rusq: Vol. 51 Issue 1: p. 73
Sources: Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture
Rob Snyder

Rob Snyder, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio

Although there are a number of reference works pertaining to various aspects of African American history and culture, there has not previously been a collection that focuses specifically on popular culture. The intent of this four-volume set is to “give a panoramic view of contemporary African American popular culture and, as much as possible, trace the history and/or impact of events that affect or involve popular culture” (xxxiii). This is achieved through entries that not only define and describe a topic (from areas such as entertainment, history, sports, art, organizations, business, and more), but often show the development of an aspect of popular culture from its historical roots in African or African American history. For example, the entry for “bling and grillz” describes not only the current use of “flashy jewelry and accessories” (169), but delves into the historical background and development of body embellishments and ornamentation from Africa to America within the African American community.

Each volume begins with an alphabetical listing of the entries covering the entire set, as well as a “Guide to Related Topics” that functions as a useful collection of subjects that organize the entries under such headings as “Education, Educators” and “Folklore, Influences.” Each entry closes with a few references for further reading (or a discography for some musicians). Also included in this set are a detailed timeline covering significant events in the history of African Americans from 1619 to February of 2010, a comprehensive selected bibliography, and four appendixes, featuring selected lists of African American films, radio shows, television shows, and pop culture collections at research centers, libraries, and universities. The contributors are primarily scholars and researchers at U.S. colleges and universities, including doctoral candidates, information professionals, and professors in a wide variety of disciplines.

Given the nature of this encyclopedia, comparisons can be drawn to the Encyclopedia of Popular Culture (St. James, 2000), Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (Oxford, 2005), and the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (Thomson Gale, 2006). A look at representative entries, for example “barbershops,” break dancing,” “Aunt Jemima,” and “Bill Cosby,” shows a significant amount of overlap among the reference sources pertaining to African American culture. There is much less overlap with the Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, which focuses on popular culture in the U.S. during the twentieth century, but might benefit from a more multicultural perspective. Although the Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture does contain a number of entries already covered in other encyclopedias of African American culture and history, even the overlapping entries provide enough additional information to make these volumes a valuable complement to existing collections. However, institutions that already have sizeable reference collections related to African American history and culture might find that there is too much overlap to justify adding this encyclopedia to the collection.

This resource is suitable for larger public and school libraries that would benefit from additional materials related to African American culture or popular culture in general. Academic libraries might also find it useful; however, given the brevity and the relatively short lists of references for each entry, this would most likely be used at an undergraduate level.



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