Rolfing Unshelved

Books, news, and events from TIU's Rolfing Library

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The History Behind Black History Month

Every year on January 31, the standing U.S. president issues an official proclamation calling all of us Americans to gather together during the month of February to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans to our nation’s heritage and history. But if you’re like me, you may not quite be sure how this commemoration got its start. So, being the inquisitive type that I am, I did some digging and came across the story of a fascinating individual: Carter Godwin Woodson.

Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson

Woodson was born in Virginia on December 19, 1875, the first of nine children to former slaves James and Eliza Woodson. The family moved to West Virginia when his father learned that a high school for Black students was being built. Carter was a bright youth, but instead of focusing on educational pursuits he worked as a sharecropper and a miner to help his family make ends meet. He finally got his chance to attend high school at the age of 20 — and was such an apt student that he was able to complete a four-year degree in under two.

While pursuing a Bachelor’s degree from Berea College in Kentucky, he taught in a school founded by Black coal miners for the purpose of educating their children. After graduating from Berea he attended the University of Chicago, where he earned both another Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in European history. After serving as a school superintendent in the Philippines for four years, he returned to academia; the next steps in his educational journey took him to the Sorbonne in Paris and to Harvard University, where in 1912 he became the second African American in the school’s history (after W.E.B. Du Bois) to earn a PhD.

In all his studies, though, he kept noticing a glaring defect: central events and contributions of Negroes (as they were then called) to the American story were either misrepresented or missing altogether. Thus, he devoted the rest of his life to the incorporation of the African-American experience into the grand sweep of America’s history. In 1915 he helped to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (today known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History), with the mission of publicizing and celebrating the cultural contributions of African Americans. In 1916 he started the scholarly Journal of Negro History (today the Journal of African American History), and in 1920 he formed Associated Publishers Press, which would serve as a clearing house for African American-authored publications. He himself was also a prolific writer, authoring over a dozen books and many more journal articles.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Black History Month was kickstarted in 1926 when Woodson lobbied various schools and organizations to dedicate a week to the emphasis and celebration of African American history. He chose the second week of February to be “Negro History Week,” to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass. As the celebration of Negro History Week grew, Woodson created the Negro History Bulletin, as well as elementary and secondary school curriculum, to assist educators in their task. Woodson died in 1950, but in 1976, on the 50th anniversary of the first Negro History Week and as part of America’s Bicentennial, the US government officially recognized its expansion to encompass the entire month of February. Since then, the celebration of Black History Month has also spread to Great Britain and Canada.

The many contributions of African Americans to the history and culture of the United States simply can’t be overlooked — if you’re interested in digging into the work of some notable African American writers and artists, check out the following titles (which, trust me, merely scratch the surface):

Happy reading, and happy Black History Month!

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February Recommended Reading

Have you got the cold winter blues yet? Perhaps your anguish was somewhat assuaged with our two recent “snow” days and you enjoyed a long four-day weekend.  Well, assuming that winter will not relent this month, let me recommend some books that you could enjoy reading inside the comfort and warmth of your own place. Add these to your reading list for the next time a polar vortex swoops in and shuts everyone inside with record subzero temperatures (not that we’re hoping that will happen again!).

For February we have some great titles in the lineup. Celebrate African-American Heritage and read up on the theologians and theology of the African American church. You can also check out books on the many different facets of life and work in Family Ministry. In addition, we put together a collection of books in correlation to the undergraduate “Belief” chapel series beginning this month. Here are some e-books on these topics available at Rolfing; find more on our Recommended eReading library guide. And don’t forget to take a look at the displays in the front of the library for some print options!

African-American Heritage
The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide
The Color of Christ: The Son of God & the Saga of Race in America
The Reemergence of Liberation Theologies: Models for the Twenty-First Century
This Side of Heaven: Race, Ethnicity, and Christian Faith
Honoring the Ancestors: An African Cultural Interpretation of Black Religion and Literature

Family Ministry
Adolescence and Beyond
Family Ethics
Marriage and Relationship Education
Parenting Is Your Highest Calling
Teenagers Matter
Working with Families

Belief Chapel Series
The Christian Atheist
Generous Justice
I Am Second
A Public Faith
The Life of the Mind: A Christian Perspective

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Help! What Commentary Should I Use? (Pt. 2)


We’ve all been there. Staring at a wall of Rolfing’s amazing collection of commentaries (or scrolling through an endless list of commentaries on TrinCat) and feeling bombarded, overwhelmed, and not sure where to start. Choosing commentaries can be tough — but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips on choosing the right commentary.

Note the type

There are many types of commentaries out there, e.g., expositional, devotional, technical, etc. So, first, know what kind of commentary for which you are looking; and, second, find that kind of commentary. Don’t expect Derek Kidner’s Proverbs commentary to be super technical. And don’t expect Michael Fox’s to be filled with pastoral insights and implications. Know what you are trying to find; and restrict your selection accordingly.

Note the series

Knowing the series of which a commentary is a part can tell you a lot about what the commentary will be like. Is the series editor an evangelical (such as D.A. Carson for the Pillar New Testament Commentary series)? Well, you can probably expect the commentaries to have an evangelical bent. Would the series fall within the critical scholarship camp (e.g., Hermeneia)? Then expect that commentary to engage with issues of criticism. Have you found other commentaries from this series helpful? Do you like the format of this series? Well, that may mean this particular commentary will prove helpful. Is this commentary series geared toward the languages (e.g., Word Biblical Commentary)? Then make sure to check out this one when doing your exegesis paper! Nonetheless, be careful not to stereotype by series or limit yourself to your “pet” series! Use your knowledge of the series; but ultimately judge commentaries on an individual basis.

Note the author

People often say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And that’s true (we have some awesome books here at Rolfing that have pretty ugly covers!). Nonetheless, I often find it helpful to judge a book by its author (before you read it of course!). For example, let’s say I’ve read Doug Moo before, specifically his Romans commentary; and I found him quite helpful. Well, when I go to find a commentary on Galatians, I’ll be sure to check his out. If presented with an array of commentaries, knowing some of the authors provides you with a good place to start.

Note the date

Now, we don’t want to discard a commentary just because it’s old. But, contemporary commentaries often make a practice of engaging with previously proposed interpretations. Therefore, in light of this, the newer the better! But, in another sense, we don’t just want to choose new commentaries because they are new. Church history has provided us with some excellent commentaries! And sometimes contemporary interpretations are just fads. So, it’s good to get some historical perspective.

I hope this assists you as you begin to sift through our commentaries. And remember, if you ever need additional help, just give us a visit at the reference desk!