older collections and compilations of the music. One useful feature of the database was the search history, which was an especially useful tool for research performed over an extended time, through multiple sessions. This feature’s usefulness, however, was offset by the problematic “Add to Folder” option, which most EBSCO users know works only as long as the user stays logged in through the sponsoring institution’s page. These folders cannot always be accessed at a later date.

Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries. Smithsonian Folkways. Web 23 July 2013.

        The database describes itself as “a virtual encyclopedia of the world’s musical and aural traditions. The collection provides educators, students, and interested listeners with an unprecedented variety of online resources that support the creation, continuity, and preservation of diverse musical forms” (Web). An institutional subscription is not a requirement for access, and the page informs users that the database is accessible through the Music Online Interface. More importantly, the database is also available via a simple Google search. Ultimately, this database is more beneficial to educators or researchers seeking audio clips than for those doing traditional print research. The Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries database is a high quality teaching resource that provides lesson and teaching overviews for a variety of education levels. One unfortunate aspect of the database is the absence of a bibliography of print sources connected to the recorded works and sound clips; however, the vast collection of full songs based on Smithsonian Folkways collections allowed me to examine recordings of well-known, public domain spirituals without the obvious limitations of transcribed dialect.


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