African-American Studies

R.G. Williams (for the American Anti-Slavery Society). The Slave's Friend. 1836.
R.G. Williams (for the American Anti-Slavery Society). The Slave's Friend. 1836. Ruggles 455.

Corresponding with the library’s extensive holdings in American history and culture, the Newberry has a strong collection of African American materials.

The Newberry’s main strength in the field of African American Studies falls in the anti-slavery movement. With more than 2,000 books and pamphlets relating to anti-slavery, the Newberry has over 66 percent of the materials listed in Dumond’s A Bibliography of Antislavery in America and 70 percent of the titles cited in Turner’s Antislavery Sentiment in American Literature.

Some types of primary sources one might find at the Newberry relating to African American history and culture include:

  • Historical and genealogical society papers
  • Newspapers and periodicals
  • County, town, and state histories
  • Music materials (sheet music, songsters, and hymnody)

As an example, the Newberry’s J. Francis Driscoll Collection of American Sheet Music is a major source for the study of African American music and culture between 1818 and 1915. Samuel A. Floyd’s article, “Black Music in the Driscoll Collection.” The Black Perspective in Music 2, no. 2 (1974):158-171), lists some of the black composers represented in the collection.

Importantly, these original sources are complemented by later published editions of primary sources, such as transcriptions of slave narratives prepared by the Federal Writers’ Project (1936-38) and published as The American Slave, portions of Stampp’s microfilm set Records of Ante Bellum Southern Plantations, and selected Freedmen’s Bureau Records on microfilm.

For more information on the Newberry’s resources for African American Studies consult African American Studies - Reference Sources and Civil War and Reconstruction.

Other related Newberry subject strengths include the following:

  • Africa: The Newberry has more than 2,000 travel and historical accounts relating to Africa. Generally, these travel narratives are from the nineteenth century. A somewhat more developed collection relates to the Portuguese exploration and colonization of Africa.
  • Caribbean & Latin America: The library’s Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin American holdings are largely contained in the Ayer and Greenlee collections. The collections are strongest for the Afro-Latin experience in Mexico and Puerto Rico, with lesser emphasis on Brazil and the Caribbean.

See also American History - Publications about the Newberry Library Collections