Guide to the Research Collections



Approximately 19,000 volumes form the basic collection on African history, which was estimated to contain 8,000 volumes in 1941. Supplementing this collection are massive resources in public documents and extensive materials on related subjects. The library's interests in the African continent have led to the building of strong collections of materials relating to Egypt and North Africa (the Oriental Division has traditionally collected in this subject area), slavery, the interrelation of American and African history, and colonial matters. More general subjects which supplement the historical holdings deal with native languages, anthropology, discovery, and travel.

Specific strengths of the African history collections include: Ethiopian history, Medieval through modern, with many rare book materials; Arabic materials from North Africa and modern material from the United Arab Republic (Egypt); Egyptian archaeological materials, comprehensive from the earliest periods to the mid-1930s and representative after that period; government documents from British and other colonial powers with extensive material on the former Belgian Congo and the Republic of South Africa; maps of Africa from all periods; African voyages and travel in all periods. Under the Farmington Plan the library is responsible for acquiring publications issued in Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Morocco, Somalia, Somaliland, Spanish Sahara, Sudan, and Tunisia; the history of these countries, as well as that of Egypt and Carthage; the general history of African civilization and culture; and African languages. Through the PL-480 Project the library receives current publications from the United Arab Republic and will receive materials from other countries in the future. The holdings of the Schomburg Center include well over 20,000 volumes on all aspects of African life and culture, and recordings, original artifacts, and the extensive series of historical television films "Black Heritage" as well; these are discussed below and in chapter 13.


A strong section of political and social periodicals (commencing about 1900), and a large number of the publications of museums and institutions relate to the study of the life and customs of African peoples. Approximately 300 titles are currently received in the Periodicals Section from or about Africa, including many valuable scholarly journals from all parts of the continent with highly specialized publications in the fields of economics and technology. Among the titles related to history are the Bulletin of News (1957-) and the Journal (1956-) of the Historical Society of Nigeria, the Journal (1901-) of the Royal African Society, which changed its title to African Affairs in 1944, the Boston University Papers in African History (1964-), and the Bulletin of the Afrika-Instituut of Pretoria (1963-). Much valuable African material in the older English and European scholarly journals dating from the late nineteenth century has been indexed in the Public Catalog. Among the periodicals regularly received by the Schomburg Center are Jeune Afrique, Africa, and A Current Bibliography on African Affairs. African newspapers, such as the Evening News (Ghana), are now available on microfilm. Resources in this area are described more fully in chapter 13.


The African history classifications contain both histories and the accounts of exploration and travel. All nationalities are well represented, but the Dutch accounts merit special attention. In the notable group of early accounts of Ethiopia are Portuguese descriptions of what was then believed to be the land of the legendary Prester John, among them Francisco Alvares's Ho Preste loam das Indies in the first edition of 1540 and several other sixteenth-century editions in French, German, and Spanish, and Dami[amacr ]o de Goes's Fides, Religio, Moresque Aethiopum (1540). The Rare Book Division has other books by Arab scholars and travelers of the Middle Ages who explored Ethiopia, together with religious writings, dictionaries, and other materials.1 A small

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group of Ethiopic liturgical manuscripts in the Spencer Collection and in the Manuscripts and Archives Division date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The full range of Egyptian history is documented, including materials in the Arabic language from the collections of the Oriental Division and rarities such as the Courier de l'Egypte (Cairo, 1798-1801), published during the French occupation of Egypt.2 Among more recent materials are those noted in 55 entries in the Public Catalog which refer to the Anglo-French intervention of 1956. Works on Liberia are augmented by material on the American Colonization Society and some manuscript material.3 Materials on South Africa are also important. Emphasis is placed on the Boer War; the library has an extensive collection which includes not only retrospective historical studies but also controversial contemporaneous literature.4 Resources in the Schomburg Center, discussed below and in chapter 13, include histories of the ancient African kingdoms.

Public Documents

The collection of public documents relating to Africa includes not only the publications of the colonial offices of governments which formerly exercised authority, but also those issued by the colonial governments themselves and by the newly independent nations. It is one of the most important collections of such material in the United States. In addition to the Central Building holdings, the Schomburg Center has microfilm copies of the official legislative gazettes of a number of African countries.

The material issued by the former colonial offices is important, and the collection is strong for all colonies. The depth of holdings in African government publications varies. In general those of the French and Portuguese colonies and former colonies and the independent nations formed from them are weak; of the Italian and Belgian, adequate; and of the English, very strong.

