Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Black America: A State-by-State Historical Encyclopedia

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Black America: A State-by-State Historical Encyclopedia

Article excerpt

Black America: A State-by-State Historical Encyclopedia. Edited by Jr. Alton Hornsby. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood, 2011. 2 vols. acid free $180 (ISBN: 978-0-313-34112-0). E-book available (978-1-5735-6976-7), call for pricing.

The editor of this two-volume set adopts a novel approach to a subject well covered by reference publishers. The state-by-state structure allows for the study of African American history from a more local context. The work presents countless facts, events, and personalities forgotten or otherwise drowned out by the broader tides of American history. Readers come away with a better understanding that black America is not a monolithic culture, and much of African American history has played out in far-flung corners of the country.

The illustrated encyclopedia covers all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each state has sections for "Chronology," "Notable African Americans," "Cultural Contributions," and a bibliography. The essay portions are well-written and researched overall, and the chronologies and bibliographies are helpful for historical context and further exploration. The cumulative index is indispensible, and thankfully well constructed, for finding topics dispersed across many states.

The chief weakness of the work is the uneven treatment of the biographies. It is difficult to discern how California only has nine biographies to Oregon and New Mexico's eleven, Idaho's thirteen, and Utah's robust thirty-one, to name a few. As well, there seems to be no criteria to fully explain how notables were selected, or why some have been associated with one state or another or in multiple states in some cases. …

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