Africa: Getting Started with Research

This guide is intended to provide you with some resources and methods for beginning your research on Africa. Visit the African Studies Library virtually or in person. Check out current African newspapers, talk to library staff with long experience in the study of Africa, and get started in the right direction.

Here are some resources to help you get started…

Africa- Specific Databases

Description: Africa-Wide Information searches across bibliographic databases from around the world to provide citations and abstracts on all facets of Africa and African studies. This includes content from South African Studies, African Studies, and African HealthLine, which focuses on all aspects of health relating to Africa and other developing nations. Date coverage: 16th century - present.

African newspapers from the World newspaper archive.
Description: Searchable collection of historical African newspapers. Includes newspapers published between 1800 and 1922 in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Titles include: East African Standard, Mombasa Times and Uganda Argus (Kenya), Leselinyana la Lesutho (Lesotho), O Africano (Mozambique), Lagos Standard (Nigeria), Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser (South Africa), Ilanga lase Natal (South Africa), and Buluwayo Chronicle (Zimbabwe).

Useful Databases

Anthropological literature
Description: Indexes articles and essays on anthropology and archaeology, including art history, demography, economics, linguistics, psychology, and religious studies. Covered are articles, reports, commentaries, and obituaries two or more pages long in periodicals and monographic series published in English and other European languages from the late 19th century to the present. The indexed publications are held in Harvard University’s Tozzer Library.

Note: [Log-in required] Describes articles and essays on anthropology and archaeology, including art history, demography, economics, psychology, and religious studies. Updated quarterly, Anthropological Literature indexes articles two or more pages long in works published in English and other European languages from the late 19th century to the present.


The Economist Intelligence Unit
Description: The EIU database provides access to the Economist Intelligence Unit Publications such as the Country Reports. Each country page in the database provides forecast updates and featured analysis on economic and political events as well as content pertaining to market opportunities, government regulations and the financial services sector.
Note: The Country Reports and Country Data provide up-to-date economic and business information, along with analyses of how political and social events influence economic conditions. All African countries are covered. This resource can be searched for specific queries, but usually works best as an introduction by reading through the Reports and Profiles.

Description: Provides page images of back issues of the core scholarly journals in the humanities, social sciences, and basic sciences from the earliest issues to within a few years of current publication. Users may browse by journal title or discipline, or may search the full-text or citations/abstracts. New issues of existing titles and new titles are added approximately on a weekly basis.
Note: [Log-in required] A full-text database of back issues of scholarly journals, including topics such as: African studies, anthropology, ecology, economics, education, finance, history, literature, philosophy, political science, population studies, sociology, and statistics.


Project Muse
Description: Provides digital humanities and social sciences content for the scholarly community and is a source of complete, full-text versions of journals and monographs from many of the world’s leading university presses and scholarly societies.
Note: [Log-in required] Consists of full-text articles from scholarly journals in the humanities and social science fields. MUSE also provides online access, full-text, to content from approximately 100 non-profit publishers.


Women’s studies international (Database)
Description: Provides citations and some abstracts to the core areas of women’s studies. Includes material from Women studies abstracts (1984-present), Women’s studies bibliography database, Women’s studies database (1972-present), Women studies librarian, New books on women and feminism (1987-present), Women of color and southern women (1975-present), The history of women and science, health, and technology: a bibliographic guide to the professions and disciplines (1970-1995), Women’s health and development: an annotated bibliography (1995), Women, race, and ethnicity: a bibliography (1970-1990), WAVE : women’s audiovisuals in English: a guide to nonprint resources in women’s studies (1985-1990) and the MEDLINE subset on women (1964-2000). Covers journals, newspapers, newsletters, bulletins, books, book chapters, proceedings, reports, theses, dissertations, NGO studies, websites and grey literature annually. The database supports curriculum development in the areas of sociology, history, political science & economy, public policy, international relations, arts & humanities, business and education.
Note: [Log-in required] A database (citations or citations/abstracts) of over 548,000 records including resources such as: Women Studies Abstracts (1972-), Women’s Studies Bibliography Database, Women’s Studies Database (1972-), MEDLINE Subset on Women (1964-) Women of Color and Southern Women: A Bibliography of Social Science Research (1975-1995), Women’s Health and Development: An Annotated Bibliography (1995) and four files from Women’s Studies Librarian.



Africa South of the Sahara

A carefully selected and very thorough collection of links to useful web sites for information on a wide variety of topics for all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Can be browsed by country or by topic.

African Studies Abstracts Online

The catalog of the African Studies Center Library at the University of Leiden (Holland) is your entry to a database of articles in journals as well as books. Full text is not available, but many of the journals cited are in the BU Libraries’ collection. Check the catalog and the ejournals locator.
Also check out their Web Dossiers. These are informative essays with excellent bibliographies on topics such as Darfur, poverty reduction and African cinema.

Bibliography of Africana Periodical Literature Database

This database is probably the best one to use for most African topics. It does not provide full-text, but most of the journals cited are in the BU Libraries’ collection. Check the catalog and the ejournals locator. Besides the bibliography, this site also provides links to other useful sites.


Online version of the SIL International’s 16th edition of Ethnologue: Languages of the World Bibliography. The online bibliography contains a subset of over 29,000 citations from the more than 40,000 publications representing 75 years of SIL International’s language research in over 2,700 languages. The Country Index and Language Name Index searches are particularly useful.

Country Studies

The Country Studies Series (Library of Congress) presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world. Not all African countries are covered. For some countries, a briefer but useful Country Profile is also available.

Library of Congress Portals to the World

For each country, this gateway provides links to scholarly and authoritative web sites on history, health, culture, and more.

Reference Works


The peoples of Africa an ethnohistorical dictionary James Stuart Olson; ebrary, Inc. ; Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press ; 1996  (Also in print: GN645 .O47 1996)

A political and economic dictionary of Africa ; 1st ed.. David Seddon; Daniel Seddon-Daines; ebrary, Inc. ; London : Routledge ; 2006, c2005.


Africa South of the Sahara (AFR ST DT 351 F71)

A yearbook that gives a comprehensive, accurate, and readable overview on each country in sub-Saharan Africa. It covers history, politics and economics, gives a bibliography of suggested additional reading, current statistics. An essential first step. (Location: African Studies Library)

Dictionary of African Biography (AFR ST CT1920 .D52 2012)

This 6 volume set, published in 2011, is a key resource in African Studies. It spans the entire African continent and contains approximately 2,100 biographical entries, each with its own bibliography. (Location: African Studies Library)

Historical Dictionaries

Use the BU Libraries search to find historical dictionaries. To find dictionaries by country, try searching “Historical dictionary of [insert country name]”; there are often a couple editions). Here are some examples of country and topical historical dictionaries:

Historical dictionary of Angola ; New ed. W. James ; Susan H Broadhead (Susan Herlin), 1939- ; Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press ; 2004 DT1264 .J36 2004

Historical dictionary of pre-colonial Africa. Robert O. Collins 1933- ; Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press ; c2001
DT17 .C65 2001

Historical dictionary of United States-Africa relations. Robert Anthony Waters 1960- ; Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press; 2009 DT38 .W385 2009

Historical dictionary of civil wars in Africa. Guy Arnold ; Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press ; 1999 DT21.5 .A76 1999

Historical dictionary of women in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kathleen E. Sheldon 1952- ; Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press ; 2005 HQ1787 .S44 2005


Looking for books: use the BU Libraries Search or check out other African Studies Collections held by universities worldwide, or to cast a broader net for your search, go to