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 Read more of this post

New German National License: “African Writers Series” online

For over 40 years, Heinemann’s African Writers Series published canonical twentieth century texts of African literature. The online edition by ProQuest’s Chadwyck-Healey includes over 250 volumes of fiction, poetry, drama and non-fictional prose, including works by Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo, Steve Biko, Buchi Emecheta, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Christopher Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek and Tayeb Salih.

The African Writers Series (AWS) of Heinemann Educational Books was founded in 1962 with the publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (originally published in 1958) as AWS No. 1, and with Achebe himself as Founding Editor. Achebe remained Series Editor until 1972, by which time the series included 100 titles. “The list of names of editorial board members drawn from different academic disciplines reads like a ‘who’s who’ in African literary studies.” (Clarke 2003, 165) The initial aim was to produce a paperback series featuring writing by African authors (initially, this was limited to black African authors) that would be affordable for a general African readership. Most of the works in the Series come from English-speaking countries in Western, Southern and Eastern Africa, but there are also a number of volumes translated from French, Portuguese, Zulu, Swahili, Acoli, Sesotho, Afrikaans, Luganda and Arabic (compare the About section of the database).

Africa Writes Back

As African nations won independence, writers like Achebe began to forge distinctive national literatures throughout the continent. Contrary to the colonialist perceptions they want to demonstrate that Africa had a history and a culture in its own right (Okyerefo 2001). „The series gives agency to the African because the novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and autobiographies are written by Africans about Africans, telling their own stories in their own voices for both Africans and non-Africans.“ (Clarke 2003, 168) The series not only launched the national but also triggered a pan-african literature discourse. Programmatically, one of the series’ editor, James Currey, called his memoir “Africa Writes Back. The African Writers Series & the launch of African literature” (Currey 2008).  Authors from East Africa now could be read in West Africa, and works by Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o entered the world market. The English translations of Mongo Beti’s „Le Pauvre Christ de Bomba“ or Sembène Ousmane’s „Le Docker Noir“ were sold much more often than the French editions.

The series editor James Currey reported extensively about the history of the AWS and his personal achievements:

“My connections with South African writers in exile as well as with writers surviving in that country made books available internationally that could not have appeared in South Africa. Later, David Philip, the Cape Town publisher, found a legal loophole which with Heinemann’s co-operation enabled writers such as Alex la Guma to be reprinted in South Africa; this evaded the banned list operated by South African customs at the ports of entry.” (Curry 2003, 580; see also Curry 2008, 183)

However, in the beginnings it was a male Africa. In the first 100 titles only one female author features: Nigeria’s Flora Nwapa (Fraser/Bejjit 2005).

Online advantages & peculiarities

The full-text format allows new approaches to the old literature:

“Researchers can run searches across the whole corpus of texts to find instances of specific words or phrases: one can search for key terms of African nationalist discourse such as ‘Azania’ or ‘black consciousness’, for terms associated with politics and class distinctions such as ‘socialism’, ‘democracy’, ‘middle class’, ‘accent’ or ‘elite’, or simply for references to specific tribes or languages, such as ‘Yoruba’, ‘Xhosa’ or ‘Tswana’.” (Kibble 2005, 66)

The AWS online edition may be useful for studies

  • on the self-conception of an African writer and intellectual
  • on English language and literature and the establishment of a canon of great literature
  • on gender and on cultural contacts, e.g. in the work of Amma Darko (Beyond the Horizon, 1995) with Germany
  • on postcolonialism, e.g. with the question on how colonial structures survived after independence
  • on Romance literature due to the translations from the Portuguese and French (the search can be restricted to translations or the original language of origin)
  • on history, e.g. with the autobiographies of Kenneth Kaundas and Olusegun Obasanjo
  • on the construction of ethnicity, e.g. of the Ibo and
  • on the history of publishing in Africa.

Useful links for users of the Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collections like Case Studies, Sample Searches, or How to Cite Texts from the Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collections.


