Reference Book of the Week: Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History

Welcome to our opening edition of a new semi-regular feature in our blog: Reference Book of the Week. Here at Hutchins Library we have an excellent reference collection. It is a great resource for students, faculty, and staff. We will use this series of posts to highlight specific items in our reference collection, telling our readers what the item does and how it can be used for your research needs.

February is Black History Month. In honor of the observance, we are featuring the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History: The Black Experience in the Americas (REF 973.049 E625 2006). The first edition of this six volume set came out in 1996; the second edition, which the library has, came out in 2006. When the first edition came out ,the editors and writers of this encyclopedia sought to provide readers with accurate knowledge of African American history, a field of study that was long neglected up to the middle of the twentieth century. The encyclopedia features biographical entries of African Americans; there are no entries for figures such as FDR, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, nor Wole Soyinka. The goal for biographical entries was to look at achievements and contributions of African Americans. In addition, the encyclopedia does include various various entries on events, historical periods, legal cases, culture, sports, and geography. The set also features illustrations and photographs as well as appendices with various lists for things like economic data, lists, and other tables.

Entries are arranged in alphabetical order. To make the best use of this set, you want to get the last volume of the set and look in the index to see if your topic is covered. You may find that your topic has an entry, but you may also notice that topics may be mentioned in other entries. For example, Colson Whitehead has an entry on pages 2290-2291, but he is also mentioned in other entries on pages 1311 and 1332. The set does provide cross-references, so once you locate an entry, you will get additional suggestions of other entries to look at that are related to the topic of interest. Using cross-references is an easy way to expand your research on a topic. Plus, like all good reference works, each entry provides a small bibliography of works related to an entry so you can expand your research that way as well. The last volume of the set also contains the appendices with various additional materials such as primary source documents and other data.

The second edition of the encyclopedia, which is the one we have in the reference collection as of this writing, expanded the set from five to six volumes and provided a substantial revision. The editors did remove some entries, updated others, and added some new entries. It now does provide some coverage of figures outside the United States for instance in places like the Caribbean and Latin America, a reflection of the diverse times we live in.

If you are interested in African American history, and/or you are writing a paper on African-American topics, this is an excellent resource to get you some background information and some possible citations to expand your research.

The library, in addition to the print edition, also has an electronic (e-book) edition of this resource. Do note that this is a subscription-based resource, so if you are trying to access it from outside of the Berea College network, you will need to provide your Berea online credentials (username and password). The print version of this work is located in the second floor of the library in the Reference Collection.

Catch the Calders While You Can!

Until September of last year, the Reference Department was lucky enough to serve as a temporary home to several amazing wall hangings by world-famous artist Alexander Calder. Yes, that’s right – THE Alexander Calder, who is perhaps most famous for his playful mobiles (see below).


It was with a heavy but thankful heart that we said goodbye to the Calder hangings and returned them to their rightful home in the Art Department. Time, as well as exposure to light and human touch, had not been kind to the woven hemp hangings; they were dirty and their once-bright colors were so faded that you wouldn’t have recognized them as a part of Calder’s typical palette.

Thankfully, an anonymous grant brought a textiles conservator to campus to work with students to restore the hangings to their original grandeur. You owe it to yourself to see them while you still can. These are  limited edition hangings designed nearly 40 years ago by Calder as a marriage of his distinct style and his wife Louisa’s interest in Central American native handicrafts. Made in collaboration with master weavers from Nicaragua and Guatemala, they are simply stunning to behold. Visit them in the Lower Traylor Gallery of the Art Building. The exhibit runs through February 17th.


Conserving a Legacy: Wall Hangings by Alexander Calder

Exhibit hours are:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday
8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Tuesday & Thursday
8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
1:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m

Image Credits:

Calder Mobile:

Traylor Gallery Image: courtesy of Meghan C. Doherty, Ph.D, Director, Doris Ulmann Galleries