Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES


The African literatures considered in this section are those of nations south of the Sahara Desert, with the exception of the literature of South Africa. The responsibility for acquiring material in African languages which employ or once employed the Arabic alphabet (such as Fula, Hausa, Somali, and Swahili) lies with the Oriental Division; other African languages are the responsibility of the General Research and Humanities Division. The collecting policies in both areas are representative.

The interest in acquiring literature in the African vernaculars is one of long standing, although prior to World War II there was a small amount of such materials available. For example, there are some twenty-five items in Zulu vernacular, excluding translations from other languages, and approximately half that number in Swahili. Much material formerly came from missionary stations and was, therefore, primarily religious in nature. With the development of the countries there has been a growth of creative literature, which is being acquired through the aid of new bibliographical publications. African writing in the Western European languages, most notably English, French, and Portuguese, is collected on the same basis as other materials in those languages.

The Schomburg Center

The Schomburg Center is devoted to the acquisition and preservation of materials relating to persons of African descent, and contains rarities not available in the general collections of the Research Libraries. Among unique materials is a copy of the Latin verse of Juan Latino, printed in Granada in 1573; another rarity is Bakary Diallo's Force-honté, considered to be the first novel produced by a French West African.

The Schomburg Center has especially interesting holdings on the histories of the ancient African kingdoms and on Portuguese Africa and Madagascar. There is a good representation of the contemporary literature of Senegal, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, and other countries, which includes the work of Moussa Travélé, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Antoine Bolamba, Gaddiel R. Acquaah, and other authors. The center is also acquiring examples of one of the livelier manifestations of the modern African creative spirit, popular fiction, poetry, and drama published in paperbound format. Written primarily in English and for the most part in Nigeria, the material is the production of the younger African writers. A proportion of the literature produced in vernacular African languages reaches the Schomburg Center, but current creative work is principally written in English and French.

A Dictionary Catalog of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and History in nine volumes was published by G. K. Hall & Company of Boston in 1962. Five-year Cumulation Supplements are to be issued; the first appeared in 1967, the second in 1972.