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Dr. Eric Jackson at his office desk

Dr. Eric Jackson's unique Black Studies textbook has received critical acclaim—and national awards—since its recent release.

For the three decades that he has been teaching Introduction to Black Studies at Northern Kentucky University, Dr. Eric Jackson has struggled to find a single textbook to suit his audience. 

“There was no Intro to Black Studies textbook specifically written for undergraduates and the general public,” Jackson, an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, says. “I could never find a textbook that I liked, so I thought, ‘Why not write one myself?’”

Six years ago, Jackson began writing a textbook of his own—"An Introduction to Black Studies”—which was published by the University Press of Kentucky in February 2023. In June, Jackson was awarded the press’ annual Thomas D. Clark Medallion Award for his work on the book, a distinction that includes a $1,000 prize and a public reception.

“African American history is American history. It’s like a melting pot that people don’t really understand or are sometimes afraid of not understanding.”

“It’s a great honor. It’s humbling, surprising and a little overwhelming,” Jackson says. “Thomas Clark was one of Kentucky’s early historians, and his foundation helps fund the university press. The medallion is its highest award for books in specific areas.” 

Released with the tagline “No AP Class Required,” Jackson’s book was written with readability in mind, approaching Black studies without jargon or academic languages. It encompasses all of the field’s eight disciplines—history, sociology, psychology, religion, feminism, education, political science and art—in 17 chapters that each begin with specific learning objectives.

“People seem to have loved it so far, from organizations like ASALH, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History to colleagues here at NKU and across the country,” Jackson says. “There are a couple of folks at the University of Louisville and maybe the University of Kentucky who are going to use it in coursework. Because there’s nothing like this already out there, if a school has an Introduction to Black Studies course, they can adopt it.”

He hopes that readers come away from the book understanding a different perspective of their reality. 

“It’s not just a book for African American students. It’s a book for anyone who wants to better understand African American studies,” Jackson says. “African American history is American history. It’s like a melting pot that people don’t really understand or are sometimes afraid of not understanding.”

From an early age, Jackson always imagined himself becoming either a professor or lawyer as an adult, inspired by the many members of his surrounding community that were teachers. After high school, he set his plans in motion, earning an undergraduate degree at Ball State University, then receiving his master’s and doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. In 1991, he was hired as a part timer, and he’s remained part of the university ever since.

“The atmosphere and the students keep me here,” Jackson says. “There are a lot of first-generation students here, which is something I identify with, since I was also a first-generation student. We’re also only about 15 minutes away from downtown Cincinnati.”

With the publication of “An Introduction to Black Studies” behind him, Jackson plans to complete two more books before retiring. He’s currently editing a collection of 12 essays—some of them written by himself—on the history of the Underground Railroad in Kentucky, a project that is about halfway done. The second book will be about the Black Brigade of Cincinnati, an all-black military unit whose formation predates the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, often credited as the first black regiment to fight in the Civil War.

“That will be my last one. At least, I keep telling myself that,” he laughs “You never really know.”