Skip to Main Content

African Studies Research Guide: Primary Sources

Reviews primary sources at Emory and elsewhere for research in African Studies, emphasizing African history.

H-Net for Help

H-Net is an international consortium of scholars and teachers that creates and coordinates Internet networks with the common objective of advancing teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Among H-Net's most important activities is its sponsorship of over 100 free electronic, interactive newsletters ("lists") edited by scholars in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and the Pacific.

Subscribe to lists of interest, read conversations, and pose questions to the community. There are a number of lists devoted to Africa including

H-AfrArts African Expressive Culture
H-AfResearch Primary Sources in African Studies
H-Africa African History and Culture
H-AfrLitCine Teaching and Study of African Literature and Cinema
H-Afro-Am African-American Studies
H-AfrPol Current African Politics

Teaching AfricanHistory and Studies

More H-Net Lists (Some deal with South Africa)

Electronic Guides

Electronic Guides & Websites


The following will help you locate archives related to Africa around the world:

Africa South of the Sahara: Selected Internet Resources, an important metasite for African Studies, has sections on libraries/archives including those in South Africa.

Is a searchable database that allows you to find primary source repositories in Africa, Europe and North America. The information included varies widely from basic contact information to connections to web sites and detailed description of holdings. Africa Research Central has as its goal "to centralize and constantly update information about institutions with African primary source collections."



ArchiveGrid attempts to provide a single point of entry to worldwide archival holdings. Scholars can search for and view archival and manuscript collection descriptions, locate relevant research institutions, arrange visits, or request copies from thousands of libraries, museums, and archives.

ARCHIVES HUB is a national gateway to descriptions of archives in universities and colleges in the United Kingdom. Includes over 200 institutions including the Bodleian Commonwealth and African Library, Cambridge University Library, John Rylands Library of Manchester University and the School of oriental and African Studies (SOAS). SEE ALSO AIM25 a major project to provide electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over one hundred higher education institutions, learned societies, cultural organisations and livery companies within the greater London area

Contains a directory of over 5,400 repositories and over 124,400 collections of primary source material across the United States. Allows researchers to read descriptions of a repository's holdings to determine whether a collection contains material useful to their work as well as find the information they need to contact the repository directly. Includes an updated version of the Directory of Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the U.S.; all records cited in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections and full descriptions and indexing of over 42,000 manuscript collections which have been published in the National Inventory of Documentary Sources.

Archives Wiki (American Historical Association) includes practical information on archives throughout the world, e.g. National Archives in Nigeria.

BUNDESARCHIV is the German national archive. (In Geman). NOTE: The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) holds a complete setof the Records of the German Ministry for Colonial Affairs (Reichskolonialamt). Microfilm set “R1001.” More info under CRL tab.

CENTRE DES ARCHIVES D'OUTRE-MER (CAOM) is the French colonial archive. (In French)



"Guides, Collections and Ancillary Materials to African Archival Resources in the United States" by John Bruce Howell and Yvette Scheven in ELECTRONIC JOURNAL OF AFRICANA BIBLIOGRAPHY, Vol. 1. (1997)
Lists published guides to archives of Africana in the U.S., including inventories, lists, catalogs, etc. Arrangement is by region and includes the holdings of many of the large research collections. Note many of these guides are now .available electronically at their institutions and through sources such as ARCHIVAL RESOURCES listed above.

France. Bibliotheque Nationale. Gallica. Digital manuscripts and other materials from the French National Library. SEE ALSO Voyages in Africa.

Francophone Africa, general links to relevant websites compiled by NYU's Lehman Library.

Nigerian National Archives, ENUGU (History in Africa 21(1994) pp 435-40.

HERSKOVITS LIBRARY ARCHIVAL COLLECTION, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY describes archives held by one of the largest collections of Africana materials in the United States.The Herskovits Library is also digitizing many of its collections including historical African maps, posters, Arabic Manuscripts from West Africa (bibliographic information only) and photographs.

 HISTORY: PRIMARY SOURCES from the excellent website Africa South of the Sahara links to a variety of primary sources available or described on the web. It also has sections on photographs and maps.

 Imperial War Museum (Gt. Brit) has extensive archives and photographs. Whose Remembrance? Communities and the Experiences of the Peoples of Britain’s Former Empire During the Two World Wars is a special project begun in 2012 which reviews resources related to colonial participation in both wars.

JANUS was established in October 2002 to provide a single point of networked access to catalogues of archives and manuscript collections held throughout Cambridge University. Details include catalogues of the archival holdings of each participating institution, together with repository information and contact details. Some collections are only described as a whole; but in the case of larger archives, these catalogues may extend down to individual documents.

Kenya National Archives  is an online guide to the microfilm collection of the Kenyan National Archives until the early 1960s at Syracuse University. Collection availabla through ILL.



An important database that contains descriptions of more than 400 collections accumulated in Britain by individuals and societies engaged in the overseas missionary movement between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. The holdings of over 40 institutions in the United Kingdom are represented. A wide-variety of search tools are available
including a map  which allows you to locate mission groups working in various African regions

Covers the records of England, Wales, and the United Kingdom and provides links to the records of Scotland and Northern Ireland which are found in a mix of official public and private archives. Provides a gateway to the services and databases of the Public Record Office (PRO) and the Historical Manuscript Commission. The PRO is the National Archives of the United Kingdom and houses the records of the central government including the archives of the Colonial and Foreign Offices. The PRO's catalogue (now called Discovery) provides access to over 11 million descriptions of documents groups. The Historical Manuscripts Commission oversees many private archives with records of national interest.