The strongest feature of the collection is government gazettes and legislative proceedings. Among scarce sets is the Transvaal Government Gazette (1878-79). Other important sets document the political life of an area despite changes of government: for example, the official gazette of the Congo Independent State runs without break from 1885 to 1908; the file from the subsequent Belgian Congo is complete; and the Moniteur congolais, issued at Léopoldville from 1960 by the reorganized Republic of Congo, continues the documentation from the area. For the Republic of South Africa the series include not only those of the Union government but also those of the self-governing colonies preceding the Union. Documentary material from the provinces of the Union is held in strength, including current publications, and there are also municipal documents from the larger cities.

Closely related to the legislative proceedings are the compiled laws and session laws. The collections relating to former British colonies and the independent nations formed from them is the strongest group. Documents other than legislative series are also numerous. One important group consists of the "Blue Books" issued by each government, giving annual reviews of economic conditions, social and political life, and additional information. Another is composed of the combined annual reports of each colony, made up of the reports of individual departments, which are valuable sources of information on agricultural, educational, and other specialized governmental activities.


The Manuscripts and Archives Division contains materials dealing with the Boer War and the Ethiopian War of 1935, several nineteenth-century journals of Americans traveling in Egypt, and several diaries kept by travelers in other parts of Africa. Other important items are the account books (1826-30) of Jeremiah Evarts, secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions; and the papers (1904-11) of Emil Gribeschock, which include correspondence concerning the establishment of trade with Ethiopia. The papers of Charles P. Daly (1829-99) include material on American interests in Africa, particularly the Congo. The papers (1860-1911) of Alice Donlevy contain material on the Boer War, including items relating to Miss Donlevy and Jessie Fara, her associate in the Women's South African League and the Woman's Auxiliary League of the Boer Relief Fund. Materials relating to the island of Bourbon (Réunion) include transcripts of early eighteenth-century documents from the archives of the Ministry of Colonies in Paris, as well as original documents from the period of the administration of Sieur Jean Baptiste de Villers, governor under the Compagnie des Indes Orientales de France from 1707 to 1710.5

The Schomburg Center

Approximately half of the collection of 58,000 volumes in the Schomburg Center concerns people on the African continent. The collection contains many rarities; Hiob Ludolf's History of Ethiopia (1681-93) in Latin, English, and French,

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and Robert Sutherland Rattray's works on the Ashanti and the Gold Coast are examples. Ibn Batuta's Travels in Asia and Africa (1325-54) furnishes an eyewitness account of Medieval West African kingdoms at the height of their splendor. M[amacr ]hmud K[amacr ]ti's Tarikh el-fettach and 'Abd al Rahm[amacr ]n's Tarikh es-Soudan are books by indigenous African writers providing firsthand accounts and the histories of the royal houses and dynasties which ruled the western Sudan; these and other histories of ancient African kingdoms are of special interest.

The largest number of works in the Schomburg Center are in English, followed by works in French, German, and Spanish. Vertical file materials (clippings, magazine articles, programmes, and broadsides) supplement the monograph and periodical collection. The vertical file material is classified in detail on biographical, geographical, and other lines (9,000 subject headings). Files have been established for African personalities such as Tom Mboya, Sékou Touré, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, and Gamal Abdel Nasser, and on new countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, and Mali, as well as the French Community. Men such as Nkrumah and Azikiwe have been represented in the files for at least twenty years.

Among the major topics of interest to Africanists in the manuscript resources of the Schomburg Center are the slave trade, abolition movement, African congresses, Negro missionaries, Black Star Line, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. More than 500 letters and sermons of Alexander Crummell, who lived for many years in Liberia as a teacher and missionary, are valuable for mid-nineteenth-century religious and educational affairs. The John Edward Bruce collection of more than 400 editorials, letters, newspaper articles, and addresses includes some that refer to persons and events in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, and to the Garvey movement. Other miscellaneous papers dating from the eighteenth century deal with West Africa.6

A Dictionary Catalog of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and History, in nine volumes, was published in 1962 by G.K. Hall & Company of Boston, a First Supplement in two volumes was issued in 1967, and a Second Supplement in four volumes in 1972. Further information on the resources of the Schomburg Center may be found in chapter 13 of this Guide, including descriptions of collections of African artifacts which are important primary resources for the study of African culture.