Wednesday, September 30, 2020

ProQuest and Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Howard Rambsy II and Kenton Rambsy

This past summer, we ran searches on ProQuest related to five of the most frequently referenced African American novels of all time. We wanted to track patterns concerning the mentions of these works over the last forty years. We discovered important increases with citations for African American books after 1987, the year Toni Morrison’s most acclaimed novel was published.    

Beloved (1987) remains a monumental text in American and African American literature, so it’s perhaps not surprising that in our searches focusing on three hundred texts that Morrison book was mentioned more than any other novel by a Black writer. We knew Beloved gained widespread notice soon after it was published, but ProQuest took us beyond anecdotal evidence.

Our ProQuest search revealed 208 mentions of Beloved in newspapers in 1987, and more than three hundred mentions in 1997, a decade later. Between 1987 and 2019, Morrison’s novel was cited in 175 dissertations and theses, in approximately 562 scholarly articles, and 579 books. Knowing those numbers gave us a more precise understanding of Beloved as a popular, critically acclaimed work of literature.   

Our curiosities about tracking the reception of a celebrated novel across decades led us to our ProQuest investigations of Morrison’s book and titles by other writers, including Hurston, Wright, Ellison, and Walker. A look at writers in relation to each other gives even more perspective on the coverage of African American literary art.  

Places for development 
ProQuest has updated and expanded its search functions over the years, and we’re hoping that the database eventually enhances the possibility of comparative searches. That way, we could more easily consider the receptions of multiple texts by one author or the receptions of books by a variety of writers at the same time.


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