The National Archives website also contains a series of useful research guides in full text as well as other "how to" information. Of special interest are  Citing Documents in the National Archives , Researching British Colonies and Dominions, British TransAtlantic Slave Trade, and a Research Guide to Maps  Also check the National Archives useful series of podcasts and videos to hear archivists and scholars describe the collections. (see box to the left). The website has important information on visiting the Public Record Office including planning your visit, applying for a reader' ticket (required for onsite research) and ordering documents before your arrival. It also maintains a list of independent researchers for hire. NOTE: Many useful record groups have been microfilmed and may be held by libraries outside the National Archives. Search WorldCat to locate these collections. The PRO is beginning to digitize materials.

NEW Now have historical photographs  online in Africa Through a Lens.

NEW: Now have important new website of Cabinet Papers 1915-1980.  An important section of this website deals with the British empire and its disolution. It's very useful to listen to the podcast about these materials. One very useful section of this website is Maps in Time. Here you can explore a map of Africa over time, reflecting changing colonial territories and after independence. See also the privately published Papers of British Prime Minister Howard Macmillan (1957-1963)(Emory only)

NEW: The National Archives is in the midst of transferring records of the Foreign and Colonial Office to the Archives.  These are records for the period before independence (1940s and 50s). As each transfer("tranche")  is completed a podcast describing contents is released as well. More information.

As mentioned above, many historical records in the United Kingdom are in private hands. The Historical Manuscripts Commission provides information about the content and location of these privately owned collections. These include holdings held by individuals, families, businesses and organizations. The Commission maintains the National Register of Archives (NRA) which provides indexing to these privately held archival records and ARCHON, a directory of the collections covered. Consult the NRA FAQ for more information on what is available online and how to use the indexes. Also check the Research Guidance page for additional help. More information on the NRA.

 A2A (Access 2 Archives) is another part of the UK archives network. The archives described on A2A are cared for in local record offices and libraries, universities, museums and national and specialist institutions across England and Wales, where they are made available to the public. A2A contains about 30 per cent of catalogues of archival collections in England and Wales. The database now contains 10.3 million records relating to 9.45 million items held in 418 record offices and other repositories, however it does not always contain all the catalogues available online for a particular archive.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS SERVICE SOUTH AFRICA includes NAAIRS electronic index to selected archives throughout the country.

The Nordic Documentation on the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa Project. This historical site is a reference source for everyone interested in the late 20th century history of national liberation in Southern Africa and the role of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden)

OAIster is a union catalog of digital resources. It currently provides access to 18,138,668 records from 1023 contributors. OAIster can be searched by Title, Author/Creator, Subject, Language or Entire Record. Searches can also be limited by resource type (text, image, audio, video, dataset).

Oxford University. African Studies Archives page.

Princeton University. Primary Sources Africa.   Most of these collections are also at Emory.

Lists some 5,000 web sites for holdings of manuscripts, archives and other primary source material.

Smithsonian, National Anthropological Archives Collect and preserve historical and contemporary anthropological materials that document the world's cultures and the history of anthropology. Their collections represent the four fields of anthropology – ethnology, linguistics, archaeology, and physical anthropology – and include fieldnotes, journals, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, maps, sound recordings, film and video created by Smithsonian anthropologists and other preeminent scholars.

In addition to describing local collections, this web site has links to a number of missionary and church archive collections as well as other archives in the UK.

South African History Online

An increasingly important source of material for the study of South African history.Provides a variety of resources including links to full-text materials, both primary and secondary sources. Currently focusing on the 100th year anniversary of the ANC: uKhongolose: The Hundred Years Struggle for Freedom, a year-long series of conferences, exhibitions and workshops initiated by SA History Online in order to promote discussion and debate around the 100th Anniversary of the ANC. This project will also include a major research initiative and the online publication of substantial new materials

This Web site intends to be the international gateway to information for archivists and archives users. It links to specific archives throughout the world, from the national to local levels as well as private/university archives. Also hosts the National Archives of Benin web site.

UNITED STATES NATIONAL ARCHIVES is the official U.S. archives. Contains "Diplomatic Records: a Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications". Within this catalog you can locate records by country or area which may also be held by libraries outside the National Archives. Search WorldCat to locate these collections. The national Archives is also beginning to digitize materials.

WOMEN TRAVELERS, EXPLORERS AND MISSIONARIES TO AFRICA: 1763-2002 lists accounts of travels published in English. This can be used together with the print Semper ex Africa…A Bibliography of Primary Sources for Nineteenth-Century Tropical Africa as Recorded by Explorers, Missionaries, Traders, Travelers, Administrators, Military Men, Adventurers and Others (Z3501 H37) to locate published accounts.

Of interest:

ARCHIVES MADE EASY is an online guide that gives researchers practical tips on how to use individual archives around the globe. It was formerly  hosted by the International History Department of the London School of Economics and Political Research.


Archives of Anti-Colonial Resistance and the Liberation Struggle (AACRLS) is a joint Namibian and German project to "collect and safeguard the historical Namibian struggle against colonialism" -website


Arab Manuscripts Online catalog at Northwestern University.


Records and Archives of the Ivory Coast video from International Council on Archives (ICA).


History in Africa, A Journal of Method (DT19 H58), an annual publication of the U.S. African Studies Association, has numerous pieces on archival collections. Pull up the electronic version of the journal and search it .  Some sample articles:


      "The National Archives of Cameroon in Yaoundé and Buea ," 36, 2009,  pp. 453-460


"Navigating the Kenya National Archives: Research and its Role in Kenyan Society,"2005, no. 32, pp445-455.


"Nigerian National Archives, ENUGU"  No.  21,1994,  pp 435-40.


"The Tanzanian National Archives," No. 30, 2003, 447-454.