HI588: Women, Power and Culture in Africa

Instructor: Prof. Linda Heywood
Fall 2014
See books on reserve
Printable version of this guide: WomenPowerandCulture

This guide provides course-specific research tips and resources



carvingwoman_000Beginning Your Research

Helpful Hints

  • Select a topic that interests you.
  • Start from what you know: your class reading and lectures, what you’ve read in the media or heard in other classes.
  • Do some preliminary research on your topic to determine if you can find enough information. Not too broad, but not too narrow! It’s good to check your topic before it’s too late to change.
  • Familiarize yourself with the context around the topic. Whether you are researching a particular woman in African history or a particular topic,take a moment to familiarize yourself with the African countries you are looking at.
  • Resources may exist in the language of the colonial government and may dictate how names are written.For example, Njinga could be written as “Nzingha” or “Nzinga”.

Arm yourself with as much information as possible and all possible variations of a name as you conduct your research:

It is critical in the number of results you retrieve when using the library catalog, electronic databases, and the internet.

  • Identify authors who are specialists in the field, search for other works they have written.
  • Whom do those authors cite? Check the bibliographies of books on your topic in order to find additional resources.
  • If the topic is extremely specific, for example, you want to find rites & traditions performed by the Masai when a child is born, try looking at a more general book such as an ethnography of the people. Search chapter headings and indexes for the information you need.

Finding Resources in the Library Catalog

Begin with a keyword search and try various combinations. How you search can determine the number of results:

For example:  “Winnie Mandela”

Using and narrows the search: Winnie Mandela AND apartheid

Using or broadens the search: Winnie Mandela OR Nelson

The results provide a breakdown of books and articles on that topic and other similar subject headings you might want to investigate.

Online Library Resources:

These are just some of approximately 400 databases available via the library website:

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.
Note: [Log-in required] 17 databases from 3 continents providing access to multi-disciplinary information on Africa., resource contains over 662,800 indexed references, many with abstracts. Topics include politics, history, economics, business, mining, development, social issues, anthropology, literature, language, law, music

Description: Anthropology Plus provides worldwide coverage of journal articles, reports, commentaries, edited works and obituaries in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, and related interdisciplinary fields. Date coverage: late 19th century - present.

Description: Contains page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473 -1700

Description: This database provides full text access to the back issues of core scholarly journals in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.  Book reviews are included as well as journal articles.  Abstracts are available for some of the articles.  Date coverage: earliest issues of each journal up to the most current five years for most publications and to the present for some.

Description: Women's Studies International indexes women's studies, women's issues and gender-focused journal and magazine articles, books and book chapters, dissertations and reports worldwide. Date coverage: 1972 - present.
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.


Internet Resources

Africa South of the Sahara: Guide to Internet Resources


Provides guides to selected internet sites about Africa on a variety of topics. Including a guide about Women, click here.

African Digital Collections Online


A list in progress of various digital collections on Africa that are openly accessible on the Internet. We will continue added resources as we are aware of them.

African Women Bibliographic Database.


Searchable by region or country. AfricaBib indexes 33,000+ articles from over 280 periodicals that specialize in African Studies or consistently cover the African continent. Managed by Univ. of Leiden.

Fage, J.D. / A Guide to Original Sources for Precolonial Western Africa Published in European Languages for the Most Part in Book Form. African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin–Madision, 1994. http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/AfricanStudies.Fage01


Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France),


Digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and its partners. Online since 1997, it provides access to over 2 million documents. It is updated weekly with thousands of new materials. Areas include history, literature, science, philosophy, law, economics and political science in all types of media: print (books, periodicals and press), manuscripts, documents, sound, iconographic documents, maps and plans.

Guide to Women Leaders in Africa,


This guide lists about 270 influential African women leaders and provides a brief description of who they were. The list is chronological, spanning the 1620’s right up to 2012 and covers the entire continent.

Internet Archive,


Using the top search box will search text, audio and film. Many older books and ethnographies can be found digitized in this collection.

John Thornton’s African Texts,


John Thornton’s translations of 17th century texts on Congo and Angola. According to Prof. Thornton, “This site is an attempt to create a paradigm for historical editing, annotating and translating written texts relating to African History”.


Reference Works

Historical Dictionary of Women in Sub-Saharan Africa / Kathleen Sheldon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

Afr. St. HQ 1787 .S44 2005

Women of Northern, Western, and Central Africa: a Bibliography, 1976-1985. Compiled by Davis A. Bullwinkle. New York : Greenwood Press, 1989. Afr. St. Z 7964 .A3 B85 1989 *also see: www.africabib.org

Women of Eastern and Southern Africa: a Bibliography, 1976-1985. Compiled by Davis A. Bullwinkle. New York : Greenwood Press, 1989. Afr. St. Z7964 .A337 B84 1989 *also see: www.africabib.org

Women Leaders in African History / David Sweetman. London ; Exeter, NH, USA : Heinemann, 1984
HQ 1787 .A3 S93 1984

Female Novelists of Modern Africa / Oladele Taiwo. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1985, c1984.
PR 9344 .T34 1985


Primary Resources

Some Examples of Primary Resources in the African Studies Library:

  • Newspapers (print and microfilm)
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Correspondence, letters
  • Speeches, interviews
  • Government records and reports
  • Photographs, works of art
  • Literature (ie. novels, poems)
  • Audio and video recordings

Evaluating Your Sources

  • How do you decide if an author knows what he’s talking about?  Different people have different opinions and beliefs. What they write as fact may be influenced by those beliefs.
  • Who is the author? What else has she written? What organizations does he represent? Can you find out his ethnic, religious, or philosophical background? Can you get clues from the publication?
  • Who is the publisher? When was the work written? What kind of vocabulary appears in the text?
  • What can you guess about a work that refers to “bloody Kaffirs”? About an author who describes events as evidence of “imperialist greed”?

Compiling a Bibliography

  • Make sure to give credit where credit is due: quoting or paraphrasing without citing the source is plagiarism.
  • The other reason for citing sources is so that your readers can find them. Be clear, be accurate.
  • Build your bibliography and list of references as you do your research. Don’t assume you’ll remember where you read that perfect quote.
  • Refworks is an online bibliographic tool available to you as a student here at BU and provides a fast, easy way to compile your bibliography. You will need to log in with your Kerberos password first and then set up a unique Refworks log-in to access this tool.