5 recommended Library resources for Africa Week 2019

Yesterday, 24th October, was the start of Africa Week 2019 at the University. A chance to celebrate Edinburgh’s connections to the region. There are a number of events taking place to mark Africa Week but I wanted to highlight just some of the library resources available to staff and students of the University that will allow you to study and research Africa and Africa related subjects further.

1. C.A.S. collection on 4th floor, Main Library

Have you ever been searching DiscoverEd for a book or journal related to Africa and come across shelfmarks starting C.A.S.?

C.A.S. simply stands for the Centre of African Studies and there is a substantial collection of books and journals, separate to the general lending collections on the 2nd and 3rd floor of Main Library, that were purchased on behalf of the Centre over many years. The C.A.S. collection can be found on the 4th floor of the Main Library on the South-East side of the floor. This is a really interesting collection of material, mostly published in the 20th century, and includes material published by commercial and academic publishers, government agencies, Unesco, the Centre of African Studies, etc.

The C.A.S. collection is now a closed collection i.e. no newly purchased books are added to this collection, but it’s not the only place you will find books on Africa or African related subjects in the Main Library. There are a large range of books throughout the general lending collections on 2nd and 3rd floor and the HUB area, you will find books relating to Africa at a number of the site libraries as well and there are a considerable number of e-books, e-journals (and print journals) available relating to Africa. Just search DiscoverEd to discover more.

2. University’s archives – Centre for Research Collections

The University of Edinburgh holds world class collections, including rare books, archives and manuscripts, art, historical musical instruments and museum objects. And it is the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) on the 6th floor of the Main Library that is your gateway into these unique collections.

In total the CRC hold around 6 kilometres of unique handwritten or typescript material. This includes literary, personal and business papers; the archives of NHS Lothian; the corporate archives of the University of Edinburgh and merged institutions such as Edinburgh College of Art.

Photograph Album (Phot.Ill.92). Dr. John William Arthur, circa 1911. © University of Edinburgh

As part of this the CRC has a large and varied range of material relating to Africa coming from the archives and personal papers of missionaries such as John William Arthur (1881-1952), Arthur Ruffell Barlow (1888-1965), Joseph Booth (1851-1932), Robert Laws (1851-1934), Alexander Gillon MacAlpine (1869-1957), Kenneth Mackenzie (1920-1971) and William Hutton Marwick (1863-1940).

Photograph Album (Gen.1786/9). Arthur Ruffell Barlow, circa 1911. © University of Edinburgh

They also have the papers of David Patrick Chalmers (1835-1899) a leading political and legal figure in colonial Africa, Reginald Davies (1887-1979) a leading figure in the colonial administration of Africa, John William Moir (1851-1940) an evangelical African trader who opposed the slave market, George Albert Shepperson (1922 – ) a leading historian of modern Africa and great benefactor of the Library and Colin Cameron (1933 – ) who played a significant role as a lawyer and politician as British Nyasaland became independent Malawi.



Outline Map of Part of the West Coast of Africa, Shewing the Bristish Posessions, 1865. (Gen.1917). David Chalmers. © University of Edinburgh

You can search the University of Edinburgh Archive and Manuscript Collections via Archives Online. The Centre for Research Collections (CRC) is open to all researchers, including students, staff, visiting academics and members of the public.

3. Digital archives

Primary sources reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer and they enable you to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period. Primary sources can include diaries, correspondence, historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, newspaper and magazine articles, statistical data, speeches, audio and video recordings, art objects, etc.

The Library has access to a wide range of primary source databases that allow you to search for and view digitised primary source material. Here are just a few that will allow you to research various time periods and aspects of African history.

Tanzania and Malawi in records from colonial missionaries, 1857-1965

Containing over 54,000 digitised pages from Bodleian’s Commonwealth and African manuscripts and archives, this database contains documents relating to the UMCA’s (Universities’ Mission to Central Africa) activities in Tanzania and Malawi during the period 1857-1965. The papers provide an insight into the spread of Christianity in Central Africa. Made up of 5 volumes it includes ‘Central Africa’ magazine, missionaries’ correspondence and journals as well as miscellaneous correspondence, press cuttings, books and conference papers.

Church Missionary Society Periodicals

Eastward Ho!, Volume 34, Issue . 1924. London: Church Missionary Society. Available through: Adam Matthew, Church Missionary Society Periodicals. [Accessed October 19, 2018]

This database features publications from the Church Missionary Society (CMS), the South American Missionary Society and the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (CEZMS) between 1804 and 2009. Forming a prominent feature of British religious philanthropy from the late eighteenth century onwards, missionary societies served as employer and community to missionaries far from home.

The CMS was founded in 1799 and its first overseas mission was in Sierra Leone in 1804; but soon the societies were working in other African countries as well as the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

The CMS periodicals document missionary work from the 19th to 21st century and the publications include news, journals and reports offering a unique perspective on global history and cultural encounters.


