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African American Studies

The Discipline and Its Dimensions

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Nathaniel Norment, Jr.

African American Studies: The Discipline and Its Dimensions is a comprehensive resource book that recounts the development of the discipline of African American Studies and provides a basic reference source for sixteen areas of knowledge of the discipline: anthropology, art, dance, economics, education, film, history, literature, music, philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology, political science, science and technology, sports and religion. African American Studies defines bodies of knowledge, methodologies, philosophies, disciplinary concepts, contents, scope, topics scholars have concerned themselves, as well as the growth, development, and present status of the discipline. African American Studies validates that African American Studies is a unique and significant discipline—one that intersects almost every academic discipline and cultural construct—and confirms that the discipline has a noteworthy history and a challenging future. The various bodies of knowledge, the philosophical framework, methodological procedures, and theoretical underpinnings of the discipline have never been clearly delineated from an African-centered perspective.

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3. African American Literature

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CHAPTER 3

African American Literature

Ananse Ntontan “Spider’s web” Symbol of wisdom, creativity, and the complexes of life

The final measure of the greatness of all peoples is the amount and standard of the literature and art they have produced.

—James Weldon Johnson

The African Antecedents

The genealogy of African writers is vast. To categorize the intellectual contributions of African people prior to their wholesale enslavement and colonization from both the East and the West would be a weighty task, requiring the study of many languages, cultures, and deep thought traditions. African American Studies must, however, prepare for the task, as it is the only discipline designed to connect ancestral memory to the contemporary life-worlds of people of African descent. Scholars must question, identify, and/or explain the elements inherent in the broad expanses of writings arising out of the African context and their essential meanings to the particular society from which they arose. African American Studies must uniquely approach these various writings with an understanding of how Africans traditionally made meaning of their experiences, which requires that scholars have an understanding of Africana cultures.

The question of whether or not Africana peoples have a literary tradition prior to Arab/European intervention has been raised in the last half century with the rise of disciplines such as Anthropology and African Studies. The existence of a tradition of literature has been thoroughly affirmed. The remaining task,...

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