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African History: Primary Sources

Primary Sources in History


"Primary sources are materials produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under consideration, either as participants or witnesses." Secondary sources, on the other hand, "comment on and interpret primary sources".*

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, letters, interviews, oral histories, personal narratives
  • Contemporaneous newspapers, magazines, and journals
  • Manuscripts, archival materials
  • Vital records
  • Government documents
  • Government records
  • Laws, cases, transcripts, minutes, hearings
  • Maps
  • Statistical data, including census data
  • Photographs, films, film scripts
  • Music, sound recordings, musical scores
  • Research data
  • Art and graphics
  • Realia, e.g. tools, needlework, etc.

*Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 4th ed. (Boston: Bedford, 2004), pp. 5-6.

See Primary Sources in American History for details on primary sources and how to find them.

Primary Sources

Official Documents Online

African National Congress, Historical Documents Archive (from World History Resources with printer-friendly version)
Historical documents from South Africa, by or about the ANC in the anti-apartheid struggle.

U.S. Declassified Documents Online
Post WW II
For U.S.-Africa relations from the 1940s on. Contains declassified memos, diplomatic correspondence, national security policy statements, and intelligence estimates.

The United States and Africa : guide to U. S. official documents and government-sponsored publications on Africa, 1785-1975 (print and online)
Govt Ref LC 1.12/2:AF 8/2/785-975

Scholarly Web Sites

Africa South of the Sahara, Selected Internet Sources from Stanford University
Web site of primary sources from many African countries.

Digital Imaging Project at the University of Kwazulu-Natal
"freely accessible online scholarly resource focusing on the socio-political history of South Africa, particularly the struggle for freedom during the period from 1950 to the first democratic elections in 1994."

World History- Africa
Center for History and New Media, George Mason University

The Black culture collection. Africa Collection. From the holdings of Atlanta University Library
Main Micro Film 1701-1881
Black culture collection, Africa catalog
Main Micro Index GN645 .B55
A microfilmed collection of books, pamphlets, letters and official documents from 19th and 20th century Africa, collected by Henry G. Slaughter. The catalog provides subject access.

Web Dossier on Nelson Mandela
A comprehensive gathering of publications--books, speeches, poems, addresses--by and about Mandela.

African Studies Centre Library in Leiden
Offers a catalogue of African Studies books, journals, web links, a thesaurus, etc.

News Sources

See News & Newspapers: Foreign, in English.