Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 01/31/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Interdisciplinary Studies

First Advisor

Hill, Michael D.

First Committee Member

Porter, Horace A.

Second Committee Member

Turner, Richard B.

Third Committee Member

Munoz, Kristine L.

Fourth Committee Member

Redmond, Shana L.


My dissertation, Black Studies Definitions, examines the varied ways that Black Studies has been defined in the United States of America. Investigating the definitions found in college/university catalogues, foundation reports, encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, scholarly articles/books, and the popular press, I suggest that the definitional difficulties surrounding this field can be clarified by considering the archive of these materials, the significance of “the year of promise,” 1968-1969, and a conceptual approach to the discipline.

Quite often, observations about Black Studies are grounded in references to limited primary sources. By unearthing and extracting statements about the field from fifty years of materials, “Black Studies Definitions” suggests the inadequacy of such formulations and provides a resource for systematically researching Black Studies. The year of promise has been noted as an important historical landmark; however, its role in the development of Black Studies has not been comprehended accurately. Presenting selected texts that were written during this span, this dissertation identifies 1968-1969 as a vital developmental phase in Black Studies. It does so by using select texts written by the higher education establishment and by intellectuals to abstract key words and kernel elements that provide a basis for defining the discipline. Finally, “Black Studies Definitions” uses a conceptual approach to offer a provisional definition of the field. Addressing more than forty years of unsatisfying efforts, this dissertation points towards techniques that can lay the foundation for a fruitful future in the discipline.

My dissertation is an interdisciplinary analysis that aims at a better understanding of Black Studies in higher education. After compiling and analyzing earlier definitions of Black Studies, I noted that these statements were often incomplete. These incomplete statements produced confusion surrounding the identity of the field; however, they also contained details that could provide a fuller understanding of Black Studies. Inquiring into the core concepts of the field, I discovered that Black Studies, which was a new discipline circa 1968, inspired definitions that included a few recurring keywords. My research attempts to determine when and how these keywords appear in materials defining the discipline. By charting such patterns in definitions of Black Studies, I lay the groundwork for a more careful chronicling of the different phases in the field’s public presentation. This kind of chronicling suggests that a conceptual approach to defining the discipline proves fruitful.

Despite the proliferation of Black Studies programs between 1968 and 2017, academicians have yet to agree on what is included or excluded from this field. “Black Studies Definitions” addresses this situation with three crucial interventions. My work presents a bibliography of more than one thousand texts that engage the definition of this field. My research establishes 1968-1969 as a revelatory era in identifying the core concepts that underlie Black Studies. Finally, my dissertation illustrates that a conceptual approach provides a fruitful basis for defining this field. Specifically, it argues that Black Studies is a branch of the interdisciplinary human sciences that probe the relations between a state of mind, people and language.


Archive, Black Studies Concept, Definitional Proposition, Interdisciplinary Studies, People, State of Mind and Language


xiv, 246 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 237-246).


Copyright © 2017 James Alexander Robinson, 4th

Available for download on Friday, January 31, 2020