Black Women in America

Shirley Chisholm announcing her candidacy (1972), via Wikimedia Commons

Research Guide

Welcome! This page highlights key resources for conducting effective  research in the Africana Studies seminar Black Women in America.

If you need assistance identifying additional resources, search terms or strategies, please schedule a research consultation.

Personal Librarian:
Vani Natarajan
208C Lehman


Finding Books and Media Materials

CLIO provides access to the vast resources of the Columbia University Libraries, including Barnard Library, but excluding Teachers College and the Law Library. Search the Catalog for book and media materials.

Some CLIO Search Tips:

  • It can often be helpful to start with a more expansive search (i.e. fewer terms entered into the search box), and then use facets and sorting (see the boxes at the left side of the screen) to narrow down your results.
  • Use the asterisk (*) as a wild card, to search for word variations (i.e. Afrofuturis*, which searches Afrofuturist and Afrofuturism).
  • Surround words with quotes to search them together as a phrase, (i.e. "Black Feminism").
  • Use AND (in all caps) to search for sources that bring up ALL the terms; use OR to search for sources that bring up ANY of the terms.
  • If using CLIO to find primary sources, make sure to include a date limit for the time period you are studying.Also, use the Subject (Genre) facets to narrow down to the kind of source you are looking for. Some examples:
    • Correspondence
    • Diaries
    • Interviews
    • Maps 
    • Memorabilia
    • Personal Narratives
    • Photographs

Zines are self-published works motivated by the desire for expression, not profit. The Barnard Library Zine Collection includes over 5,000 zines written by women (cis- and transgender) with an emphasis on zines by women of color. To search for zines, use CLIO. You may try an Advanced Search combining the terms "zines" (keyword) with additional keywords and phrases, such as "African American*" or "Riot Grrrl."


Beyond Barnard and Columbia

BorrowDirect allows you to borrow books directly from the libraries of Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, the University of Chicago, and Yale, in addition to select libraries of Harvard and MIT. Items requested through BorrowDirect typically deliver in 3 to 4 business days, with a 6-week loan period + one 6-week renewal.

Interlibrary Loan lets you borrow books, music scores, and selected audiovisual items (i.e. maps or films) that are not currently available at Columbia University Libraries. You can use ILL to request PDF scans of journal articles, as well. ILL has a larger scope of participating institutions than Borrow Direct.

New York Public Library  offers a variety of ways to search and explore their collections:

  • Classic Catalog searches materials across all branches and divisions of the library.
  • Digital Collections offers access to a limited, yet extensive, selection of digitized images, text, sound, and video from the library's collections.
  • Find Archival Materials searches archival collections across the library's research divisions, in most cases offering full text access to finding aids and further directions for planning visits.

The New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem, collects, preserves, and provides access to materials related to Black life in Africa and the African Diaspora (including the Americas). You can use the search tools listed above to start exploring the Schomburg's holdings. Five divisions comprise the center:

The Schomburg Center also hosts many excellent public programs related to Africana Studies---consult their calendarfor details!

Worldcat is a union catalog that brings together the collections of over 72,000 libraries around the world. Search here for items held in other libraries.


Finding Journal Articles

If you aren't sure where to start your search for articles, try Find Articles. It searches across multiple databases, included the ones listed below, and can even recommend subject specific databases that yield the most results for your search terms.

Black Studies Center describes itself as a “fully cross-searchable gateway to Black Studies.” The database combines Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience, The HistoryMakers Videos and full transcripts for interviews with 100 contemporary African Americans, International Index to Black Periodicals (IIBP), historical black newspapers, Black Abolitionist Papers, and the Black Literature Index.

Contemporary women’s issues provides full-text journal and magazine articles, fact sheets, and reports about women in over 190 countries, from U.S. and international sources.

EBSCO combines a variety of databases in one interface. You can search all databases at once, or a combination of individual ones. Some examples:

  • Family & society studies worldwide  provides citations to journal articles, book chapters, monographs, reports, papers, unpublished material, and other documents in the fields of family studies and childhood studies across a range of social science, health science, and humanities disciplines. Coverage extends from 1970 to the present.
  • Gender studies database combines databases in women's studies, men's studies, and child development & adolescent studies, along with selected material on sexuality studies. Sources covered include journal articles, books, conference papers, reports, dissertations, web sites, and other sources.
  • Humanities Full Text contains full text academic articles covering the humanities, including book reviews, bibliographies, interviews, obituaries, reviews of performing arts and media, and also original works of poetry, fiction, and drama.
  • LGBT Life with full text indexes journal articles and book chapters on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues.
  • Race Relations Abstracts covers scholarly and popular articles related to race and ethnic studies, immigration, civil rights, and more.

