Note on Classroom Use

Our intention in the Keywords for African American Studies, as articulated in the introduction, is to explore the terms, categories, and concepts that undergird and delineate the contours of black studies as an intellectual imaginary and as an experimental project within the U.S. academy. This project recognizes and scrutinizes the malleability of our world as well as the words that continuously evolve to describe it. This volume functions as an essential resource to complement and add depth to the critical work in which students and scholars engage Africana studies. Unlike a dictionary or encyclopedia, this book functions with a very specific utility for the classroom as a way to explore and understand the ways in which terms critical to black studies intellectually animate the field. Students see how the concepts and frameworks used to explore phenomena across disciplines are rarely static, but in conversation with each other. Knowledge is infinitely unfolding and Keywords provides an important resource for understanding that process.

The interdisciplinary nature of this project—and African American studies—provides many different ways that instructors may utilize this text. Historians, for example, may find that particular terms complement an African American history course in important ways. Essays on “slavery,” “riots,” “segregation,” and “nadir” may provide especially useful texts for historiographic interrogations of these topics. Scholars of cultural studies may be drawn to other terms like “Black arts movement,” “rock,” and “cinema” particularly salient for their courses. In every case, we believe, these terms—a broad swath of essential ones for the field—will complement courses centered on black studies. Note that this book is not a definitive or exemplary text defining the boundaries of this scholarly field. It is, instead, evidence of a generative process that will further an ongoing conversation about the potentials and limits of black studies.

In addition to using Keyword for African American Studies in ways that accentuates its application to a specific discipline, any instructor can construct a course that uses this book thematically as well. For example, what does the scholarship of African American studies say about political concepts like “democracy,” “freedom,” and “justice?” How do these themes circulate as foundational elements to most (if not all) of these keywords? How does “hip-hop” speak to limitations in how these concepts have been applied in society? How has the [near] absence of these concepts been primal driver for events often called “riots?” What do Sonia Sanchez, Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka, or others of the Black Arts Movement say about these concepts? Similarly, themes such as “identity” (sexual, racial or otherwise) also circulate in this book, allowing for creative pedagogical engagement with these keywords.

This book may work well in undergraduate and graduate courses. The utility in these courses, as implied in the above paragraph, can range from an Introduction to Africana Studies course, to courses that are more specific, such as African American Art, African American History Since 1865, African American Politics, or African American Literature. For upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses, the book offers a special opportunity for a “deep dive” into the mechanics of scholarship. The essays reveal the often vigorous debates, discussions and interrogations of various phenomena. How we understand slavery, for example, has evolved considerably since historians like U.B. Phillips and other Confederate apologists wrote books about the Peculiar Institution in the 19th century. The ways in which women and men held in slavery exerted agency, resistance and forged communities were unknown and understudied a century ago. New methodologies, resources, data and interpretive frameworks can be discussed and engaged in substantive ways in the classroom with this book. Debates about terminology, such as “New Negro Renaissance” or “Harlem Renaissance” reveal the degree to which history, and scholarship more broadly remains in a dynamic state of interpretation and interrogation. Students can consider the ways in which they can also contribute to these conversations through research and critical analysis.

While college-level courses may appear the natural entry-point for this book, advanced high school courses would find this book incredibly enriching as well. The book’s function, to chart the malleability in meaning and application of words used to describe evolving phenomena, knowledge production is de-mystified to some extent. These keywords operate as something more than those helpful reference sources. They also chart the conversations and process surrounding the professional production of scholarship.

Finally, Keywords in African American Studies lends itself to shape the work students produce in class. What are the ways that students can explore their own keywords? How can they add to the (admittedly) non-exhaustive list? What more can be added to the conversations and discussions of the keywords? Several terms demonstrate ongoing expansions in content. “Cinema,” for example, is ripe for constant updating, as is “Hip-Hop,” “Jazz,” “poetics” and several others. From thematic, temporal, or topical class projects, the opportunities are many for student use.

The Keywords in African American Studies website will also highlight how some courses have incorporated the book via posts of syllabi from various courses. We invite instructors to share their experiences and syllabi for the growing community of Keywords users, enriching its utility in the process.