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.

Selected Online Databases




Statistics are important primary sources. Basic statistical resouces are reviewed here.

If you wish to download and analyze data, contact the Electronic Data Center.  (EDC)

Some sites allow downloading and online analysis, e.g.:


The Afrobarometer is an independent, nonpartisan research project that measures the social, political and economic atmosphere in Africa.

Afrobarometer surveys are conducted in more than a dozen African countries and are repeated on a regular cycle. Because the instrument asks a standard set of questions, countries can be systematically compared. Trends in public attitudes are tracked over time.

You can download data from the site or do online statistical analysis. Maintained by Michigan State University.

Most Afrobarometer data is also available from the Electronic Data Center. Online analysis also available through ICPSR.

EDC also produces libguides identifying statistical sources related to Africa available for analysis. These are listed on Africa research guides page.

Selected Electronic Collections

Electronic Collections


( HINT: The large meta-site Africa South of the Sahara regularly notes electronic collections. A list of selected online digital libraries related to Africa is found in Links to African Journals and Online Digital Libraries.

For more Emory holdings: Check out Digital Microfilm Guide for more information on collections originally issued on microfilm which have now been digitized These include collections from Archives Unbound, Adam Matthew and British Online Archive.

Also see holdings listed in specialized sections of this guide, e.g. missionaries/travel, government publications & records.


African Origins  African Origins contains information about the migration histories of Africans forcibly carried on slave ships into the Atlantic. Using the personal details of 91,491 Africans liberated by International Courts of Mixed Commission and British Vice Admiralty Courts, this resource makes possible new geographic, ethnic, and linguistic data on peoples captured in Africa and pulled into the slave trade. Through contributions to this website by Africans, members of the African Diaspora, and others, we hope to set in motion the rediscovery of the backgrounds of the millions of Africans captured and sold into slavery during suppression of transatlantic slave trading in the 19th century. Produced at Emory.


Aluka (Emory only) is an international collaborative initiative to build an online digital library of scholarly resources from and about Africa.  Aluka is a work in progress but two sections are of interest to historians. African Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes contains photographs, images reports, manuscripts, etc. related to sites such as

  • Kilwa Kisiwania medieval city on an off-shore island in Tanzania;
  • Lalibela, Ethiopiacapital of the Zagwe Dynasty and famous for its rock-hewn churches;
  • Asante Temples at Besease and Patakro, Ghana;

Aluka also includes Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa which includes archival materials, anti-apartheid periodicals, oral histories etc. related to the freedom struggle in southern Africa. For additional South African material see South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy described below.


ANC Archives: Celebrating 100 Years of Selfless Struggle. Ongoing effort to digitize the archives of the African National Congress of South Africa. Includes photos, audio, and video as wellas documents.


Archives Unbound  (Emory Only) contains a variety of topical collections which have been digitized including Evangelism in Africa: Correspondence of the Board of Foreign Missions the Presbyterian Church, 1835-1910. Presbyterian mission work in Africa commenced in 1833 and throughout the l9th century expanded to several different areas therein. These included: Liberia, 1833-94; Corsico, 1850-75; Spanish Guinea, 1865-1924, 1932: Gaboon, 1871-92; Ogowe, 1874-92; and the Cameroon, 1889-1972.

British Online Archives  (Emory Only)contains a variety of of government documents including selected Blue Books for various colonies, 1821-1953. Blue Books are important annual documents containing statistics and the general status of each colony prepared by the colonial governor. Blue Books are also found in  House of Commons Parliamentary Papers. Also Gold Coast records from the archives of the USPG, 1886-1951; and Universities' Mission to Central Africa; 


British Records on the Atlantic World, 1700-1900: (Emory Only)Contains Early colonial and missionary records from West Africa , Papers of Thomas Perronet Thompson relating to Sierra Leone, Papers of the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, 1694-1709, The papers of William Davenport & Co., 1745-1797 and Records relating to the slave trade at the Liverpool Record Office. (British Online Archives)


Changing Hands: A Calendar of Bondage in Southern Africa 1550-1888 compiled by Robert C.-H. Shell (HT1394 .S6 C5 2007 ) is a CD-Rom which includes over 132,000 items selected from the Cape archives in South Africa. The collection is based on the theme of slaves, property, ownership and change of ownership. Included are  databases of slave shipwrecks, slave sales and transfers, selected records of the Deeds Office of the Cape of Good Hope going back to the 17th century, as well as maps and census information. Accompanied by printed guide.


