2022 is the 50th anniversary of the first Black woman to earn a PhD in either physics or astronomy. In 1972, Willie Hobbs Moore became the first Black woman to earn a PhD in physics — nearly 100 years after Edward Bouchet earned a PhD in physics, making him the first African-American to earn a PhD in any subject.
Back in 2019, one of the first items I put on my desk in my brand new faculty office was a photo of Dr. Moore. Since I was beginning the lonely journey as the first Black woman to hold a tenure line position in theoretical cosmology or particle theory, this image was part of an array of ways that I designed my office to remind me, and anyone who came into that space, that not only did I belong there, but I was part of a proud and beautiful tradition of Black folks doing science.
Around the same time, I started thinking about what it would mean to push the mantra of the #CiteBlackWomen Collective in new directions — specifically, what would it mean for physics if physicists pro-actively engaged the work of Black women physicists in their own research? My own feminist philosophy work argues that race and gender are a factor in which science gets pushed forward — who stays in the room, who gets cited. What if we changed whose work we build on? The idea of a bibliography was born.
Today, I present to you the first iteration of the Cite Black Women+ in Physics and Astronomy Bibliography v.1.0, which is publicly available as a Zotero library.
The concept behind this was my idea, and I managed the project. The bulk of the work of testing out different databases and building up the bibliographic contents was done by two University of New Hampshire undergraduate research assistants — now alumnae — Sabrina Brown and Tessa Cole, now a librarian and engineer, respectively. Sabrina and Tessa were quite brilliant to work with, and they compiled 90% of the entries that appear in the Zotero library.
If you use this resource, cite it! Suggested citation:
C. Prescod-Weinstein, S. Brown, and T. Cole. “Cite Black Women+ in Physics and Astronomy Bibliography, v.1.0.” Zotero. Accessed [INSERT ACCESS DATE]. https://www.zotero.org/groups/4888611/cite_black_women_in_physics/library.
What is it?
This bibliography is a roughly complete list of all the professional publications of US-based Black women+ with PhDs in physics. The list of women and gender minorities that we worked from is maintained by Dr. Jami Valentine Miller and African-American Women in Physics Inc. (AAWIP). The list is primarily composed of Black women who are from the United States and/or did their graduate training in the United States, with PhDs in physics, astronomy, physics education research, and related fields like materials science, geophysics, and a few in biophysics.
There are also some elders who achieved bachelors and masters in physics and mathematical physics before Dr. Moore earned her PhD, as well as some folks who over the years earned terminal masters degrees and remain active in the community. Those who completed their training with a masters are identified in their entries, as are the first Physics PhD (Dr. Moore) and Astronomy PhD (Barbara Williams).
To compile this bibliography, we only used information that is reasonably publicly available to anyone with access to a university library. We primarily used the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System, Inspire HEP, Google Scholar, ProQuest, and various university dissertation databases. There are over 4000 items for journal papers, preprints, white papers, articles, books, and chapters in the Zotero library. Generally we leaned toward including content that was focused on academic audiences and were not comprehensive about including, for example, #scicomm content.
The people covered by the bibliography is also out of date or soon will be. So, for now, consider it as covering the first 50 years of Black women in American physics and astronomy, 1972-2022.
How/can I use it?
Yes, please do. For example, your students can use it to find historical papers of interest. You can peruse the library for papers that touch on your research. Choosing a new direction for your lab? Why not do something that builds on the work of a Black woman and/or gender minority? Just remember to cite it (see above). Thinking about using a physics analogy in your literary or historical work? Find a Black woman expert on that topic and reach out to see if she’ll break it down for you.
If you talk about this on social media, use #CiteBlackWomen, per the Cite Black Women Collective. I also like to use #BlackandSTEM, and as appropriate, consider using #BlackInPhysics and #BlackInAstro.
You may also find video of the American Physical Society celebration of this historical year interesting to share, along with the TEAM-UP Report on African-Americans in Physics (which appears in the bibliography entries for Dr. Mary James, Dr. Jedidah Isler, and Dr. Tabbetha Dobbins), which has some helpful resources at the end.
Organization and Presentation
For now, each person’s papers are organized in a folder that is listed with the year of their degree, and their name as reflected on the AAWIP list, if they appear there (some recent PhDs haven’t made it onto the list yet). The order shows up chronologically. This is a nice mirror to the AAWIP list. It does have a downside: it can be harder to find a name, if you don’t know the year. You can solve this problem by finding the name on the AAWIP list (“find” function!) and looking up the year.
My hope had been to create another collection in the library where they are organized topically and alphabetically, but currently there is no easy way to do this in Zotero because copying entire subcollections within a library is no longer enabled for some strange reason. Since this year has been a year, I didn’t have it in me to do it manually before 2022 was out, and it was very much my hope to mark this anniversary year by sharing this new resource.
For now, some entries are tagged, and Zotero does allow you to search the bibliography. My dream situation is that eventually all of the person’s individual items are properly tagged. We are simply not there yet. I will continue to pursue resources so that the entries can be updated by people who are being compensated fairly for their time and understand the different subfields of physics.
Is it perfect and up to date?
No, of course not. I am certain there are errors: missing papers or misattributions. There may even be missing people. While we endeavored to get all the data right, there was a limit to how much personal attention we could give to every single paper entry. If there are missing papers for you, the easiest way to correct is to email me a bibtex file with all of the missing entries. If there is a misattribution, let me know. You can contact me here to find out how to get me the file or to give me info about information that should be removed. As I said, this year has been a year, and I’m not even sure my own entry is complete/correct! All errors are my responsibility and do not reflect on Sabrina or Tessa.
As mentioned above, the list is currently US-focused and only on 1972-2022. I hope to expand it eventually and to have the resources for regular maintenance and updates. Unfortunately, there isn’t a comprehensive list like the one AAWIP maintains for beyond the US, yet.
Sabrina’s and Tessa’s participation in the project was funded in part by a Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) Mini-Grant, and I am thankful to FQXi for their generous support. I thank the administrative and facilities staff at the University of New Hampshire who make our work possible. I thank Dr. Christen Smith for her specific support and talking to me about why Cite Black Women is an important movement. In addition, I thank Dr. Jami Valentine Miller and Dr. Josh Kupetz for helpful conversations. Dr. Miller has long been an unpaid, independent historian of our community, since her days as a graduate student. I especially hope that people will endeavor to read and cite her work and shower her with awards and recognition for her tremendous contributions to physics.
I also want to acknowledge the general influence of Dr. Ronald Mickens and Dr. Jarita Holbrook (who also appears in the bibliography), two community historians who have committed to the work of maintaining and sharing histories of #BlackandSTEM physicists, astronomers, and our ideas.
If you’d like to honor this work, in addition to circulating and using it, please make a donation to African-American Women in Physics, Inc.! And buy my book or borrow it from the library — definitely make sure your local library has it.