UNB Libraries' Guide to History, African

Primary Sources

There are a number of ways of identifying and locating primary sources for African history. Here are a few:

  1. Use UNB WorldCat's advanced search screen, and combine a keyword search for the event or place along with a subject search for the terms sources, narratives, diaries, or correspondence.
  2. The multi-volume General History of Africa (HIL-GOV TU33 G326ha) inlcudes excellent essays that describe written sources for African history. Use this to identify titles and authors to search for.
  3. Each volume in the Cambridge History of Africa inclues a Bibliographic Essay (near the end), which provides a detailed chronicle of contemporary sources.
  4. A number of free online archives include documents for African history. Some are listed under the Internet Sites tab of this guide.
  5. UNB Libraries have purchased access to a number of online repositories of primary materials. These include:
    1. Medieval Travel Writing
    2. Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice, 1490-2007 
    3. Empire Online
    4. Black Thought and Culture
    5. House of Commons Parliamentary Papers
    6. Oral History Online
    7. ProQuest Historical Newspapers
    8. Times Digital Archive

Find Articles

When searching for journal articles, an indexing and abstracting database or print index is usually the best place to begin. Below are some recommended print indexes and databases for research in African History. For other databases, check the Articles and Research Databases tab on the library website.

Key Resource

  • Historical Abstracts (EBSCO)
    "Historical Abstracts is an exceptional resource that covers the history of the world (excluding the United States and Canada) from 1450 to the present, including world history, military history, women's history, history of education, and more ... Provides indexing of more than 1,700 academic historical journals in over 40 languages back to 1955."--Database information page.

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

Additional Resources

  • Academic Search Premier
    Academic Search Premier is a multidisciplinary resource that "provides journal coverage for most academic areas of study."

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

  • JSTOR Archival Collection
    JSTOR provides access to back issues of a variety of scholarly journals. UNB Libraries currently subscribes to the Arts & Sciences (I through X) collections, along with the Life Sciences and Ireland collections.

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

  • Periodicals Archive Online (PAO - ProQuest)
    "Periodicals Archive Online is a major online periodical archive that makes the backfiles of periodicals in the humanities and social sciences available electronically, providing access to the full text of a growing number of digitized periodicals that have been indexed in its sister database, Periodicals Index Online."--About page.

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

  • America: History and Life (EBSCO)
    "America: History & Life is the definitive index of literature covering the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. With indexing for 1,700 journals from 1964 to present ... The database also includes citations and links to book and media reviews."--Database information page.

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

  • Worldwide Political Science Abstracts (ProQuest)
    Worldwide Political Science Abstracts provides "citations, abstracts, and indexing of the international serials literature in political science and its complementary fields, including international relations, law, and public administration / policy."

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

  • Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS) International and Archive (ProQuest)
    The PAIS International database contains references to journal articles, books, government documents, statistical directories, grey literature, research reports, conference reports, publications of international agencies, microfiche, Internet material, and more. Newspapers and newsletters are not indexed. Also included in PAIS are the PAIS Archive and ProQuest Deep Indexing: Public Administration and Policy databases.

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

How To Guides

How to Search Historical Abstracts and America: History & Life Simultaneously

How to Limit a Search in Historical Abstracts or America: History & Life by Event Date

How to Use Search History to Build Up a Complex Search

How to Use UNB WorldCat to Find Journal Articles

How to find journal articles in JSTOR

Selected e-Journals:

UNB Libraries subscribe to many online and print journals in African History. The following list includes some of them. For others, use the catalogue, UNB WorldCat.

African Archaeological Review

African Economic History

African Historical Studies

French Colonial History

History in Africa

International Journal of African Historical Studies

Journal of African History

Journal of Religion in Africa


Reference Sources

When researching a new topic it is often necessary to get an overview, explanations of unfamiliar terms, or brief factual information. The print and electronic resources listed below include selected reference materials (dictionaries, encyclopaedias, handbooks, guides, and standards) for the field of African History. To find additional reference materials, check UNB WorldCat (the library catalogue) or our Reference Materials database. If you would like to try a quick search using Reference Universe, use the box here:

Key Resources

  • General history of Africa [HIL-GOV TU33 G326ha]

    v.1. Methodology and African prehistory --v.2. Ancient civilizations of Africa --v.3. Africa from the seventh to eleventh century --v.4. Africa from the twelfth to sixteenth century --v.5. Africa from the sixteenth to eighteenth century --v.6. The nineteenth century until 1880 --v.7. Africa under colonial domination, 1880-1935 --v.8. Africa since 1935.