Confidential Print: Africa, 1834-1966 (Emory only) provides scholars with unprecedented electronic access to the United Kingdom’s Colonial, Dominion and Foreign Offices’ confidential correspondence relating to Africa between 1834 and 1966. This important new resource will provide researchers with a searchable collection of scores of official documents covering almost the entire period of European conquest and colonization of Africa. The early stages of imperial expansion and indigenous resistance in the interior of western and southern Africa, the European scramble for the continent in the late nineteenth century and the expansion of settler colonialism in southern and eastern Africa are all covered, as are the rising challenges to imperialism in the twentieth century that culminated in the rapid European withdrawal from the continent in the 1950s and 1960s. (Adam Matthew)


DISA (Digital Imaging South Africa) is a freely accessible online scholarly resource focusing on the socio-political history of South Africa, particularly the struggle for freedom during the period  from 1950 to the first democratic elections in 1994. Some collections such as the Anti-Apartheid periodicals digitized through DISA are available in Aluka's Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa collection.(Emory only)


Digital National Security Archive (Emory only)provides access to the full text of declassified U.S. documents. These include material related to U.S. policy in South Africa from 1962-1989.


EMIP Collection of Ethiopian Manuscripts
The Ethiopian Manuscript Imaging Project (EMIP) was started in the Spring of 2005 with the mission to help preserve images of Ethiopia ’s manuscript heritage and make them available for scholarly study.


Empire Online (Emory only) features a wide variety of material including:  exploration journals and logs; letter books and correspondence; periodicals; diaries; official governmentpPapers; missionary papers; travel writing; slave papers; memoirs; folk tales; exhibition catalogues and guides; Maps; Photographs; and Illustrations for the British Empire.  Not limited to Africa.

Endangered Archives Program (British Library) Effort to digitize threatened archives around the world. Includes a growing number of African resources. Collections can be searched by region, language, material type, or interactive map. Follow new additions on project blog..

Gallica provides access to digitized books, images and sound sources from the Bibliothèque Nationale of France. Contents are mainly rare and primary source materials and out-of-print and hard to access documents which are in the public domain This package represents one of the largest digital libraries freely accessible on the Internet. Includes material on Africa including a special section Voyages en Afrique which includes over 900 volumes plus journals and maps.


Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration and Cultural Exchange (Emory Only) provides primary source materials arranged around fifteen major trade goods from world history such as chocolate, coffee, tea, cotton, silver/gold, oil, spices, sugar, wine & spirits and opium. Each commodity is documented through a wide range of manuscript materials, maps, posters, paintings, photographs, ephemera, objects and rare books so that the scholar can explore the origins of the commodity, their first uses, the trade that developed and the ways in which these items were marketed and consumed. The project touches on themes of exploration and discovery; imperialism and colonialism; trade wars; translocation and economic geography; slavery; taste; and the evolution of global branding. The resource complements and integrates with the Empire Online database. Most materials from 1500-1950. (Adam Matthew)


History Vault (Emory only) contains materials from the civil rights movement (SCLC, NAACP) and related to American slavery 


House of Commons Parliamentary Papers  (Emory only) Full-text digital copies of British Parliamentary publications including Hansard, official parliamentary debates, and the British sessional papers, the working papers of government. Covers the 18th -20th centuries. Extremely important primary sources for British, European, U.S. and world history.


The Making of the Modern World: The Goldsmiths'-Kress Library of Economic LIterature (Emory only) presents more than 61,000 books (many of which are primary sources) from the period 1460-1850, and 466 pre-1906 serials. In almost 12 million pages, it focuses on economics interpreted in the widest sense, including political science, history, sociology, and special collections on banking, finance, transportation and manufacturing. Has collection of over 1100 titles dealing with slavery and large holdings related to British colonies.


Macmillan Cabinet Papers, 1957-1963  (Emory Only)  This collection offers crucial evidence for anyone studying African decolonization and the establishment of apartheid in South Africa. Complements the Public Record Office's website, Cabinet Papers 1915-1980.  which also 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 the PRO website is Maps in Time. Here you can explore a map of Africa over time, reflecting changing colonial territories and after independence. (Adam Matthew)


Nelson Mandela: Centre of Memory partnership between the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and  the Google Cultural Institute to produce a multi-media online archive with  rare photographs and archival material.  Launched March 2012 Background info.


Public Record Office (PRO) of Great Britain is engaged in other large digitizing projects. Check Documents Online. Also Africa Through a Lens. British National Archives an online collection of thousands of images taken from a broader photographic collection of Foreign and Commonwealth Office images, held at The National Archives. Starting with some incredible early photographs from the 1860s, the images span over 100 years of African history and cover 20 countries.


Slave Biographies:  Atlantic Database Network  is a database of information on the identities of enslaved people in the Atlantic World. Slave Biographies collates data on individual slaves meticulously collected by researchers over the past 20 years. Hear discussion about the database. Africa Past & Present, Podcast 60.


Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice, 1490-2007(Emory only) is an important portal for slavery and abolition studies, bringing together original manuscripts and rare printed material from libraries and archives across the Atlantic world for the period 1490-2007. Close attention is being given to the varieties of slavery, the legacy of slavery, the social justice perspective and the continued existence of slavery today. Contains an extensive list of links to other resources.

