Guide to find “Book Reviews” in African Studies Journals

“Book reviews” are very useful to make academic research more efficient: They save time in choosing the right books to consult. They allow a quick overview about new publications without having to read them all in detail. They do give an impression about strengths and weaknesses of a book. Often they ask new questions, not answered by the reviewed book. Even if they are not of high quality, at least they offer a summary of the main arguments. So this Guide will introduce some tools helping to locate book reviews in African Studies journals (i.e. special databases) and on the web. Some of the mentioned search techniques are applicable also for databases indexing journal articles not mentioned here in detail.

Database containing “book reviews” only: IBR-Online



  • Internationale Bibliographie der Rezensionen geistes- und sozialwissenschaftlicher Literatur = International Bibliography of Book Reviews of Schorlarly Literature in the Humanities and Social Sciences (de Gruyter) [toll access]
  • The IBR as an interdisciplinary, international bibliography of reviews contains entries on over 1.3 million book reviews of literature dealing primarily with the humanities and social sciences published in 6,820 scholarly journals (mainly European). Reviews of more than 570,000 scholarly works are listed. IBR is updated on a monthly basis, the annual addition to the database is approx. 50.000 entries. All articles contain German and English subject classifications. Every entry contains also the following information: On the work reviewed: author, title; On the review: reviewer, periodical (year, edition, page, ISSN), language, publisher.
  • The journals indexed include e.g. Africa Bibliography, Africa Spectrum, Africa Today, Africa, African Affairs, African Philosophy, African Research and Documentation, African Studies Review, Afrika und Übersee, Cahiers d’études africaines, Canadian Journal of African Studies, History in Africa, Journal of African Languages and Linguistics and many more.
  • Use the search field “Review of:” to look for the full titles and bibliographical details of the reviewed works. “Author:” is the author of the reviewed book in the form “last name, first name”. Other search fields are Reviewer, Periodical, Subject headings and Classification. All search fields offer an autocomplete functionality.
  • Access via the publisher de Gruyter or via DBIS in Germany. See one example here.

Journal Article Databases including “book reviews”

Most of the databases indexing journal articles are useful tools to locate book reviews. Only a very few have special indexes and search fields for the title/author of the reviewed work. However, many offer the possibility to refine searches according to the document or publication type. Some of the most important databases in this context are:

JSTOR (Journal Storage – The Scholarly Journal Archive) [toll access]

  • The JSTOR archival collections contain the back issues of more than 1,500 scholarly journals across 50 disciplines that span 500 years. 60 African Studies journals are indexed, e.g. Journal of the Royal African Society 1901-1944, The African Archaeological Review 1983-2009, African Arts 1967-2007,  Botswana Notes and Records 1968-2008, Journal of African Cultural Studies 1998-2007, The Journal of Modern African Studies 1963-2007, Journal of Religion in Africa 1967-2007 and more. Access to the individual journals depend on the Archival Collection licensed by your local library.
  • Book reviews on JSTOR can be retrieved either in the advanced search with “Narrow by:” the “Item Type:” “Reviews”. Additionally, the search can be further limited with “Narrow by discipline” to the African Studies.
  • The more sophisticated possibility is to use the “Citation Locator” with “Item Title:” and “Author:” of the reviewed work:JSTORfieldAbbr

Web of Science (WoS) [toll access]

  • WoS covers over 12,000 of the highest impact journals worldwide, including Open Access journals. Retrospective coverage in the social sciences, arts, and humanities, goes back to 1900.
  • On Africa e.g. Africa Spectrum, African Affairs, Journal of African History, Research in African Literatures, Journal of African Languages and Linguistics are included. While only a few African Studies journals are included in total, they can be seen somehow as the core journals.
  • Two search possibilities are available: The easiest way is to limit a search with the “Document Type” “Book Review”. Another possibility is the “Cited Reference” searching leading not only to reviews but also to further citations of a given book.

Sociological Abstracts [toll access]

  • Sociological Abstracts via ProQuest abstracts and indexes the international literature of sociology and related disciplines in the social and behavioral sciences. The database provides abstracts of journal articles and citations to book reviews. Sociological Abstracts is a very rich resource for all disciplines working on Africa, not only the social sciences.
  • The indexed African Studies journals are e.g. Africa Insight, Africa Today, African Affairs, African and Asian Studies, African Journal of International Affairs and Development, African Sociological Review, African Studies Quarterly, African Studies Review.
  • The “Advanced Search” offers a search field especially for book reviews called “Reviewed work – RV“. Another possibility is to use the document type “Book Review” in the “Search options” as a limiter.

