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“One of the major problems in studying the Black Panther Party surrounds the relationship between the Party and the law,” American history scholar Dr. Joe Street noted in a recent essay he wrote about using ProQuest History Vault in his research.
Dr. Street is a senior lecturer of American History at Northumbria University. His passion for exploring the ways politics and culture overlap in the twentieth century led him to a focus especially on the African American political struggle of the 1960s and 1970s, and the San Francisco Bay Area after World War II.
Previously, Dr. Street has authored numerous articles in these areas, as well as two books, Culture War in the Civil Rights Movement and Dirty Harry’s America: Clint Eastwood, Harry Callahan, and the Conservative Backlash (both available from Ebook Central). He is currently working on a full-length history of the Black Panther Parter (BPP), the radical African American organization formed in Oakland, California, in 1966.
For this most recent project, Dr. Street has been consulting ProQuest History Vault’s FBI files to gain a more balanced perspective on his subject matter. He notes that many researchers have focused on criminal activities of the organization, concluding that government efforts to dismantle the Party were justified. Other researchers who have relied exclusively on oral histories from former activists, publications from the radical press (including the BPP itself), and the BPP’s own organizational records*, sources that may be overly sympathetic to the organization.
In being able to directly explore the FBI files and other primary source documents, Dr. Street is empowered to delve more deeply into the problematic relations between the BPP and the law, discover new insights that might have not been otherwise possible, and maintain a more objective point of view in his research.
Dr. Street’s interest in American history and culture is not unusual or unique among scholars in the UK. American studies has long been a popular subject for British students and researchers, for a number of reasons. For one, as the U.S. is a major global power, American studies can be an avenue into understanding global issues and relations.
For another, according to The Times Higher Education Supplement: “given the global saturation of American music, television and film, anyone may feel confident that they understand the U.S. well. That can be deceiving, however, for American culture, like an onion, has many layers.” Scholars of American studies are able to peel back those layers for deeper insights into the culture, from both a historical perspective, and in order to understand impacts on current events.
The scope of American studies – which can encompass literature, history, politics, international relations, and more – attracts students who are interested in the dynamic areas where these subjects overlap. One student in the article mentioned peers taking courses that were more “profession-oriented” but concluded “People should study humanities and what it means to be human.”
The interdisciplinary nature of American studies can open opportunities for students beyond the academic. Students in these programs not only gain a comprehensive understanding of America and its cultures, they also develop invaluable critical thinking, analytical and rhetorical skills. Students of American studies often go on to pursue careers in government, journalism, publishing, finance, marketing, advertising and the creative industries.
However, according to the article, “British scholars face disadvantages innate to studying any country from afar” – among them, “the cost and time in getting to archives.”
Fortunately, as Dr. Street’s research demonstrates, ProQuest History Vault can bring American archives to students and researchers in the UK – or any place else in the world.
According to Dr. Street, the History Vault collection of FBI files on the Black Panthers is not only accessible to scholars around the world, but it is “more voluminous than those available via the FBI’s own website and its contents are fully searchable.” He notes the FBI files on the Black Panthers in History Vault “contain thousands of pages of material. That these documents are easily searched enables keyword, date, and subject searches, considerably reducing the time taken to cross-reference each document.”
In addition, the content of ProQuest History Vault has also inspired and informed dozens of essays and dissertations at undergraduate and postgraduate levels by Dr. Street’s students. “The civil rights movement is consistently fascinating to students,” he said, “and the History Vault collections underpin numerous dissertations each year at Northumbria.”
Among a multitude of research projects, Dr. Street’s essay mentions students who have consulted History Vault for essays and dissertations “on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (again using FBI surveillance material), the activism of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (through the SNCC files), the actions of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations on civil rights, the activist Robert F. Williams, and the Freedom Rides of the Congress of Racial Equality.”
Dr. Street concludes:
Such collections offer our students an unrivaled opportunity to engage with advanced historical research, conducting the same inquiries of the same materials that professional historians continue to use. Without ProQuest History Vault, I have no doubt that our students would struggle to produce such excellent work.
Download Professor Street’s essay, and explore resources on Black Freedom to deepen research.
For additional perspectives on the Black Panther Party
ProQuest Congressional Hearings Digital Collections
This database includes transcripts from hearings in which former Black Panther members testified, easily searchable by witness affiliation over time.
Black Historical Newspapers
ProQuest Historical Newspapers - Black Newspapers offers primary source material essential to the study of American history and African-American culture, history, politics, and the arts.
*Black Panther Newspaper and archival video from the Black Panthers, including oral histories, lectures and interviews, are available from Alexander Street.Citation: