Great Scientists – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Quick, how many astrophysicists can you name? Chances are Neil deGrasse Tyson is at the top of your list. And if this is the first that you’ve heard of Dr. Tyson, well, prepare to meet a groundbreaking scientist, compelling advocate for science funding, and a great explainer of the most complex subjects.

Dr. Tyson’s accomplishments are impressive – since completing his PhD at Columbia, he has been researcher at Princeton, written a number of books and journal articles both for scientific and popular publications, and is currently the youngest person to obtain the position the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.

But he is perhaps best known as one of America’s greatest public intellectuals. Dr. Tyson regularly appears in print, on TV, and on the Web to share his uncanny ability to make arcane scientific topics interesting to a broad audience. Below is a sampling of my favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson clips:

The Most Astounding Fact

Dr. Tyson’s answer to a question about “the most astounding fact about the universe” might just give you chills or even bring a little tear to your eye.

On 2012 Doomsday Predictions

I’m going to check with Dr. Tyson next time there’s a doomsday prediction.

On the history and future of NASA and space exploration

Dr. Tyson is a great advocate for funding for space exploration.

A story about race

Dr. Tyson tells of his decision to become a scientist.

Solving the Rubik’s Cube and a critique of the Daily Show globe logo

Dr. Tyson is also perhaps the funniest scientist you will encounter.

We have a lot of books and movies of his in our collection, as well. Stop in to your local library to check them out.


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The History of African-American Food

 Check out these books on the role that food has played in African-American history!


What the Slaves Ate: Recollections of African American Foods and Foodways from the Slave Narratives by Herbert C. Covey. Greenwood Press, 2009.

Carefully documenting African American slave foods, this book reveals that slaves actively developed their own foodways-their customs involving family and food. The authors connect African foods and food preparation to the development during slavery of Southern cuisines having African influences, including Cajun, Creole, and what later became known as “soul” food, drawing on the recollections of ex-slaves recorded by Works Progress Administration interviewers. Valuable for its fascinating look into the very core of slave life, this book makes a unique contribution to our knowledge of slave culture and of the complex power relations encoded in both owners’ manipulation of food as a method of slave control and slaves’ efforts to evade and undermine that control.

African American Food Culture by William Frank Mitchell. Greenwood Press, 2009.

Like other Americans, African Americans partake of the general food offerings available in mainstream supermarket chains across the country. Food culture, however, may depend on where they live and their degree of connection to traditions passed down through generations since the time of slavery. Many African Americans celebrate a hybrid identity that incorporates African and New World foodways. The state of African American food culture today is illuminated in depth here for the first time, in the all-important context of understanding the West African origins of most African Americans of today

Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power by Psyche A. Williams Forson. University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Chicken–both the bird and the food–has played multiple roles in the lives of African American women from the slavery era to the present. It has provided food and a source of income for their families, shaped a distinctive culture, and helped women define and exert themselves in racist and hostile environments. Psyche A. Williams-Forson examines the complexity of black women’s legacies using food as a form of cultural work. While acknowledging the negative interpretations of black culture associated with chicken imagery, Williams-Forson focuses her analysis on the ways black women have forged their own self-definitions and relationships to the “gospel bird.”

Exploring material ranging from personal interviews to the comedy of Chris Rock, from commercial advertisements to the art of Kara Walker, and from cookbooks to literature, Williams-Forson considers how black women arrive at degrees of self-definition and self-reliance using certain foods. She demonstrates how they defy conventional representations of blackness in relationship to these foods and exercise influence through food preparation and distribution. Understanding these phenomena clarifies how present interpretations of blacks and chicken are rooted in a past that is fraught with both racism and agency. The traditions and practices of feminism, Williams-Forson argues, are inherent in the foods women prepare and serve.

African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture edited by Anne L. Bower. University of Illinois Press, 2007.

Ranging over the progression from seventeenth-century West African fare to contemporary fusion dishes using “soul food” ingredients, this book provides an introduction to many aspects of African American foodways. Examining the combination of African, Caribbean, and South American traditions, the volume’s contributors offer insights from history, literary studies, sociology, anthropology, and African American studies to demonstrate how food’s material and symbolic values have contributed to African Americans’ identity for centuries. Individual chapters examine how African foodways survived the passage into slavery, cultural meanings associated with African American foodways, and the contents of African American cookbooks, both early and recent.

Hog & Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America by Frederick Douglass Opie. Columbia University Press, 2008.

Frederick Douglass Opie deconstructs and compares the foodways of people of African descent throughout the Americas, interprets the health legacies of black culinary traditions, and explains the concept of soul itself, revealing soul food to be an amalgamation of West and Central African social and cultural influences as well as the adaptations blacks made to the conditions of slavery and freedom in the Americas.

Sampling from travel accounts, periodicals, government reports on food and diet, and interviews with more than thirty people born before 1945, Opie reconstructs an interrelated history of Moorish influence on the Iberian Peninsula, the African slave trade, slavery in the Americas, the emergence of Jim Crow, the Great Migration, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. His grassroots approach reveals the global origins of soul food, the forces that shaped its development, and the distinctive cultural collaborations that occurred among Africans, Asians, Europeans, and Americans throughout history. Opie shows how food can be an indicator of social position, a site of community building and cultural identity, and a juncture at which different cultural traditions can develop and impact the collective health of a community.

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Carolyn Quick Tillery’s African-American Heritage Cookbook Series

Readers who pick up one of these three cookbooks are going to get more than just the recipes for traditional African-American dishes. Carolyn Quick Tillery has filled her her pages with stories, poetry, pictures, and historical accounts to give the full story of how and why these recipes exist, and the important part they played in the history of African-Americans.

Each book in the series is inspired by a different Historically Black College or University (HBCU), and each one focuses on the history of the college and its founders, and includes stories and recipes from those founders as well as from alumni. The first book in the series, entitled the African-American Heritage Cookbook, was published in 1996 and focues on Alabama’s renowned Tuskegee Institute.

A Taste of Freedom, the second book in the series, is dedicated to the Hampton Institute in Hampton, VA.

The third and final book, Celebrating our Equality, is dedicated to Washington, DC’s Howard University.

Watch a Food Network clip of Tillery talking about the history of African-American cooking:

As she says, readers of these cookbooks are going to get a side of education with their dish of peas.

Multiple CLP branches have copies of each of these books!

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To My Old Master

Here is a witty and moving letter, written by a freed slave in response to his former master’s request that he return and work for him. Reposted from Letters of Note.

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Welcome to CLP’s Black History Month Blog!

This year’s theme for Black History Month programming at CLP is “A Taste of…” which means we’ll be looking at African-American contributions to food and culture. CLP staff members will be blogging here throughout the month about CLP events, as well as reading lists, recipes, and stories about African-American food, history, and culture. We’re also inviting you to share your favorite recipes and food stories! Maybe there’s a pie recipe that’s made it down through the generations, or a favorite cafe in the Hill that isn’t there anymore. Whatever it is, we want to hear about it. We’ll be featuring our favorite stories and recipes throughout the month.

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