Editorial Policy

Each volume is reproduced in full, including accompanying text by the author, introductions, notes, glossaries and other editorial matter, and illustrations. Each volume, including anthologies and collections, can be browsed in its entirety via a Table of Contents. All authors are indexed by gender, nationality and dates of birth/death, and all texts by details of first publication (date, place, publisher and language) and details of first publication in the AWS (date and AWS series number). These index fields are all searchable from the Search page, and are displayed in the bibliographic details for each volume. The names of translators and anthology editors, and alternate name forms of authors, are also searchable via the Author field. Original pagination is preserved, and the page layout of poems is reproduced as accurately as possible. Scanned images are used as a supplement to the keyed text for illustrations, figures and unusual page layouts. Typographic characters that cannot be displayed using a web-safe extended Latin character set have been mapped to standard-character equivalents, and scanned images have been provided for cross-referencing (see Editorial Policy).

The Librarians view

Since 2005 the first three attempts to get the National License funding for the African Writers Series were unsuccessful, luckily in 2011 things changed. It took seven years to make this important corpus available to all researchers in Germany.

This corpus is one of the seldom undertakings where literature which is still under copyright protection is digitized:

“The digitisation of the AWS is a substantial undertaking […]. Almost all of the texts included in the AWS are in copyright, which means that the first task has been to identify a rights holder for each title and negotiate a license for electronic reproduction of the text.” (Kibble 2005, 66)

An overview about the printed books gives Frankfurt University’s library catalogue; further studies on the African Writers Series can be accessed via ilissAfrica.

AWS supplements the German National License „Corpus de la littérature francophone de l’Afrique noire“.

Now, please do explore the wealth of the online edition of the African Writers Series!


  • Clarke, Becky: The African Writers Series: celebrating forty years of publishing distinction, in: Research in African Literatures 34 (2003), 2, pp. 163-174, online.
  • Currey, James: Africa writes back : the African writers series & the launch of African Literature, Oxford : Currey, 2008.
  • Currey, James: Chinua Achebe, the African Writers Series and the Establishment of African Literature, in: African Affairs 102 (2003), 409, pp. 575-587, online.
  • Fraser, Robert / Nourdin Bejjit: THE TIGER THAT POUNCED: THE AFRICAN WRITERS SERIES (1962–2003) AND THE ONLINE READER, 2005, Introductory Essay,
  • Information Centre : About African Writers Series:
  • Kaiza, David: But Why, Father? looking back on the legacy of the African Writers Series, fifty years on, in: Transition 106 (2011), pp. B88-B105.
  • Kibble, Matt: The African Writers Series reborn: an electronic edition, in: Wasafiri 46 (2005), pp. 66-68.
  • Okyerefo, Michael Perry Kweku: The Cultural Crisis of Sub-Saharan Africa as Depicted in the African Writers’ Series. A Sociological Perspective, Frankfurt am Main: Lang 2001.

Note to our German users:

Since September 2013 the works are indexed as individual titles in the catalogue of Frankfurt University Library.

DSpace Open Access repository development in Africa / Open Access Week 2011

During the Open Access Week, Oct. 24-30, 2011, a five-part series that looked at Open Access repository development in twelve African countries:

The series is co-authored by Iryna Kuchma, Open Access Programme manager, EIFL and EIFL-OA country coordinators. In 2004 there were 9 DSpace instances in Africa,  in 2011 already 46.

Some results in short:

See also Kenya Open Data ( for greater government transparency, however, still not open access in Kenya:

Institutions that have implemented IRs but are still on Local Area Network are as follows: University of Nairobi (108 items); Kenyatta University (Past Papers); College of Insurance, KMFRI (Advanced stage – 400 items), Kabarak (Advanced stage – 3000 items), Agha Khan University (80 Items), Marist International (55 items), Moi University (Advanced stage), KCA (103 items), ICIPE (21 Items), Inoorero, KEMRI and KEMU.

Thanks to all authors and to EIFL for their updates!

News on the “Corpus de la première littérature francophone de l’Afrique noire” (German National License)


  • The individual titles included in the full-text database “Corpus de la première littérature francophone de l’Afrique noire” (German National License) are now indexed in Frankfurt University’s online catalogue seperately !