  • Cambridge Histories Online
    This resource contains the online versions of over 270 Cambridge Histories publications in the following 15 areas: American History, British History, Economic History, General History, History of Science, History of the Book, Language and Linguistics, Literary Studies, Music, Philosophy, Political and Social Theory, Regional History, Religious Studies, Theatre Studies and Performing Arts, and Warfare. For a complete listing of titles in each area, please refer to the publisher's site, at: http://histories.cambridge.org/uid=1436/browse

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

  • Cambridge encyclopedia of Africa [HIL-REF DT3 .C35 1981]
  • Encyclopedia of Africa [HIL-REF DT3 .E53 2010]

    The Encyclopedia of Africa presents the most up-to-date and thorough reference on this region of ever-growing importance in world history, politics, and culture. Its core is comprised of the entries focusing on African history and culture from 2005's acclaimed five-volume Africana - nearly two-thirds of these 1,300 entries have been updated, revised, and expanded to reflect the most recent scholarship. Organized in an A-Z format, the articles cover prominent individuals, events, trends, places, political movements, art forms, business and trade, religions, ethnic groups, organizations, and countries throughout Africa. There are articles on contemporary nations of sub-Saharan Africa, ethnic groups from various regions of Africa, and European colonial powers. Other examples include Congo River, Ivory trade, Mau Mau rebellion, and Pastoralism. The Encyclopedia of Africa is sure to become the essential resource in the field.

  • New encyclopedia of Africa [HIL-REF DT2 .N48 2008]

    Scribner's Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara was a welcome and much-needed work when it was released a decade ago. It assembled in four volumes a wealth of knowledge about Africa from the perspective of historians who studied the continent closely and intensively. Compiled by the original collaborators, this set is an effort to replicate, rework, and expand on that fine resource. Middleton (Yale) and Miller (Univ. of Virginia) have gathered a great group of contributors to provide coherent and focused content, which results in a set that is more contemporaneous and reflective of the global integration that Africa has undergone since 1997.

  • Encyclopedia of precolonial Africa : archaeology, history, languages, cultures, and environments [HIL-REF DT2 .E53 1997]

    An excellent introduction to Africanist archaeology for undergraduate students and general readers. Part one provides context: the presentation of environmental information, research histories, and background to the technologies, languages, and lifeways of sub-Saharan Africa. The remainder of the encyclopedia carries the narrative from the physical development of humanity through the adaptive stages of stone-using foragers, food producers, and complex societies, to the residues of historically recorded times and the investigation of identifiable sites in the historical record.

  • Africa and the Americas: culture, politics and history: a multicultural encyclopedia [HIL-REF DT31 .A43 2008]

    This three-volume reference contains an impressive range of A-Z entries on countries, events, people, cities, culture, philosophy, and politics concerning the transatlantic relationship of Africa and the Americas.

  • African political facts since 1945 [HIL-REF DT30 .C594 1991]
  • Africana: the encyclopedia of the African and African American experience [HIL-REF DT14 .A37435 1999]

    Inspired by the dream of the late African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois and assisted by an eminent advisory board, Harvard scholars Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Kwame Anthony Appiah have created the first scholarly encyclopedia to take as its scope the entire history of Africa and the African Diaspora.

  • Encyclopedia of twentieth-century African history
    see also [HIL-REF DT29 .E53 2003]

    The focus of this dictionary-style work is the past century of African history, covering decades of tremendous change, including resistance to colonial rule and the reestablishment of African independence.

  • Historical Dictionary of Civil Wars in Africa [HIL-REF DT21.5 .A76 2008]

    "This second edition of the Historical Dictionary of Civil Wars in Africa reviews the wars that have occurred in Africa in the past half century: Algeria's struggle for independence from French colonial rule, Nigeria's fight to achieve a balanced state after the British departure, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the current ethnic cleansing in Darfur, to name only a few. It contains a chronology, a list of acronyms and abbreviations, an introductory essay, a bibliography, and cross-referenced dictionary entries on wars, conflicts, major political and military figures, and topics such as child soldiers, mercenaries, and blood diamonds."--BOOK JACKET. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions, Inc.

Additional Resources

  • Key events in African history : a reference guide [HIL-REF DT20 .F35 2002]

    Distinguished scholar and Africanist Falola surveys the complicated history of the African continent by focusing on 36 pivotal events that either caused or led to significant changes and developments in African social, political, and cultural life from around 40,000 B.C.E. to the collapse of apartheid in the 1990s.

  • ARTstor
    Searchable database of over 1.2 million digital images. ARTstor covers many time periods and cultures, and documents the fields of architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, and design, as well as many other forms of visual culture. Images are drawn from a variety of sources including: museums, archaeological teams, photo archives, slide collections, and art reference publishers. Users can search, view, and download images.

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

  • Smithsonian Global Sound® for Libraries
    Smithsonian Global Sound provides over 35,000 tracks of music, natural sounds and spoken words, delivered via streaming audio. It includes performances of traditional musics from around the world, poetry readings, environmental sounds, and recordings by legendary folk, jazz and blues performers. Liner notes for many recordings are also available.

    5 simultaneous users

  • Blackwell Reference Online
    WARNING: This resource loads slowly and may need a page reload. Blackwell Reference Online "is a vast new online library giving instant access to the most authoritative and up-to-date scholarship across the humanities and social sciences. With more than 350 reference volumes to be published in Blackwell Reference Online by the end of 2008, it is the largest academic reference collection available online and includes the critically-acclaimed Blackwell Companions and Handbooks, major reference works such as the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Management and the Companion to Syntax, and a whole host of other valuable reference materials such as dictionaries, encyclopedias and concise companions."

