Blackness and Comedic Performance in the US



Ragheb, Benjamin (2011). American comedian Sasheer Zamata from "Overload the Machine", a monthly comedy show at The People's Improv Theater. Image via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0



Research Guide

Welcome. This page highlights key resources for conducting research for Professor Lori Brooks' class, Blackness and Comedic Performance in the U.S.

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



Personal Librarian:
Vani Natarajan
Lefrak 106

Reference Sources 

Reference sources can help with identifying and exploring relevant names, historical moments, terms, and foundational scholarship. Some examples:

American Decades: 2000-2009 covers events, key individuals, and details of American life through the decades. Can be searched via the table of contents or index, or keyword search.

Biography in Context includes over 650,000 biographical entries covering international figures from a range of time periods and areas of study. In addition to reference entries, it includes videos, audio selections, images, primary sources, and magazine and journal articles from hundreds of major periodicals and newspapers.

Oxford African American Studies Center features articles, primary sources, images, media, and maps from Oxford reference works focused on African American history and culture. Works covered include: Africana, which presents an account of the African and African American experience in five volumes ; the Encyclopedia of African American history ; Black women in America, 2nd ed ; and the African American national biography.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture covers television, movies, theater, art, books, magazines, radio, music, sports, fashion, health, politics, trends, community life and advertising in twentieth century culture. Entries, which can be searched by keyword or alphabetically browsed, include subject-specific bibliographies and, where appropriate, photographs and textual cross-references to related essays.


Finding Books and Media

CLIO includes the online catalog of Columbia University Libraries, Barnard Library, and Union theological Seminary (Law Library and Teachers College Library have separate catalogs). To search within the CLIO catalog, select "Catalog" from the left-hand menu.   CLIO also includes records of CUL materials held offsite, which you can use CLIO to request.

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) with "All Fields" selected in the drop down menu, and then use facets and sorting to narrow down your results.
  • Use the asterisk (*) as a wild card. comed*  searches for the words comedy, comedic, comedies, etc. 
  • Surround words with quotes to search them together as a phrase, i.e. "critical race theory."
  • When reading through your search results, notice the subject headings used to describe them. Subject headings are linked; clicking on a link can generate a new search. Some examples of subject headings that might be useful include African American wit and humor and African American comedians.
  • 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


Beyond Barnard and Columbia

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. Then use any of the following to access materials from beyond 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:



Primary Sources: In Analog Collections and Online

Within CLIO, you might try searches in both the Catalog and Article tabs using date limits that correspond with the historical time frame you are researching. Additionally, CLIO: Archives allows you to search for records and finding aids of archival materials held at the Columbia Libraries.

ArchiveGrid allows researchers to explore materials held in over 1000 different archives, museums, libraries, and special collections. Use the search to discover finding aids for document collections in New York City and beyond. TIP: Well-written finding aids are often great places to find biographies for background information!

Barnard Archives and Special Collections acts as the final repository for materials pertaining to the history of Barnard College. The collection also includes a wealth of primary sources related to women's history, including the Overbury Collection, which features manuscripts and correspondence by many American women writers.

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 (coverage up to 2006), historical black newspapers, Black Abolitionist Papers, and the Black Literature Index.

Black Thought and Culture offers full text access to works of non-fiction, written from colonial times to the present, by African American authors. Sources represented include books, articles essays, interviews and letters. Sources can be browsed by year of publication, historical events, author names, and more. Of note: The database includes fully scanned copies of the Black Panther Party newspaper from 1967-1980.

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).

Digital Public Library of America serves as a portal to the digitized collections of various instutitions across the US, including millions of photographs, documents, books, audio materials, and moving images. The focus here is on images. You can search or browse items.

Historical Black Newspapers allows users to search and access articles, images, and other content from six leading historical Black newspapers in the US:

  • Atlanta Daily World (1931-2003)

  • Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988)

  • Chicago Defender (19019-1975)

  • Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005)

  • New York Amsterdam News (1922-1993)

  • Pittsburgh Courier (1911-2002)

Independent voices : an open access collection of an Alternative Press allows for browsing, search and access to digitized pages from magazines, newspapers, and journals of the alternative press collections of participating libraries in the US, Canada, and UK. These include periodicals produced by feminists, dissident GIs, campus radicals, Native Americans, anti-war activists, Black Power advocates, Hispanics, LGBT activists, the extreme right-wing press and alternative literary magazines during the latter half of the 20th century. The database is a work in progress, with a growing collection represented.

Library of Congress allows a search across digitized materials from the Library of Congress, including materials previously included in American Memory.

New York Public Library's 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.

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 Unites States focuses on records of U.S. based movements.

Articles: Broad Databases

You can try a broad search across many of the databases Columbia subscribes to using the CLIO Articles search (though this search has fewer options for narrowing down search results). For more precise search features, try a database:

  • JSTOR includes page images of key scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences. Coverage spans the late 19th century to the present.
  • ProjectMUSE provides full text scholarly journal articles, with citations and abstracts, from key sources in the humanities and social sciences. Content is updated daily, and coverage is extremely current.
  • Proquest searches across citations, abstracts, and the full text of articles from a wide range of magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, dissertations, and book chapters. TIP: To narrow down your search, click on the "Databases" link in the banner menu and select a limited number of databases by name, or grouped by subject area. 

Articles: Specialized Databases

  • Arts and Humanities Full Text includes articles, in full text, from over 500 journals across a range of disciplines: modern languages and literatures, history, cultural studies, philosophy, art, classics, geography, and anthropology, among others.
  • America: History and Life indexes journal articles covering the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistoric times to the present, while Historical Abstracts covers world history (excluding the United States and Canada) from 1450 to the present. Both of these can be searched simultaneously on the EBSCOHost Platform.
  • Ethnic Newswatch
  • Film and Television Literature Index indexes and offers full text access to articles from journals and magazines, including film and television reviews, scholarly and critical analysis of cinema and television, and articles of popular interest. 
  • Gender Studies 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 more.
  • 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.
  • Screen Studies Collection indexes and provides access to publications related to film scholarship, as well as filmographies (with some television scholarship represented). It includes FIAF International Index to Film Periodicals Database and the detailed and complementary filmographies created by the American Film Institute and the British Film Institute, as well as AFI Catalog and Film Index International.
  • Social Sciences Full Text covers both applied and theoretical aspects of the social sciences, with content from 1983 to the present and full text coverage starting from 1995 to the present.
  • Variety Archives offers access to articles and other content from the entertainment magazine Variety, from 1906 to the present. Weekly Variety, starting from 1906, and Daily Variety, starting from 1933, are both available up to the prior week. The database has a search function with date ranges in addition to terms and keywords which helps archive users find articles, reviews (among them, reviews of television shows), advertisements and images.

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.