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Ethnic Studies

What is Ethnic Studies

Ethnic studies is an inter-disciplinary area of study that incorporates the histories, traditions, literatures, and philosophies of  the US people of color and their diaspora. While not limited it tends to focus on the US experience of African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos/Latinos, and Native Americans but can also include other race/ethnic groups in or outside the US.  The field also lends itself to exploring issues of social justice and equality. Ethnic studies also includes the intersections of race/ethnic group members addressed in Women's studies, LGBTQ studies, and disability studies. The focus of a comparative ethnic studies is to consider two or more of these groups and explore any issue of interest in a comparative manner. That is, how does a singular group experience various social realities and how does this group's experience compare to another group also categorized by race/ethnicity.

Starting your Research

Taking a few minutes to read about your topic in a specialized encyclopedia, dictionary or handbook may be one of the most effective and time saving research tips in this guide. These can help you define unfamiliar terms, locate quick biographical information, and verify dates and events. 


The terminology/words you use when researching is extremely important. Do not always stick to the obvious or to your commonly used terms. Sometimes creativity and imagination pays off in finding excellent resources. When research any ethnic group consider all the possible terms used to describe that particular group. For example: African American, Afro American, Black, or Negro; Chicano, Mexican American, Hispanic, or Latino. When looking at ethnic groups with the Asian American population remember to consider the ethnic terms as well: Chinese American, Japanese American, Taiwanese American, Korean American, Filipino/Pilipino American. Spelling can also be key as well. When to use the "X"? Identity labels are sometimes hard to navigate around. The "X" is still new in research and unless the author uses Latinx or Chicanx in the title or abstract of the article, you will be missing some important research. What does the "X" mean? Remember consider all possibilities. Successful research can be about what terms you use so do not stay in your contemporary language or what you think might be the correct term to use. And since you will be using a variety of resources the databases to not all use the same terms across the board thus the need to consider all possible terms.  

For other more specific guides see:

Asian American Studies, African American Studies, and Chicano/Latino