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

  • Encyclopedia of African religion [HIL-REF BL2400 .E53 2009]

    The two-volume set, which includes almost 500 entries, covers a wide range of topics, including African response to the sacred, spirituality, ritual, initiation, taboos and ethics, sacred spaces and objects, and cosmological narratives.

  • Credo Reference (formerly Xreferplus)
    "Credo Reference is a completely customizable ready-reference solution for learners and librarians. Its full-text, aggregated content covers every major subject from the world's best publishers of reference."

    Unlimited simultaneous users.

  • International Historical Statistics: 1750-2000 [HIL-REF HA155 .M575 2003 ]
  • Oxford Reference
    Multi-part database of the online versions of Oxford University Press texts. Each topical division contains the searchable version of the latest edition of published dictionaries and encyclopedias. Additionally, information about Oxford University Press is provided. Online texts will be updated after new editions of the print monographs are published. Covers the humanities and social sciences.

    5 simultaneous users.

  • Encyclopedia of African history
    Covers the history of the entire African continent from Morocco, Libya, and Egypt in the north to the Cape of Good Hope in the south, and the surrounding islands from Cape Verde in the west to Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles in the east.

    Unlimited simultaneous users

Find Books

To search for books at UNB Libraries, first use the library's online catalogue, UNB WorldCat, which contains materials held at the Harriet Irving, Science and Forestry, Engineering, and Law libraries, as well as the HW Klohn Learning Commons in Saint John. 

Books and other materials not available at UNB may be available for loan from another institution through our document delivery service. To search for materials not held by UNB Libraries, try UNB World Cat, and change the default "UNB Libraries" to "Libraries Worldwide." Once you have identified a title that is not locally held, select the "Request Item through Document Delivery" link.

If you prefer to browse the Stacks, the following call number ranges may be helpful to know:

Subclass DT



History of Africa


Description and travel








Sudan. Anglo-Egyptian Sudan


North Africa


Northwest Africa


Maghrib. Barbary States




Tunisia (Tunis)








Central Sub-Saharan Africa


Eastern Africa


Northeast Africa


Ethiopia (Abyssinia)




Somalia. Somaliland and adjacent territory


Djibouti. French Territory of the Afars and Issas. French Somaliland


East Africa. British East Africa






Tanzania. Tanganyika. German East Africa




Rwanda. Ruanda-Urundi




Islands (East African coast)




Mascarene Islands


Mautitius (Ile de France)








West Africa. West Coast


Upper Guinea


Lower Guinea


British West Africa


Ashanti Empire




Ghana (Gold Coast)




Sierra Leone


French West Africa. French Sahara. West Sahara. Sahel


Benin. Dahomey




Côte d'Ivoire. Ivory Coast


French-speaking Equatorial Africa


Gabon (Gaboon, Gabun)


Congo (Brazzaville). Middle Congo


Central African Republic. Central African Empire. Ubangi-Shari


Chad (Tchad)




West Sahara




Mali. Mali Federation. Sudanese Republic. French Sudan




Burkina Faso. Upper Volta


Cameroon (Cameroun, Kamerun)


Togo. Togoland


Portuguese-speaking West Africa


Guinea-Bissau. Portuguese Guinea


Sao Tome and Principe


Spanish West Africa


Equatorial Guinea (Spanish Guinea)




Congo (Kongo) River region


Zaire. Congo (Democratic Republic). Belgian Congo




Cape Verde


Southern Africa




Namibia. South-West Africa


South Africa


Botswana. Bechuanaland


Lesotho. Basutoland




British Central Africa. Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland


Zimbabwe. Southern Rhodesia


Zambia. Northern Rhodesia


Malawi. Nyasaland



Find Internet Sites

Internet Sites

Internet African History Sourcebook

Africa Focus, a digitization project of The University of Wisconsin

Belgian Congo Records, from the American Museum of Natural History

Olaudah Equiano: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African

Primary Reader in African History, from The University of Virginia

WWW-VL History:

Lists of Primary Sources on African History:

Citing Your Sources

Accurate, properly formatted footnotes, reading lists, and bibliographies are hallmarks of good academic research. Through citing, you acknowledge the source of any ideas you mention in your writing, document your research, and provide the information your readers need to track down your sources.

Numerous citation styles exist, and each specifies what elements are required (title, author, journal name, etc.) and how the citation should be formatted. The standard citation style for History is Chicago, but your instructor may require or recommend that you use another. Consult your course syllabus or check with your instructor to be sure of using the correct citation style for your assignment.

Ask A Librarian

Joanne Smyth
Head, Reference Services, HIL
jsmyth@unb.ca@unb.ca | 506-453-3516
My office is in HIL, Room 316B
Subject Specialties: History; Political Science; Religious Studies; Catholic Theology; Human Rights, GRID

Ask Us

  • Photo: Joanne Smyth
  • Joanne Smyth  (profile)
  • Head, Reference Services, HIL
  • jsmyth@unb.ca
  • 506-453-3516
  • My office is in HIL, Room 316B
  • Subject Specialties:
    History; Political Science; Religious Studies; Catholic Theology; Human Rights, GRID
  • UNB Libraries