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*African Studies Research Guide: Background Information

Covers major background sources, databases and web sites related to African Studies

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True Size of Africa

SEE ALSO:  Africa is Not a Country, a Gapminder interactive presentation showing graphically how the countries of Africa are very different

Background Information

Background Information Change Box Title


The reference collection of the Woodruff Library has a large collection of resources for background information on Africa. It is useful to browse this collection especially in the call numbers Ref DT and Ref Z3500. Note: Information on individual African countries, maps, music, language and literature is found under Specialized Resources tab. Some titles of particular relevance are:

Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Biographies and General Histories

Africana : the encyclopedia of the African and African American experience  2nd ed. 2005 5 vols.
Ref. DT14 .A37435 2005

Almanac of African Peoples and Places

Ref. DT15.Y35 1999

By Mohammad Z. Yakan. New Brunswick, N. J.: Transaction, 1999.
Reviews African language families and lists languages and ethnic groups by country. Attempts to forecast possible inter-ethnic conflicts based on a study of current African pluralism.

Arts and Civilization of Black and African Peoples.

Ref. DT14.A78 1986

Lagos:Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization, 1986. 10 vols.
A ten volume set that explores the contributions of black civilization to the arts, literature and civilization generally. Produced by African scholars based on a colloquium held in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977.

Cambridge Histories Online, (Emory Only) online version of important reference materials/histories including a number of African titles such as Cambridge History of Africa , Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature, etc.

Cambridge History of Africa.

DT20 C27

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975-1986. 8 vols.
Chapters are written by specialists and include extensive bibliographies, maps and a detailed index. Available online in Cambridge Histories Online

Dictionary of African biography [electronic resource ] / edited by Emmanuel K. Akyeampong and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Online (Emory Only) and print Ref. CT1920 .D52 2012

New York: Oxford University Press. 6 vols

Edited by Henry Louis Gates , Jr and Emmanuel K. Akyeampong, the DAB contains over 2100 biographies from throughout the continent, all historical periods and all walks of life. Entries range from 200 to 3000 words.

Dictionary of African Biography.

Ref. DT18. D55

New York: Reference Publications, 1977. 20 vols.
Contains brief histories of individual African countries as well as biographical information of prominent deceased individuals, African and non-African, important in African history. Articles are signed.

Encyclopedia of African History and Culture,

Ref. DT3.P27 2001 New York: Facts on File, 2001. 3 vols.
A three volume encyclopedia broken down by historical period, ranging from ancient Africa to colonization.

Encyclopedia of African Peoples.

Ref. DT15.E53

London: Diagram Group, 2000.
Covers several thousand ethnic groups plus provides selective information on historical themes, individual African countries, and biographical information.

Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa.

Ref. DT2.E53 1997

London: AltaMira, 1997.
A one volume encyclopedia that emphasizes early history and archaeology of Sub-Saharan Africa.

General History of Africa.


London: Heinemann, 1981-1985. 8 vols.
Sponsored by UNESCO, each volume is edited by a native African specialist.

Historical Dictionary of Pre-Colonial Africa.

Ref. DT17.C65 2001

London: Scarecrow, 2001.
Contains over 2,000 entries on pre-colonial Africa.

New Encyclopedia of Africa.

Ref. DT2.N48 2008

New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008. 5 vols.

An important new encyclopedia from well-known specialists that includes over 1000 articles plus numerous biographies and maps. Also available electronically to the Emory community as part of the Gale Virtual Reference Library (From the basic search page, scroll down to "Select a Publication," click on "Nation and World" and choose title)


There are a number of regularly issued titles that cover African developments that are useful for background information. Click here for a list.



Guides to the Literature

Need more help locating resources on Africa? Try one of the following

NEW! African Studies:  Oxford Bibliographies Online 

Describes and annotatates the literature on 64 topics. Written by scholars in each field. Historiography and Methods of African History is a useful overview of bibliographic resources.


Ref. Z1035.1 G89 1996

By Phyllis Bischof, Alfred Kagan and Regina Kamer in Guide to Reference Books. 11th ed .Chicago: American Library Association. 1996.
Includes the most important reference works in the field for the continent and individual countries.Updated online by Guide to Reference Books. Online guide. Browse to "History Africa" section. (Emory only)

Africa: A Guide to Reference Material.

Ref Z3501 M3 2007

Compiled by John McIlwain. London: Hans Zell, 2007.
A detailed annotated guide to major reference sources on Sub-Saharan Africa, other than bibliographies. Covers approximately 1800 titles with citations and quotes from scholarly reviews when available. Appendix lists citations to Annual Reports on the British Possessions in Africa, issued in a series from 1846 until the year of independence. (Most of these reports through 1920 are in the House of Commons Sessional Papers housed in microfiche on Level 1.)

***African Studies Companion: A Resource Guide and Directory. 5th and later online editions or here

Ref DT19.8 Z448 2006

4th ed. Rev. Compiled by Hans Zell. London: Hans Zell Publishers, 2006.
Provides an annotated list of the major reference books dealing with Africa, lists of journals related to the field, names and addresses of major collections and documentation centers, and lists of foundation and agencies supporting African studies research. This is an excellent first guide to African Studies. 

Basic Guide to Research on Africa at Columbia University Libraries compiled by Joseph S. Caruso.
Excellent general research guide.

African Studies: UCLA Library guide

"Documentation of African Research"

Ref DT19.8 A35

By Margaret Binns.

African Research and Documentation, no. 56, 1991, pp. 1-34.
An annotated list of major reference books, bibliographies, research registers, journals, and organization covering Sub-Saharan Africa. It is unique in its focus on research produced in Africa.

Francophone Africa, a general list of links to websites prepared by NYU's  Lehman Library.
Guide to Reference Books. Online guide. Browse to "History Africa" section. (Emory only)

Guide to Research and Reference Works on Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ref Z3501 D78

Peter Duignan, editor. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1971-.
Although dated, Duignan's guide still remains the most comprehensive guide to older (but many still unique or continuing) library and archival materials important to reference, research, and teaching of Sub-Saharan Africa. Contains over 3000 entries.

Reference Guide to Africa: A Bibliography of Sources.

Ref. Z3501.K15 2005

Alfred Kagan, Landham, Md, Scarecrow, 2005.
Second edition of the Reference Guide is based on a graduate course, "Bibliography of Sub-Saharan Africa," taught for many years by the authors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Studying Africa: a Guide to Resources. 3rd ed. Nordic Africa Institute. 2013. Nicely up-to-date on digital resources for the study of Africa.  Has very useful individual sections including on literature related to African history from 2004 to 2010. The 2005 edition covered older literature.

"Africana Reference Works: An Annotated List," African Book Publishing Record.

Z465.7 A37
ABPR is a journal that keeps track of African publishing and, since 1986, it has also contained an annual annotated list of Africana reference books . Titles are recommended by a distinguished editorial committee and generally limited to English and European languages. Recent issues are kept in Collection Management/Acquisitions.


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