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African National Congress, Historical Documents Archive (from World History Resources with printer-friendly version)
Historical documents from South Africa, by or about the ANC in the anti-apartheid struggle.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

African Newspapers, 1800-1922
Full text of over 40 African 19th and 20th century newspapers.
Links to current international newspapers

Access World News, 1980-
Fulltext database of news in English, both domestic and international. Includes newspapers from all parts of the world. Duration of coverage varies between publications within the database.

Nexis Uni.
Fulltext database of news and legal information. Includes newspapers from all parts of the world; some in language of origin. Dates of coverage vary.

FBIS Full Text, 1974-1996
World News Connection Archive, 1995-2013
FBIS Full Text is a full text archive of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service reports, which are daily compilations of broadcasts, speeches and newspaper articles from countries around the world, selected and translated by the CIA. WNC Archive provides unfiltered foreign press dispatches, translated into English. They are from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and cover 1995 to 2013.

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