Periodicals Index Online (PIO) / Periodicals Archive Online (PAO) [toll access]

  • Periodicals Index Online is a database of millions of citations for articles published in the arts, humanities and social sciences, across more than 300 years (>6.000 journals in PIO, >500 in PAO). “Area Studies – Africa” comprises 67 journals in PIO like Africa (1928-2000), African affairs (1901-1995), Cahiers d’études africaines (1960-1995),   Canadian journal of African studies/Revue canadienne des études africaines (1963-1995)
  • The “Advanced Search” offers the search limiter “Document type“: here choose “Review” to limit the search to book reviews only.

ilissAfrica [open access]

  • The “internet library sub-saharan Africa” (ilissAfrica) gives access to an Africa-section of the Swets Online Contents database with 170 African Studies journals beginning in 1993. Via the integration of the “Bielefeld Academic Search Engine” (BASE) also “African Journals Online (AJOL)” with peer-reviewed academic journals from Africa and the French Cairn (e.g. Afrique contemporaine, Cahiers d’études africaines, Outre-Terre), and Persée (Portail de revues scientifiques en sciences humaines et sociales) are included in the combined search.
  • While in the cross search of ilissAfrica there is no special search field or limiter for reviews, the search for a specific book title and author will lead to according reviews; see the example for OLC and BASE.
  • ilissAfrica’s Netvibes Current Awareness Service offers a quick overview about the most recent Table of Contents of many African Studies Journals. ilissNetvibes

Africa-Wide Information [toll access]

  • While Africa-Wide Information aggregates 50 databases via EBSCOhost, not many of the included databases index book reviews. Therefore, there is neither a “Publication Type” nor a “Document Type” review offered in the search options. However, there do exist “Book reviews” as “Major Topics” (Search field “SM”):AfricaWide

Project MUSE [toll access]

    • MUSEfacetsProject MUSE is a platform for 568 journals with full-text versions of peer-reviewed, scholarly journals from many of the world’s leading university presses, scholarly societies and other not-for-profit presses (like the African Studies Association, the African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and OSSREA) in the humanities, the social sciences and the arts. Some of the journals are linked with JSTOR for the backfiles.
    • 12 iournals cover the African Studies:
      e.g. Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review, Northeast African Studies, Research in African Literatures.
    • The search can be restricted to “Content Type” => “Reviews“.

Reviews beside African Studies journals
[open access]

  • H-Africa reviews scholarly books increasingly are read more widely than other review forums. For the recent reviews since 2007 see H-Africa. Reviews posted between 1995-2007 are retrievable separately at H-Africa Reviews, including also all other H-Net African Studies networks.
  • is a Europe-wide, multi-language platform for reviews of historical literature. The platform’s navigational languages are English, German and French. Reviews may be written in any European language. More than 200 items are on Africa (09/2013).
  • The German Clio Online Portal “Historische Rezensionen Online” is a search engine focused on reviews of books on history published on the web for free. It allows a combined search in Archiv für Sozialgeschichte Online, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, H-Net Reviews, IASLonline, The Medieval Review, Reviews in History and many more. (compare also their beta search interface)
  • More important academic books are sometimes reviewed in the daily press or in special supplements on the occasion of book fairs. For German newspapers and their feuilletons the  “Perlentaucher” is especially worth to look at. Compare also the Guide to African newspapers and newspapers on Africa in this blog.
Additional remarks:
  • Some of the databases mentioned above are included in modern library discovery services. For example, Frankfurt University Library uses the index of the EBSCO Discovery Service including e.g. JSTOR, WoS, Africa-Wide Information and Sabinet. However, contrary to the individual database, the aggregation offers no search options to limit the search to book reviews only.
  • Finally, there are also important printed periodicals containing book reviews like the “African Book Publishing Record” or CODRESIA’s “Africa Review of Books”.
  • There are many more databases, that might be worth a look at, like Sabinet E-Journals, AnthroSource,, the journal backfile databases of Springer, Elsevier … and more. In many cases they do not offer a special search limitation on book reviews.
  • Please, be aware that in most journals the title of the review is the same as the title of the reviewed book (sometimes also opened with the word “Review”). However, some journals choose free titles describing the content, like the Journal of African History.

These are my recommendations, please, feel free to make comments on this blog article with your suggestions for further tools.

About ilissafrica
This is the blog of the internet library sub-saharan Africa (ilissAfrica).

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