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HIST 480 - African History: 1800-1980 - Primary Sources. Freed. 2009Spr  

for Spring Semester 2009
Last Updated: May 29, 2012 URL: Print Guide
African History: Primary Sources Print Page

African History

For a broader guide to African history resources in general, see the African History section of our History guide. That guide describes the search tools for locating books, current journal articles, and many other secondary sources for African studies.

Guides to African primary sources

  • African Research Central
    A guide to "the archives, libraries, and museums with important collections of African primary sources."
  • African Online Digital Library
    a project to produce a repository of useful materials
  • Boston Univ. Archives for Africa
    While some of the resources are limited to Boston U. - there are many web sites listed that are freely accessible.
  • African Librarians Council
    Includes links to resources and a newsletter about African history resources
  • Americans in Africa; a preliminary guide to American missionary archives and library manuscript collections...
    (paper) Ref DT 1 .C57
  • Semper ex Africa ... A bibliography of primary source for nineteenth-century tropical Africa...
    (paper) Ref DT 349.2.A1 H47 1972
  • Guide to research and reference works on Sub-Saharan Africa.
    (paper) Ref DT 349.2.A1D78

Statistical collections & Maps

  • International historical statistics : Africa, Asia & Oceania, 1750-2000
    (paper) Ref HA 4675 .M552 2003
  • African history in maps.
    (paper) Ref G 2446.S1 A4 1982

Archives and Manuscript Collections

Internet Guides

There are many internet guides to African resources (see our main guide to Africana Studies) but most are not too helpful for historical research.  A few that do include materials for historians are:

Secondary Sources

These works, while not primary sources themselves, can be a guide to the identification of important primary sources.

  • The World Factbook (CIA)
    factual reference information on all countries of the world
  • Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century African History.
    Ref DT 29.E53 2002
  • Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara.
    Ref DT 351.E53 1997. 4 vols.
  • The Cambridge History of Africa.
    DT 20.C28. 8 vols. The extensive bibliographies can be particularly useful.
  • Historical dictionary of [country name].
    Look for this useful series of country-specific handbooks by searching in BearCat.
  • Islam in Sub-Saharan Arfica: a partially annotated guide
    Ref BP 64.A1Z63 1978.
  • African Studies Library
    Search this library catalog for books and other documents about Africa.

Primary sources in library print collections

There are many types of primary sources, that are found in library catalogs in different ways:

type terms to use in catalog search example
travel accounts "description and travel" Through the dark continent. by Stanley.
diaries or memoirs "diaries" or "personal narratives" African exploits: the diaries of William Stairs
collections of documents "sources" Documents from the African past ; Women writing Africa.
letters "correspondence" Selected letters of Edward Wilmot Blyden
papers of organizations, corporations, or governments "archives" or "public records" The Waller Papers (an archive at Oxford, UK)


Search the library catalog (or WorldCat or the SUNY Union Catalog) using the subject word "Africa" (or more specific place name) and the appropriate additional term(s) as subject words. Ex. "Africa" and "Sources"

One major book series is the "Cass library of Africa studies" that includes reprints of 19th century exploration reports such as Heinrich Barth. Travels and discoveries in North and Central Africa.

Another series that is publishing African historical documents is the Fontes historiae africanae. (This link is to the SUNY Union Catalog holdings for this series.)

Historical monographs may include primary source material, in the text or in appendices, and may reference primary sources available in other publications.

Other options for digitized or paper primary source documents:


News Digests & Newspapers

The contemporary accounts in newspapers are sometimes used as primary sources. A few newspapers with international coverage in our collection are:

  • The New York Times Archive: 1851-1980 - Search the contents of the newspaper. Full-text online articles are available for free for 1851 to 1922 and 1987-date. For other years, with the date and page number from your search you can locate articles on the library's microfilm - at AP 2.N657 in the Periodicals Area. There is also a printed index to The New York Times in Crumb reference at Ref AI 21.N45

  • The Times (London). We have this important international newspaper on microfilm for 1788-1997. An index is on microfilm at AP 4.T52 (1790-1905) and in paper at Ref AI 21.T46 (1906-1996)

