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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.


Africa Through a Lens. British National Archive.

Photographs-Under Construction

Selected Readings:


Colonialist Photography: Imag(in)ing Race and Place. Hight, Eleanor and Sampson, Gary D., eds. 2002. on order.

The colonising camera : photographs in the making of Namibian history. Hartmann, Wolfram. 2009. DT1625 .C65 1999

Defiant images : Photography and Apartheid South Africa . Newbury, Darren. 2009. DT1757 .N39 2009

Getting Pictures Right : context and interpretation / edited by Michael Albrecht ... [et al.]. 2004. TR820.5 .G48 2004

Images and Empires: Visuality in Colonial and Post Colonial Africa. Landau, Paul S. and Kaspin, Deborah, eds.  2002. GN645 .I43 2002

"Images of Africa: the Pictorial Record. Papers presented at the SCOLMA Conference 1994," African Research and Documentation , No. 68, 1995. DT19.8A35 1995, no 68.

Images of Empire: Photographic Sources for the British in Sudan. Daly, M.W. and Hogan, Jane. 2005. DT156.7 .D347 2005

Picturing Place: Photography and Geographical Imagination  Schwarz, Jopan  M. and Ryan, James R. 2003.TR660 .P52 2003



"Photographs" Africa South of the Sahara. (Stanford) Excellent source of links to current and historical photographs.

"Images," Basic Guide to African Studies Research (Columbia)



Major Sites


Check also under "Electronic Collections" for other digitized photographs.

Africa Through a Lens. British National Archives.

Africa through a lens is 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.

The collection was brought about by the request of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1869. He asked governors to arrange for the taking of photographs of 'noteworthy buildings and scenery ... together with individuals of various races peculiar to the colony'. Each governor interpreted the task in his own way, which has culminated in this unique and varied collection.

The original records include what appear to be personal scrapbooks, official albums, printed pamphlets and even framed photographs and paintings. Some images are official public information shots, others are hand drawn sketches. The number of images for each country also varies, depending on how diligently the request was carried out.


Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent (University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries and African Studies Program, Madison, Wisconsin)

The website offers downloadable images, sound files, and other materials on Africa drawn from contributions by UWM faculty over the last 20-30 years.

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.

AP Archive is the film and digital video of the Associated Press with its worldwide coverage. Available through YouTube.  SEE ALSO its sister channel British Movietone which also provides historical news films. For AP photos see AccuNet/AP Multimedia Archive (Emory Only) which includes historical photos back to 1840


Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record Compiled by Jerome Handler (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities) and Michael Tuite (Digital Medial Laboratory, University of Virginia). Over 1,000 images of pre-colonial Africa (ex. Queen Nzinga, King of Benin, King of the Kongo, European trading posts) and the slave trade in Africa and the Americas. SEE ALSO Images, Voyages, Atlantic Slave Trade Database (Emory)


Basel Mission Archive. Photograph Collection Over 25,000 images from the Basel Mission Archive with 6,100 images from Cameroon and 5,900 images from Ghana "dating from 1860 (in the case of Ghana) or 1885 (in the case of Cameroon) to ca. 1945."
Colonial Picture Archive searchable in ilissAfrica (Internet Library Sub-Saharan Africa)
The Colonial Picture Archive comprises the image collection of the “German Colonial Society” (Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft), now located at Frankfurt University Library, Germany, (below) and a collection of photographs, photo albums and postcards owned by the Sam Cohen Library, Swakopmund, Namibia. Over 50.000 digitized historical pictures cover the whole of Africa.
Die Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft (DKG) Bildarchiv In English and German. The Stadt- und Universit�tsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main has put on-line a large keyword searchable database of colonial era photographs, 1822-1936, from the archives of the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft [German Colonial Society], a major organization behind Germany's colonial expansion.
France. Bibliotheque nationale. Gallica "Gallica propose un accès à 70 000 ouvrages numérisés, à plus de 80 000 images et à plusieurs dizaines d'heures de ressources sonores." Images and full text from 19th century books and journals. Included are illustrations from over 16 African travel and ethnographic books from the Library of the Musee de l'Homme. For example, portraits of Senegalese women are in Esquisses s�n�galaises, Physionomie du pays, Peuplades, Commerce, Religions, Pass� et avenir, R�cits et l�gendes [Paris : P. Bertrand , 1853]. [KF]
France. Centre des Archives d' Outre- Mer ( Aix-en-Provence ) - Photograph Database, UlysseIn French. The database, Ulysse has hundreds of photographs, posters, and eventually maps. Search under region and country. "Commencée en 2002, cette base a pour objectif de rendre progressivement accessibles les photographies isolées ou en albums, les cartes postales, les affiches, les dessins et gravures, les cartes et plans." Covers the 17th to mid 20th centuries.


Flickr - Images FOR Africa "We want to collect 'Images of Africa' that are 'free to use' according to a Creative Commons License: Social documentary, structures, public transport, village life, poverty, nature, wildlife ... everything!"

Henry Martyn Centre for Mission Studies, Westminster College, Cambridge holds some 2,000 photographs dating from the late 19th century chiefly covering Egypt, Sub-Saharan Africa and India. Images cover not only the work of missionaries in fields such as preaching, conversion, education and medicine, but also illustrate the lands and the people of the nations in which they served, providing a valuable research tool for many academic disciplines. Some have been digitised and are available on their archive webpages.
International Mission Photography Archive (University of Southern California) offers historical images from Protestant and Catholic missionary collections in Britain, Norway, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the United States. The photographs, which range in time from the middle of the nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century, offer a visual record of missionary activities and experiences in Africa, China, Madagascar, India, Papua-New Guinea, and the Caribbean.

Ross Archive of African Images (Yale) The Archive aspires to include all the figurative African objects in books, periodicals, catalogues, newspapers, and other publications appearing in 1920 and earlier - the oldest dates to 1591.

Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) Photograph Project (Cambridge University) contains over 70,000 images from all over the world. Dating from the mid-1850s to the mid-1980s the photographs provide insight into the history of the Commonwealth, documenting developments in a wide variety of fields including medicine, education and industry.
University of Virginia. Cape Coast Archive Photographs of Ghana. Includes downtown Cape Coast, Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle, Asafo Shrine-Elmina, Kakum National Park, Government House 1998, architectural drawings 1999, local street signs / billboards 1999, historic photos of jails, churches, government buildings, children, Panafest 1999, boat building, Ko-sa Beach Resort, two early maps, etc.
William S. Tubman Photograph Collection, University of Indiana. Over 5000 photographs of the former president.

Winterton Collection of East African Photographs, 1860-1960 includes over 1,700 photographs showing life in East Africa from 1860-1960. Materials part of the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University.


Of Interest:

Imperial War Museum, particularly its RESEARCH COLLECTIONS. Museum has over 11 million photos, including those from African soldiers fighting for the empire. Note you can filter results by categories found in the left column, e.g. "World War II." the Musuem has sponsered exhibits on African soldiers.

Africa Media Online. Africa Media Online is a professional marketplace based in South Africa to sell publication rights to African photos, audio files and text produced by African journalists. Over 150 000 African pictures available online.  Historical photographs are included.





Digitized and Cataloged African Posters: Posters from the Herskovits Library of African Studies

The Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University maintains a comprehensive collection of posters published in Africa and elsewhere. The posters provide a unique resource to carry on research in a broad range of disciplines by consulting the visual image created by governments (independent and colonial) and international agencies, as well as political, labor, social, religious, educational and cultural organizations. On this web site, 366 posters, selected as a representative sampling of the collection, are available for searching and viewing.