Proquest combines a variety of databases in one interface. You can search all databases at once, or a combination of individual ones. Some examples:

  • Arts & humanities full text provides full-text access to articles from journals in diverse areas of the arts and humanities, including sources in ethnic studies, women's studies, and other related fields. 
  • Ethnic News Watch has a full-text collection of newspapers, magazines and journals from ethnic, minority and indigenous press.
  • GenderWatch offers access to a full-text collection of international journals, magazines, newsletters, regional publications, special reports and conference proceedings devoted to women's and gender issues.
  • International Bibliography of the Social Sciences indexes over 2,700 journals and about 7,000 books each year; fields covered include anthropology, political science, sociology, and economics.


Digital Collections and Pathways to Analog Collections

ArchiveGrid is a database that allows users to search over four million records describing archival materials, among them historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more, from over 1,000 different archival institutions.

Black Women Writers is a growing collection of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry by women from North America, Africa, and the Caribbean. It also includes selected secondary texts by scholars and feminists looking at gender and literature in Africa and the diaspora.

Black Thought and Culture collects non-fiction works by African American leaders, activists, and intellectuals. These works include books, essays, speeches, correspondence, interviews, and material that hasn't previously been published.

Center for Research Libraries Catalog has particularly strong holdings of world newspapers on microfilm, including many newspapers from Africa. There's also a strong selection of other periodicals, including African American independent magazines and journals. Use the catalog to search these holdings, and then submit an interlibrary loan request for the microfilm reels you'd like to view (these can be delivered to the Columbia libraries).

Federal Surveillance of African Americans contains facsimiles of hundred of FBI files documenting the federal scrutiny, harassment, and persecution of African Americans between 1920 and 1984.

Historical Black Newspapers provides full-text and full-image access to African American daily newspapers from the late 19th to early 21st centuries, including Atlanta Daily World, Los Angeles Sentinel, New York Amsterdam News, Pittsburgh Courier, and The Chicago Defender. Can be cross-searched with other historical newspapers on the Proquest platform.

Documents from the Women's Liberation Movement: An Online Archival Collection collects many key sources from women of color organizers and activists, with a focus on the 1960's and 1970's.

Umbra is a growing, searchable digital collection of over 400,000 sources related to African American history, from US cultural heritage institutions, museums, and archives. Umbra is developed by the Givens Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota in partnership with the Penumbra Theatre Company.

Women and Social Movements in the United States 1600-2000 includes 105 document projects and archives, along with over 53,000 pages of full text documents. Examples of movements covered: abolitionism, anti-war movements, civil rights, and reproductive justice.



Black American Feminisms: A Multidisciplinary Bibliography brings together citations and, in some cases, links to a wide variety of Black American Feminist sources across disciplines. A project of UC Santa Barbara Librarian Sherri Barnes.

Oxford African American Studies Center offers searchable full text of the reference sources African American National Biography, Africana, Black Women in America, and Encyclopedia of African American History.

Oxford Bibliographies offers thoroughly researched annotated bibliographies of scholarly sources on a wide range of topics across disciplines. You may wish to try searches for theoretical frames, historical periods, or broad concepts.

Tools for Strategically Searching the "Open Web"

Google Advanced Search allows for a more granular search of the web. You can limit by page domain, search for terms within an address or title, limit by usage rights, and much more.

Google Scholar is especially useful for tracing citation histories for particular sources (articles as well as monographs). If you run a title search, click on "cited by" to generate a list of sources that have cited the source in question.

Internet Archive: Wayback Machine captures over 400 billion web pages saved over time. This can be a great tool for viewing web sites that are no longer "live."

Twitter Advanced Search allows for a more granular search of this popular social media platform, incorporating keywords, hashtags, locations, and Twitter handles into the search query.


Writing and Citing

OWL: Purdue University Online Writing Lab provides general and subject specific writing tips and techniques, along with research advice and detailed citation and formatting standards for the APA, MLA, and Chicago styles.

Zotero is a free, open source program that allows you to quickly save, organize, format, and share your bibliographic citations. For extensive tips on installing and using Zotero, consult our Zotero Guide or the Zotero User Guide created by the program's developers.