South African History Archive (SAHA) is an independent human rights archive which collects and promotes collections related to South African struggles for freedom and justice. SAHA's archival collections are largely made up of documents, posters, photographs, ephemera and oral histories. These include significant collections relating to the anti-apartheid struggle, the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).


South African History Online provides a variety of resources including links to full-text materials, both primary and secondary sources.


South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy presents first-hand accounts of this important political movement. Interviews with South African activists, raw video footage documenting mass resistance and police repression, historical documents, rare photographs, and original narratives are included. A project of the African Studies Center of Michigan State University. See also Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa in  Aluka described above.


Traces of Truth: Documents relating to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Archive of materials and oral histories. Guide to Archives Related to Truth and Reconciliation Commission. March 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the TRC Report and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) with the South African History Archive (SAHA) mark it with tha launch of a new website with TRC documents and programming. Includes the TRC Special Report series which aired every week between 21 April 1996 and 29 March 1998. The site includes a search function. SEE also the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Video Collection (Yale Law Library).


Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, also known as "Voyages" is an Emory-based digital project which  includes and enhances Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database CD-ROM (Eltis et al 1999) containing information on almost 35,000 individual slave trade voyages. The website also includes numerous maps, images and other materials. Now includes the African Origins Project, an effort to locate information (including original location) about individual slaves transported out of Africa. Over 90,000 names are now included. One of the most comprehensive sources on the Atlantic slave trade.


Wilson Center Digital Archive has a growing collection of declassified international documents including Horn of AfricaCrisis (relationship between Sudan and Ethiopia in 1970s/Ogaden War), Cuba and Southern Africa (Cuban documents covering the last 15 years of the Cold War), and  South African Nuclear History.


World Bank eLibrary (Emory only)

The World Bank is an important player in development studies, with numerous reports about individual African countries as well as the region as a whole. While much information is available for free on its website many important resources are not included but can be found in the subscription service, World Bank eLibrary, a collection of the World Bank’s numerous publications, reports, working papers and other related documents. All texts are searchable by both topic and region, and available in full-text. Currently, over 4,500 documents are indexed in the database. The World Bank’s areas of focus include economic and social development, education, environmental issues, health, and finance.


World Digital Archive, a project of UNESCO, provides significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world. It debuted in April 2009 with 122 digital items from Africa, over half coming from the Library of Congress collections. Significant growth is expected. Video commentary from specialists accompanies some sources.


TIP: Many libraries are digitizing portions of their collections which make them more accessible to Emory users. Digitized titles can be located through WorldCat, individual library catalogs(e.g. Northwestern's Herskovits African Studies Library, CRL) , and on the Web.




African Activist Archive Project at Michigan State University is preserving records and memories of activism in the United States to support the struggles of African peoples against colonialism, apartheid, and social injustice from the 1950s through the mid-1990s. Over 5000 digital items available including documents, posters, photographs, T-shirts, buttons, and audio and video recordings that were produced by more than 260 groups in 35 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia. Part of a larger MSU initiative: African Online Digital Archive

African Online Digital Library (AODL) is a portal to multimedia collections about Africa. MATRIX, working in cooperation with the African Studies Center at Michigan State University, is partnering with universities and cultural heritage organizations in Africa to build this resource. Site hopes to put online legal documents for a number of African countries, emphasizing commercial law.

Liberia Digital Archives /Liberiapedia provides access to four databases: a collection of over 100 folktales, an index to actions taken by the Liberian legislature between 1847-1940, a glossary of Liberian slangs and idioms, and a database of over 15,000 African-American who emigrated to Liberia between 1820-1904. Database launched by Dr. C. Patrick burrows of Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg. SEE Also University of Indiana Liberian Collections now including the William V.S. Tubman Papers , 1904-1992, and over 5,000 photos, Friends of Liberia News Clipping Service.  List of finding aids for University of Indiana Digital Collections.

Mozambique History Net contains a variety of sources, including selected newspaper articles, related to Mozambique, particulaly 1960s through 1994. Much is in Portugese.

South Africa: Community Video Education Trust: Documentary Footage of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle in South Africa. This digital archive of unique, publicly accessible videos was taken in South Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Footage available on the CVET website documents anti-apartheid demonstrations, speeches, mass funerals, celebrations, and interviews with activists.



Yoruba Ritual Archives. Video archive of  segments of three orisha festivals in Ayede-Ekiti in Ondo State, Nigeria, recorded in 1990 and 1993. Supplements Black Critics and Kings: the Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society by Andrew Apter (DT515.45 Y67A56 1992.

African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World,   exhibit from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library

American Natural History Museum: Congo Expedition 1909-1915.  Multimedia presentation on the Lang Chapin Congo Expedition