History, Africa *: Background Information

This guide is intended to help any faculty, graduate, or undergraduate student find resources in the area of African history.


H-Africa – a part of H-Net's consortium of scholarly networks, this is an international scholarly online discussion list on African culture and the African past. H-Africa is a forum for discussions of research interests, teaching methods, and historiography. In addition, H-Africa publishes course materials, announcements of conferences and fellowships, and book reviews. Subscribing to this online discussion forum will provide a window into current discussions about African Studies research and teaching among scholars and students.

Descriptions of resources are adapted or quoted from vendor websites.

UNESCO general History of Africa Series

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] launched the General History of Africa series with a view to remedy the general ignorance on Africa’s history. The challenge consisted of reconstructing Africa’s history, freeing it from racial prejudices ensuing from slave trade and colonization, and promoting an African perspective. African and non African experts research represented 35 years of cooperation between more than 230 historians and other specialists, and was overseen by an International Scientific Committee which comprised two-thirds of Africans.

The complete collection is currently published in eight volumes. All volumes are richly illustrated with maps, charts, figures and diagrams and a selection of black and white photographs. The texts are fully annotated and there is an extensive bibliography and index.

In order to update and complete the collection, UNESCO has recently embarked on the preparation of three new volumes of the GHA. These works aim to update the collection in the light of the latest social, political and archaeological developments, among others, on the continent (Volume IX); to map and analyse the various African diasporas and their contributions to modern societies and to Africa’s emancipation and development (Volume X); and to contribute to the analysis of new challenges Africa and its diasporas are currently facing, and new opportunities that are open to them (Volume XI).

General History of Africa Series

Comprehensive Searching

Initial use of search engines designed to access a large volume of materials can be helpful in scanning the literature about a particular research problem and obtaining an initial understanding of how scholars, journalists, and others have studied your topic of interest. The USC Libraries' search engine only accesses materials owned by the library, but it can be a good place to obtain background information from a variety of scholarly and non-scholarly sources. Google Scholar covers a much broader array of [mostly] scholarly resources but not everything you find may be accessible.

USC Libraries Search Option

The search option on the USC Libraries main web page provides a single search box with comprehensive access to print and online books, selected digital resources, and full-text journal, magazine, and newspaper articles owned by the USC Libraries or accessible online through subscriptions. Information about using the Libraries' search engine can be found here.

USC Libraries Catalog

Link to the library catalog where you can search for books, research reports, U.S. government documents, international documents, and other materials either available online or arranged on the book shelves of the libraries at USC [excluding the Law Library].

Google Scholar

Google Scholar provides access to mostly scholarly [i.e., peer-reviewed, academic] sources, including scholarly titles from Google Book Search. The search engine has a "Cited by" feature that allows you to track where a particular source has been subsequently cited after publication. Link to Google Scholar from USC Libraries' main web page by scrolling down under list of database "Quick Links." Information about linking into USC Libraries subscription database content so you can search for and access content in Google Scholar without having to go directly to the libraries' website can be found here.

Descriptions of resources are adapted or quoted from vendor websites.

Specialized Databases

Databases for Basic Background Information

The databases listed below enable you to search the contents of dictionaries, handbooks, encyclopedias, and other reference books in a variety of subject areas or to find scholarly summaries of topics. These databases can be a good place to locate definitive, unbiased explanations of key concepts, theories, and topics as well as biographic profiles and detailed descriptions of historic events. Most of these databases are multidisciplinary and some of their content overlaps, but search more than one database as needed to gain a thorough description of your topic.

  • Biography Index Past and Present -- combining retrospective coverage with current indexing, this database covers people from across all disciplines and areas of endeavor. Information on writers, artists, statesmen, sports figures, politicians, religious leaders, actors, business people, and many other backgrounds is reflected in citations from thousands of periodicals internationally, plus notable books indexed back to 1946. Approximately 22,000 new citations are added each year.
  • Blackwell Online Reference -- brings together online research materials in the social sciences and humanities, with a particular strength in providing access to several hundred handbooks [a concise reference book that covers a specific subject area].
  • Cambridge Histories Online – this database contains over 400 texts of the Cambridge University Press Histories series spanning fifteen subject areas across the humanities and social sciences, with a concentration on political and cultural history, literature, philosophy, religious studies, music and the arts. Works are continually updated and searchable using keywords.
  • Credo Reference -- comprehensive collection of highly-specialized reference works, primarily dictionaries and encyclopedias, across all subject areas. Good place to go for succinct definitions of concepts, theories, or topics. Very good place to begin your search for background information.
  • Gale World History in Context – a resource for student researchers seeking contextual information on hundreds of the most significant people, events and topics in world history. The database allows searching of full-text magazines, academic journals, news articles, primary source documents, images, videos, audio files, and links to authoritative web sites organized into a user-friendly portal experience.
  • Internet Global History Sourcebook – dedicated to exploration of the interactions between world cultures. The site does not view ''world history''as the history of the various separate cultures (for that see the linked pages, which do take that approach), but in ways that the "world" has a history in its own right. Specifically, this means looking at the ways in which cultures contact each other, influence each other, and the ways new cultural forms emerge.
  • Making of the Modern World – provides digital facsimile images of unique primary sources that track the development of the modern, western world through the lens of trade and wealth. The database allows full-text searching across millions of pages of works from the period 1450-1850 (and 1851-1914 in Part II). Contains material for research in the areas of history, political science, social conditions, technology and industry, economics, area studies and more.
  • Oxford Handbooks Online -- contains in-depth, high-level articles covering a variety of disciplines. Entries offer a thorough introduction to topics and a critical survey of the current state of scholarship, creating an original conception of the field and setting the agenda for new research. Handbook articles review the key issues and cutting-edge debates, as well as providing arguments for how those debates might evolve.
  • Oxford Reference Online -- provides access to the content of approximately 100 language and subject dictionaries and reference works published by the Oxford University Press in a single cross-searchable resource.
  • OxResearch Database -- provides succinct analytical articles covering world and regional economic and political developments of major significance. It evaluates issues and events within a coherent political, social and economic framework. Additionally, it contains objective, multi-disciplinary articles compiled by an extensive international network of over scholars from leading universities around the world, as well as think-tanks and institutes of international standing.
  • Reference Universe -- database that facilitates searching the tables-of-contents and indexes in several thousand reference works and subject encyclopedias. The database can help locate specialized sources that will provide background information on a specific topic.

Descriptions of resources are adapted or quoted from vendor websites.