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African Studies Research Guide: Primary Sources

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

Official Government Publications




Important primary source information on Africa is found in the publications of the United States government, the United Nations, various international organizations and the publications of countries such as Great Britain. NOTE: This section deals primarily with published government sources. Guides to unpublished government records (British National Archives, etc.) are found in the general guides section . Go to Selected Electronic Collections for information on the increasing numbers of documents collections now available digitally.


Government documents are not always easy to use but the following General Libraries Subject Guides will help you work with this information:

 British Parliamentary Papers Research Guide (very useful for British colonies and abolition/slave trade)

U.S. Government Documents General Research Guide

United Nations Research Guides (UN);   UN Emory Course Guide


In addition there are a number of specialized guides to either the official publications of African countries or descriptions of the official records of a country that contain information on Africa. The African Section of the Library of Congress produced several of these guides to countries such as Kenya and Uganda and these are found in the Documents Collection on Level 1, under the general call numbers "LC." Also check the Emory Microfilm Gateway for collections of government publications related to former British African colonies.(Type the following URL into your browser for access:


A sampling of other guides are:


"Official Publications"  Studying Africa: A Guide to Sources, Nordic Africa Institute. 2011

Ref.Z3508.P71P551 African Population Census Reports: A Bibliography and Checklist. London: Hans Zell, 1985.


Mic.Ref. HA154 C87 Current National Statistical Compendium Guide Bethesda,MD: CIS.
Guide to a microfiche collection of statistical yearbooks including the statistical yearbooks of a number of African countries on microfiche (Mic. 1253).


Ref.DT532.W47 1992 French Colonial Africa: A Guide to Official Resources by Gloria Westfall. London: Hans Zell, 1992.


Ref. Z7164 G7G83 1997 Guide to the Official Publications of Foreign Countries. 2nd ed. Bethesda, MD: CIS, 1997


Official Gazzettes, a database maintained by the Center for Research Libraries, provides holding information for over 600 gazettes from countries outside the U.S. An official gazette is the legal newspaper of a country, or of an administrative part of a country, which publishes the text of new laws, decrees, regulations, treaties, legal notices and court decisions


Doc. LC1.12/2:Af8/2/785-975 The United States and Africa: Guide to U.S. Official Documents and Government Sponsored Publications on Africa, 1785-1975 compiled by Julian W. Witherell. Washington: Library of Congress, 1978.


Doc. LC41.12:Un3 The United States and Sub-Saharan Africa: Guide to U.S. Official Documents and Government Sponsored Publications, 1976-1980 compiled by Julian W. Witherell. Washington: Library of Congress, 1984.


In the 1960's and 70's The African Section of the Library of Congress issued a number of guides to official publications of various parts of Africa. These are all located in the documents collection on Level 1. These include: French-Speaking West Africa (LC2.8:Af8/967), French Speaking Central Africa (LC2.8:Af8/3), Spanish Speaking Africa (LC2.8:Af8/4), Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland (LC2.8:B65/868-968), Ghana (LC2.8:G34/872-968), Kenya (LC2.7/2:K42), Madagascar and Adjacent Islands (LC2.8:M26), Nigeria (LC2.8:N56/966), Portugese Africa (LC2.8:P83), Rhodesia and Nyasaland (LC2.8:R34) and Uganda (LC2.8:Ug1) as well Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa (LC2.7/2:Is4).


Selected Documents Print Collections

British Documents on Foreign Affairs--Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print, 1848- .Series G, Africa. JX632 .B769 1848-1914, 1914-1939; JZ632 .B767 1940-1945; JZ632 .B777 1946-1950; JZ 632 B77967 2005, 1950-55 .

Confidential Prints are diplomatic reports, dispatches and other papers intended for limited circulation within the British government. See also online collection:  Confidential Print: Africa, 1834-1966


JQ 1881 .A2 I73 Irish University Press Series of British Parliamentary Papers: Colonies Africa. 70 vols.

HT 1161. I73 Irish University Press Series of British Parliamentary Papers: Slave Trade. 95 vols

Both are useful subsets of the most important 19th century  materials found on these subjects in the larger British House of Commons Sessional Papers collections which the library has in microfiche (microfiche 684). 18th -20th c papers are full-text  searchable in House of Commons Parliamentary Papers.


DT 821 .C22 Records of the Cape Colony: From February 1793 to April 1831; Copied for the Cape Government from the Manuscript Documents in the Public Record Office, London. 36 vols.


HT1317 .S59 2006 The Slave Trade into Arabia 1820-1973. 9 vol.




Selected Documents Microform Collections


CIS National Statistical Compendiums: Africa. Micfiche 1253 with printed guide.


Great Britain. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Colonial Numbered Series. 670 fiche. Micfiche 1109 with printed guide.


International Population Census Publications for selected African countries (micfilm 4502 with digital and printed guide The International Census Bibliography and The International Population Census Bibliography: Revision and Update, 1946-1977 ; classed Ref. Z7164 .D3 G69 1980).


Excellent documents collections for British colonies in Africa are available in microform in two series that can be located via EUCLID and are partially listed in the Emory Microfilm Gateway. (Type the following URL into your browser for access:

Each colony has an individual microfilm number. The guides for these have now been scanned and can be located by searching the distributor's catalog here.

Annual Departmental Reports relating to...... A series of annual reports originating in Great Britain for various African colonies. Dates vary, e.g. Kenya runs 1903-1963 ( (micfilm 4209). .  Guide


Government Publications relating to.... A series of annual reports orginating in selected African colonies reporting to Great Britain. Dates vary, e.g. Cape of Good Hope covers 1652-1910 .Includes annual Blue Books (micfilm 4317) Guide

Selected Electronic Documents


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. Includes colonial Blue Books and Hansards.


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. Part of Archives Direct from Adam Matthew which draws on resources from the British National Archives.

British Online Archives contains a variety of of government documents including selected Blue Books for various colonies. Blue Books are important annual documents containing statistics and the general status of each colony prepared by the colonial governor.

SEE ALSO Selected Electronic Collections


NOTE: Woodruff Library has extensive collections of British parliamentary papers and proceedings in various formats which are very useful for the study of African history. See the British Parliamentary Papers Guide for more information.