Empire Online

This database bring together manuscript, printed and visual primary source materials for the study of ‘Empire’ and its theories, practices and consequences with materials spanning around 500 years of history. Empire Online charts the story of the rise and fall of empires; from the explorations of Columbus, Captain Cook, and others, right through to de-colonisation in the second half of the 20th century and debates over American Imperialism.

Screenshot from An account of Ethiopia. 1724. Available through: Adam Matthew, Empire Online. [Accessed October 19, 2018].

There is a broad range of document types written by women and men from the European and non-European perspective. And documents include: exploration journals and logs; letter books and correspondence; official government papers; travel writing; slave papers; memoirs; fiction; maps and much more.

The Olive Schreiner Letters Online (this is an open access resource)

Olive Schreiner (1855-1920) was a South African feminist, socialist writer and social theorist and was one of the most important – and radical – social commentators of her day.

This database provides transcriptions of Schreiner’s more than 4800 extant letters located in archives across Europe, the US and South Africa, with detailed editorial notes and background information, thanks to the Olive Schreiner Letters Project. Transcriptions include every insertion and deletion as well as the main text. Guides to the archival locations of all her letters are also available.

Archives Unbound

This database contains over 300 primary source collections that you can access. It presents topically-focused digital collections of historical documents covering a broad range of topics from the Middle Ages forward-from Witchcraft to World War II to 20th century political history.

As Archives Unbound covers such a vast range of subjects and collections, searching through the whole database will provide material perhaps from some surprising areas (so it’s very worthwhile doing this) but these are just a small selection of the collections related to Africa that you might find useful.

  • Liberia and the U.S.: Nation-Building in Africa, 1864-1918 and 1918-1935
    These two collections consist of correspondence and telegrams received and sent by American diplomats, as well as records of American citizens and companies with relations to Liberia.
  • European Colonialism in the Early 20th Century: Political and Economic Consolidation of Portuguese Colonies in Africa, 1910-1929
    This collection comprises correspondence, studies and reports, cables, maps, and other kinds of documents related to U.S. consular activities. Archives Unbound also has similar collections covering French, Italian and German colonies.
  • Evangelism in Africa: Correspondence of the Board of Foreign Missions, 1835-1910
    This collection contains the records of the Board of Foreign Missions (BFM) of the Presbyterian Church provide valuable information on social conditions in developing nations and on efforts to spread the gospel during the nineteenth century.
  • Liberation Movement in Africa and African America
    This collection is composed of FBI surveillance files on the activities of the African Liberation Support Committee and All African People’s Revolutionary Party.

You can access these primary source databases and others via the Digital primary source and archive collections guide.

4. What to watch?

You can use some of the Library’s moving image and video streaming databases to search for and view films, documentaries, news programmes, interviews, plays, TV programmes, etc.

Academic Video Online is a multidisciplinary collection of videos that allows you to analyse unique and valuable content from over 500 producers and distributors around the world. With 1000s of videos already available on the site, around 400 new titles are added to the site every month. The site is easy to search and browse and on it you will find films, documentaries, interviews, music programmes made in or about Africa.

Alternatively, why not try Box of Broadcasts (BoB), where you can view or listen to previously recorded TV or radio programmes from over 60 stations, you can also record programmes yourself, create clips and create playlists. From documentaries such as Lost Kingdoms of AfricaAfrica: A Journey into MusicAfrica’s Great CivilisationsWriting A New South Africa,  Zimbabwe, Taid A Fi, and The New Kings of Nigeria: Storyville to films such as Hotel RwandaThe Last King of ScotlandSarraouniaXalaHalf of a Yellow Sun and Daratt, saison seche (and they are just a small number of the programmes available, search BoB for more).

You can access these databases and more via the Images and Moving Images database list.

5. Searching for more…

You can use bibliographic databases to search for journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, conference reports, theses, etc. This enables you to find scholarly research on Africa and Africa-related subjects. Here are just a few you might like to try.

Africa Portal (this is an open access resource)

The Africa Portal is a research repository and an expert analysis hub on African affairs. This open access repository has more than 5000+ academic articles, journals, reports, occasional papers and policy briefs on African issues.

African Writers Series

For over 40 years, Heinemann’s African Writers Series published the key texts of modern African literature. It has a unique importance in the history of postcolonial writing. This online edition includes over 250 volumes of fiction, poetry, drama and non-fictional prose.


This African news and information archive is a distinctive large and growing collection containing over 3.6 million articles and documents. AllAfrica collects and aggregates articles from African news organizations, as well as documents and releases from several hundred governmental, nongovernmental and international institutions.

You can access all databases recommended for African Studies on the African Studies guide.

Access to online library databases, e-books and e-journals are only available to current students and members of staff at the University of Edinburgh (unless otherwise noted above i.e. “open access”). The Centre for Research Collections (CRC), where all the University’s physical archives are held, is open to all researchers, including students, staff, visiting academics and members of the public.

Caroline Stirling – Academic Support Librarian for School of Social and Political Science

[This is an updated version of blog post originally published in October 2018.]

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