  • News Digests are annual, or more frequent, summaries of significant news. Those in Crumb Library print collection, with call# and years available are:
    • The International Year Book. (Ref AE 5.I64) 1914-1929
    • Britannica Book of the Year. (Ref AE 5.E364) 1940-date
    • Americana Annual. (Ref AE 5.A55) 1951-1974
    • Facts on File Yearbook. (Ref D 410.F3) 1943-2000
    • Keesing's Contemporary Archive. (Ref D 410.K4) 1965-1992
    • Yearbook of World Affairs. (JX 21.Y4) 1958-1984
    • Statesman's Year-book. (JA 51.S7) 1933-date (latest years in Ref.) Chapters on each country of the world.
    • Annual Register of World Events. (Ref D 2.A7) 1958-1979
    • The United States in World Affairs (Council on Foreign Relations) (E 744.U66) 1931-40, 1945-67, 1970
  • African newspapers. African Newspapers Union List is a project to centrally identify African newspapers held in U.S. libraries.

Other publications

Magazines can also be seen as primary sources.

  • The Drum. Published in South Africa from 1951 to 1965. Indexed in Drum: an index to Africa's leading magazine (on paper - DT 1.D794). The magazine itself can be borrowed on microfilm through interlibrary loan.

  • Non-African magazines published accounts of travels in Africa, and reports on African affairs. These can be located using paper indexes in the Crumb Reference Area, including
    • Poole's Index to Periodical Literature. (Ref AI 3.P7) Covers US and UK magazines, 1802-1906.
    • Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. (Ref AI 3.R478) Covers mainly US popular magazines, 1890-2006.
    • International Index to Periodicals. (Ref AI 3.R49). Covers English language scholarly journals, 1907-1973
    • Essay & General Literature Index. (Ref AI 3.E752) Covers collections of essays published in books, 1900-1998.
    • Index to Selected Periodicals; continued by Index to Periodical articles by and about Negroes; continued by Index to Periodical articles by and about Blacks. (Ref AI 3.O4) The magazines covered are all English-language, and mainly US publicaitions, 1950-1980.
    Examples: "A Journey in Africa" in Putnam's Monthly, v.10:57 (Sept. 1857) p.296 ; "Cameron's Journey across Africa" Harper's New Monthly Magazine v.54:324 (May 1877) p.866-879 ; "The Men and Brutes of South Africa" North American Review v.68:143 (Apr. 1849) p.265-300 - (online versions from The Making of America collection). The Making of America digital collection has two main parts: Search the Cornell MOA collection; Search the Univ. of Michigan MOA collection. Both focus on 19th century materials.

  • National Geographic Magazine. We have paper copies from 1901 to the present at G1.N27 . Search for articles in this magazine using: National Geographic Magazine Index ; or a printed index at G1.N325.

  • JSTOR has the full text of some journals devoted to Africa: for example Journal of the Royal African Society (1901-1944); and other scholarly journals of African studies.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa: a guide to serials. (Ref DT 348.A1U49). This is a large directory of periodicals "issued in Western languages or in African languages that use the Roman alphabet." It includes monographic series, annual reports, yearbooks, etc; but excludes most African government publications, and newspapers and news magazines. Some of these may be available through interlibrary loan.

Older serials about Africa: most are secondary sources

The best index to older articles about Africa is Index Africanus (Ref DT 3.A1A73 1975). It is a subject catalog of articles in Western languages published from 1885 to 1965.

Here are some older periodicals about Africa available in paper or online.


U.S. Government Documents

Crumb Library holdings of U.S. documents in paper are mainly for the period 1960-date, with some older materials. This bibliography is a way to identify all U.S. documents relating to Africa for the period 1785-1975. Most of these would have to be obtained on interlibrary loan, if they are available for loan.

  • The United States and Africa: Guide to U.S. Official Documents and Government-Sponsored publications on Africa, 1785-1975. (Ref DT 3.A1W57 1978)
  • U.S. Foreign Relations - This is a guide to SUNY Potsdam library resources. See especially the section labeled "Primary Sources" for our paper volumes, and for links to online documents. Includes links to the series "Foreign Relations of the United States" of the U.S. Dept. of State.

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Visual images are included in many books and articles. Several large collections of digital images are searchable, including:

Misc. Web Sites


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