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Discussing Josephine Baker with Anne Cheng

By Tim Allen
Josephine Baker, the mid-20th century performance artist, provocatrix, and muse, led a fascinating transatlantic life. I recently had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Anne A. Cheng, Professor of English and African American Literature at Princeton University and author of the book Second Skin: Josephine Baker & the Modern Surface, about her research into Baker’s life, work, influence, and legacy.

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Dirty South hip hop and societal ills in the former Confederacy

Dirty South hip hop refers to a gritty rap culture first developed in the southern United States during the 1980s and the 1990s. Goodie Mob, an eccentric quartet from Atlanta, Georgia, titled a 1995 single “Dirty South” in order to shed light on myriad societal ills in the former Confederacy, where ethnic prejudice and racism seemed to be perennial sicknesses.

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The Black Book: Phillis Wheatley and the information revolution

By Richard Newman
The noble ideal of Black History Month is that by extracting and examining key people and moments in the African American grain, we learn much about black achievement. But it is equally powerful to set black history in the grand swirl of events to see the many ways that African-Americans have impacted the nation’s political and cultural development.

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Osagie K. Obasogie speaks with Skip Gates about colorblindness and race

Osagie K. Obasogie, J.D., Ph.D., is Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings with a joint appointment at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. His first book, Blinded By Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind, was recently published by Stanford University Press and his second book on the past, present, and future of bioethics is under contract with the University of California Press.

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Escape Plans: Solomon Northup and Twelve Years a Slave

By Daniel Donaghy
During the movie awards season, Steve McQueen’s new film 12 Years a Slave will inspire discussions about its realistic depiction of slavery’s atrocities (Henry Louis Gates Jr. has already called it, “most certainly one of the most vivid and authentic portrayals of slavery ever captured in a feature film.”) and the points at which the film most clearly reflects and departs from Solomon Northup’s original narrative.

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Exploring the seven principles of Kwanzaa: a playlist

by Tim Allen and Meghann Wilhoite
Beginning the 26th of December, a globe-spanning group of millions of people of African descent will celebrate Kwanzaa, the seven-day festival of communitarian values created by scholar Maulana Karenga in 1966. The name of the festival is adapted from a Swahili phrase that refers to “the first fruits,” and is meant to recall ancient African harvest celebrations.

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A journey through 500 years of African American history

By Leslie Asako Gladsjo
This fall, my colleagues and I completed work on Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s documentary series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, which began airing on national PBS in October. In six one-hour episodes, the series traces the history of the African American people, from the 16th century to today.

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The African Camus

By Tim Allen
Albert Camus, author of those high school World Literature course staples The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus, would have been 100 years old today.

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Twelve facts about the drum kit

By Alice Northover
Drummers are often seen as the most unintelligent and unmusical of band members. Few realize how essential the kick of a pedal and tap of the hi-hat are for setting down the beat and forming the tone of the band. So what is there to the drum kit besides a set of drums, suspended cymbals, and other percussion instruments?

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A flag of one’s own? Aimé Césaire between poetry and politics

By Gregson Davis
Aimé Césaire (1913 – 2008) has left behind an extraordinary dual legacy as eminent poet and political leader. Several critics have claimed to observe a contradiction between the vehement anti-colonial stance expressed in his writings and his political practice. Criticism has focused on his support for the law of “departmentalization” (which incorporated the French Antilles, along with other overseas territories, as administrative “departments” within the French Republic) and his reluctance to lead his country to political independence.

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Where no kiss has gone before

By Tim Allen
I grew up with Star Trek. When I was 10, I helped my mom put together an intricate scale model of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701, if you’re curious). I knew that LeVar Burton could tell me about a warp core before I knew that he would read me a children’s book, and I knew that Klingon was a learnable language long before I had ever heard of human languages like Tagalog or Swahili.

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Blaxploitation, from Shaft to Django

By Tim Allen and Robert Repino
What do you get when you combine Hollywood, African American actors, gritty urban settings, sex, and a whole lot of action? Some would simply call it a recipe for box office success, but since the early 1970s, most people have known this filmmaking formula by the name “Blaxploitation.” Blaxploitation cinema occupies a fascinating place in the landscape of American pop culture.

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Five women songwriters who helped shape the sound of jazz

By Ted Gioia
The songwriting business offered few opportunities to women in the early 20th century.  And jazz bandleaders, despite their own experiences with discrimination, were hardly more tolerant of female talent. Although audiences expected the leading orchestras to showcase a ‘girl singer’, women were rarely allowed to serve in other capacities, either on the bandstand or writing arrangements and compositions.

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