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Africana Studies

Bibliographer: Ancil George, 215-898-2316,

I. Program Information

Africana Studies is an interdisciplinary program of study aimed at understanding the African American experience in the United States (and to a lesser degree in South America and the Caribbean) and the human, cultural, social, and economic factors which created and shaped that experience. The program was established in 1972 with John Edgar Wideman as its first director.

At present an undergraduate can either major or minor in the program and can select from more than fifty courses offered by the schools and departments of the University, including American Civilization, Anthropology, Education, English, Folklore and Folklife, History, Law, Linguistics, Music, Nursing, Political Science, Religious Studies, Social Work and Wharton. A student may choose to enroll in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies to obtain a Masters of Liberal Arts degree with a specialization in Africana Studies. The Center for Africana Studies offers an innovative Ph.D. program in Africana Studies that started in the fall of the 2009-2010 academic year. This program trains students in an interdisciplinary, three-fields approach to African, African American, and African Diaspora Studies. There are approximately forty faculty members affiliated with the Africana Studies program.

In addition to the academic program, the University hosts the W.E.B. Du Bois Collective Research Institute. The W.E.B. Du Bois Collective Research Institute is a multidisciplinary institution that is comprised of members of the twelve schools in the University of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1998, the institute's mission is to continue the exploration of urban issues and concerns raised by W.E.B. Du Bois' landmark work, The Philadelphia Negro. The institute is located at 3440 Market Street, Suite 500.

II. Collection Description

Materials which support Africana Studies are found in many campus libraries, but most are in Van Pelt. Art and Anthropology materials are usually held in the Fisher Fine Arts Library and the Museum Library respectively. The collection has been built up only in the last twenty-five years in response to developing programmatic needs, and for that reason the printed book component lacks great historical depth. However, the Library has a small number of anti-slavery and abolitionist pamphlets and newspapers, and several archival resources of great value, notably the papers of Marian Anderson (1897-1993) and the papers of Arthur Huff Fauset (1899-1983), civil rights activist, educator, folklorist and author. In recent years the Library has been strengthening the research component of the collection through the purchase of primary sources on microfilm. Recent acquisitions include the papers of Claude A. Barnett, founder of the Associated Negro Press, and the collection of the Ivy Leaf, 1921-1998, the official publication of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the world's oldest Greek letter organization of women of African descent. In addition, the Library is working to retrospectively collect late nineteenth century and early to mid-twentieth century African American Newspapers.

An emphasis on electronic materials is being made to capture the variety of formats upon which Africana Studies materials are accessible.

Accordingly, the library subscribes to many databases, such as the International Index to Black Periodicals, a database that indexes articles from over 150 scholarly and popular journals, newspapers, and newsletters from the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean, which are key resources for obtaining information relating to African Americans. Also, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade database on CD-ROM is an important part of the Africana Studies collection at the library.

The library's objectives include improving areas of the collection that reflect particular strengths, such as making retrospective acquisitions of African American and Caribbean literature and collecting African American history at the regional level. Additional library goals involve raising the level of collections in modern history, the colonial history of areas outside America, demography, sociology, political science, and folklore for African Americans.

The Africana Resource Room on the 3rd floor of Van Pelt contains a large number of basic texts in the field of Africana Studies. The room was created to support the teaching and research needs of the students and faculty of the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the curriculum for majors and minors in the Afro-America Studies Program. While the primary focus is the African American experience, researchers in the Anthropology, Urban Studies, Education, English, Folklore and Folklife, History, Linguistics, Music, Religious Studies, and Social Work may find this collection helpful. The room serves as place for the creation and exchange of ideas among undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and other scholars in formal and informal meetings. To that end, the Africana Studies Bibliographer works to develop and maintain a core collection of mostly non-circulating material, which is readily available for consultation, classroom use, and in-depth research.

III. Guidelines for Collection Development

  1. Chronological

    Emphasis is on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Materials covering earlier periods are collected selectively.

  2. Formats

    Books, journals, electronic resources, and newspapers are widely collected. Dissertations are collected selectively or by request. When necessary, microfilm and video versions are collected.

  3. Geographical

    Collecting emphasis is on the United States, with an emphasis on regional studies, particularly Philadelphia and major urban areas, e.g. New York, Chicago, Detroit and Washington, D.C. In addition, there is an interest in collecting materials from the Caribbean and South American countries.

  4. Language

    Emphasis is on English language materials

  5. Publication Dates

    The majority of publications selected are current, although efforts are made to selected older titles if they are of significant importance in regard to new collecting focuses. Out of print titles are actively sought to replace missing copies or fill gaps in the collection.

IV. Principal Sources of Supply and major Selection Tools

The interdisciplinary character of Africana Studies requires that materials be acquired from widely diverse sources. Approval plans, standing orders, publisher notifications, user requests, and regular review of the scholarly literature account for most of the materials. The approval plan incorporates small and large publishers to help ensure that the plan allows for books from a variety of perspectives and disciplines within the field. The approval plan draws upon publishers, such as Coffee House Press and Black Classics Press, to acquire relatively unknown resources. Although many university and domestic press publications come primarily on the approval plans, faculty contact and review of the scholarly literature are crucial to obtaining relevant materials in a timely manner. This is especially true for some types of literature such as reports and association publications.

V. Subjects Collected and Levels of Collecting

Subjects Collected Levels of Collecting Notes
Anthropology 3/3/4  
Art 3/4/4  
Economics/Development 2/3/3  
Education 3/4/4  
Folklore 4/4/4  
History 3/4/4  
Literature 3/4/4  
Music 3/4/4  
Philosophy and Religion 4/4/4  
Political Science 3/4/4  
Sociology 4/4/4  

VI. Subjects Excluded

The library does not routinely collect the sciences, popular literature, technology, business/finance, cookbooks, devotional works, and children's literature, though there are exceptions in each case

VII. Cooperative Arrangements and Related Collections

The Paul Robeson Research Center housed in the W.E.B. DuBois College House on the Penn. campus, has a collection of approximately one thousand items on Africana literature, culture, history, and sociology. The collection includes some popular material as well as several current newspapers and journals. The principal repository of material in the Philadelphia area concerning African Americans is the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American collection, a component of the Temple University libraries. The general Blockson collection contains "over 30,000 items has materials on the global black experience in all formats: books, manuscripts, sheet music, pamphlets, journals, newspapers, broadsides, posters, photographs, and rare ephemera. In addition, the collection houses selected artifacts, including statues, busts, etc." There is also a special collection that includes "rare books, prints, photographs, slave narratives, manuscripts, letters, sheet music, foreign language publications and ephemera." Van Pelt library is located near several large African American studies collections, most notably those of Rutgers University-Camden's Robeson collection, and the Library Company's extensive holdings in African Americana materials.