The database is a production by Classiques Garnier Numérique with the support of the National Centre for Distance Teaching (CNED), the French Ministry of Education , the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Intergovernmental Agency for Francophonie.

Description of this resource according to the publisher Classiques Garnier Numérique:


  • It gathers together all the French-speaking literature from sub-Saharan Africa it was possible to collect: oral and written literature from the origins (end of the 18th century) to Independence (1960, as date of authors’ death).
  • The written literature gathered comes either from works benefiting from a wide distribution or from publications with a local or temporary distribution and kept on short-lived media (press, periodicals, parish bulletins, pamphlets, etc.).
  • The oral literature was collected by monks, civil servants, soldiers, French, foreign or local academics. It was edited on various media as different as a report from a commanding office or a collective work assembled by a Parisian publisher. We also often find this oral literature in dictionaries, grammars, or in early 19th century teaching methods of African languages. Educational works are treasure-stores for the keeping of the most ancient cultural heritage, both popular and scholarly. They also have the extreme advantage of being bilingual. That is why a bilingual version is given for every French text that has a counterpart in an African language.
  • In all, this exhaustive corpus of more than 11 000 texts covers the whole of sub-Saharan francophone Africa, that is some twenty countries and more than a hundred ethnic groups and brings together the most diverse genres of this literature which has yet to be discovered and studied (novels, tales, short stories, narrative accounts, theatre, poetry, myths, legends, fables, proverbs, riddles, songs).


Benin (ex-Dahomey); Burkina Faso (ex-Haute-Volta); Burundi; Cameroon; Congo (Brazzaville); Ivory Coast ; Djibouti; Ethiopia; Gabon; Guinea; Mali (ex-French Soudan); Mauritania; Niger; Central Africa ; Democratic Republic of Congo (ex-Zaïre); Rwanda; Senegal; Tchad; Togo

Ethnic groups:

Achanti; Achingini; Achira; Adima; Agaou; Agni; Anghal; Apono; Atiefe; Avikam; Azandé; Babemba; Bachilangé; Baguirmi; Bahaya; Bahutu; Bakerewe; Bakoko; Bakongo; Baluba; Balunda; Bamana; Bambara; Bamiléké; Bamoun; Banda; Bantou; Banyarwanda; Baoulé; Ba-Ronga; Bari; Barma; Barundi; Bashi; Ba-Soubiya; Bassa; Bassouto; Basumbwa; Batchopi; Batéké; Batutsi; Batwa; Bayansi; Ba-yéyé; Bayo; Bena Kanioka; Benga; Beni Amir; Berbère; Berété; Betchouana; Bilin; Bolia; Boloki; Bombwa; Bomitaba; Booli; Bornouan; Boullom; Boundéi; Brignan; Burungi; Bushmen; Bushongo; Bwaka; Cabrais; Chambala; Chillouk; Chuabo; Dafing; Dagbamba; Danakil; Diakité; Dian; Diara; Dinka; Diola; Dioula; Djinn; Dogon; Douala; Dyan; Dyerma; Dyula; Efik; Egba; Enenga; Ewé; Fang; Fiote; Fon; Foul; Foulah; Foulbé; Gagou; Galla; Gnolebie; Gourmantché; Gourmantié; Gouro; Gourounsi; Grand-Namaqua; Guéré; Hadendoa; Haoussa; Haya; Ibo; Imandwa; Kado; Kama; Kanouri; Kanté; Khassonké; Kikerewe; Kissien; Kongo; Kotoko; Kouargnambié; Koukouroukou; Kouranko; Kouyalé; Kroumen; Kunama; Kundu; Labibi; Landouman; Lanzuba; Laobé; Lapondu; Lari; Lobi; Lounda; Louyi; Luba; Lulua; Madi; Madjamé; Mahi; Malinké; Mandé; Mandégni; Mandingue; Mangbetou; Marka; Massaï; Massassi; Maure; Mbenga; Mendé; Mfan; Mina; Mongo; Mossi; Mpongwé; Muhaya; Nago; Nama; Ndorobbo; Néouolé; Neyo; Ngombe; Nioniossé; Nouba; Nouers; Ntomba; Ntomba e Njale; Otando; Ouahéhé; Ouassoulonké; Oulé Bilforé; Oulé Gané; Pahouin; Paniera; Petit-Namaqua; Peulh; Peulh Ouorbé; Popo; Porto-Novien; Poulho; Punu; Pygmée; Ronga; Rouganda; Saho; Samo; Sénofo; Silmi-Mossi; Soninké; Soussou; Torodo; Toucouleur; Tyapi; Wagongo; Wolof; Yarsé; Yorouba


