Primary Resources and Archival Collections on Africa: Index Page

Guide Index to Resources at BU

In the index menu to the right, the primary resource materials held by BU are listed according to country or area.  These lists are intended to assist students in conducting primary source research using the libraries of Boston University. The materials listed are wide-ranging in their variety, but they are mostly either edited volumes of documents (most often, political in nature) compiled by later scholars from archival collections or first-hand accounts from various observers of Africa published as monographs.

The link at the bottom right of the menu will take you to an index of lists of guides that BU holds. These guides contain information about the primary resources and archival collections held by various institutions around the globe.


Despite its length, the list is meant only as a starting point, and should not be regarded as authoritative or comprehensive. Materials in the list have been arranged into categories; there are a few categories listed at the top which are generally relevant across the continent, followed by geographical categories – by country and then by regions (West Africa, North Africa, etc.). Each entry contains the essential bibliographic information for a work in addition to its location within the library system.

In order to make the list manageable, a number of limitations had to be placed upon the number of included entries. For example, to limit the number of entries turned up by searches under the subject heading ‘”description and travel,” a cutoff date of either 1900 or 1914 was typically employed in order to prevent the list from becoming unwieldy (a search for “Sudan, Description and Travel,” for example, turns up 76 different results). Except when judged to be exceptionally valuable, materials found only in HGARC Special Collections and Storage were also often not listed. The list also reflects a definite preference for materials in English; materials in other languages were generally only included if they were especially important collections or if there was a general scarcity of materials in English about that specific topic or region. In cases where the library has both the original material and an English translation, the listing is for the English material, but an effort has been made to indicate that the original language version is also available.

Students should also be conscious of the complex and ever-changing nature of certain terms and categories. ‘”Central Africa,” for example, is an extremely vague catch-all term, which is applied to a huge region stretching from the Zambezi River to Lake Chad, and inclusive of all of Congo. The favoring of geographical categories over other types also contributes to certain difficulties, as certain subjects tend to transcend any single geographical area. A subject search for “Emin Pasha,” for example, turns up 31 different entries which might be found in places as diverse as the country listings for “Congo” and “Sudan” and the regional listings for ‘”East Africa” and “Central Africa” in this list, requiring a student to do some additional digging. Additional research will be required in nearly every case, and students should be sure to do additional author searches for individuals they find particularly helpful, as well as widening the range of subject searches performed in compiling this list.

Finally, bear in mind that the appearance of materials on this list is not an endorsement of those materials as usable without any critical questioning. The observers included in this list are there because they left a first-hand account of what they saw and did, not because they always understood perfectly what they were observing or the consequences of their own actions. Many of their accounts may include material that is even intentionally misleading or outright deceitful. Students should very carefully apply the critical tools of their discipline to the study of all of these materials.