Afevork (G. J.); Aliou de Fougoumba (Tyerno); Alogo (Jean-Marc); Bâ de Fougoumba (Karamoko); Badibanga (Thadée); Beya (Boniface); Boilat (Abbé P.-David); Bou El Moghdad; Boy (Rawane); Carrère (Frédéric); Coyssi (Anatole); Darfour (Félix); Delobson (Dim); Diop (Alioune); Diouf (Abbé Léopold); Doumbia (Paul-Émile-Namoussa); Duguay-Clédor (Amadou); Dyâo (Yoro); Guillaume de Suède (Prince); Holle (Paul); Houénou (Kojo Tovalou); Ibrahim le Mandingue; Iwandja (Médard); Kamakoro Kala (Tyerno); Kaoze (Abbé Stephano); Kikoko (Simon); Lokose (Patrice); Mademba (Abd el Kader); Mamadi (Aïssa); Mayemba (Benoît); Moumé Etia (Isaac); Niamankessy (F.); Panet (Léopold); Sadji (Abdoulaye); Salih (Mohamed); Senghor (Lamine); Sîgna; Taty (S.); Télémaque (Hamet Sow); Théodore; Tiello Ham Gour’do

Authors collecting oral culture:

Acapovi (Romuald); Adam (M. G.); Adandé (A.); Ahiagba (Armand); Alapini (Julien); Anonyme; Aponi (Paul); Arensdorff (L.); Arnoux (Père Alex); Assomption; Aupiais (Père Francis); Basset (René); Bazin (Mgr. Hippolyte); Ben Hamouda; Bérenger-Féraud (Laurent); Bergé (A.-R.); Beyries (J.); Boelaert (E.); Bokwango (André); Boubala (Raphaël); Bouche (Père Pierre-Bertrand); Bouveignes (Ol. de); Brun (Père Joseph); Buisson (É.); Capus (Père A.); Casalis (Eugène); Casati (Gaetano); Cendrars (Blaise); Césard (Père E.); Chaikhou (Baldé); Chataignier (Abel); Chéron (Georges); Chéruy (P.); Christallen (J.G.); Classe (Père); Cocquyt (A.); Colin (Dr.); Colle (Père C.); Coly (Demba); Conrad (E.); Cornelissen (Josef); Coutouly (François de); Cozzano; Cransac (Germaine J.); Cuvelier (Mgr. J.); Cyrille (Guillaume); Daigre (Père); Daniel (Fernand); Darré (E.); De Clercq (Père Aug.); De Jonghe (E.); Delafosse (Maurice); Demaison (André); Denis (Léopold); Derendinger (Colonel J.R.); Desplagnes (Louis); Diagne (Ahmadou Mapate); Diakite (Éloi); Diallo (A. Digui); Diallo (Moro); Djime (Diallo); Dodaho (Joseph); Dupuis-Yacouba (Père A.); Eboué (Félix); Engels (A.); Équilbecq (François-Victor); Esser (J.); Fernor (Ciel); Fort; Froger (F.); Gaden (Henri); Gaidoz (H.); Gallin; Geay (J.); Génin; Gilliard (Léon); Girard de Rialle (J.); Gonzalves (Benoît); Grégoire (G.); Guébhard (Paul); Guilmin (Père Maurice); Guiraudon (Capitaine T.-G. de); Hacquard (Mgr.); Harou (Alfred); Heidt (M.); Hervé (H.); Hess (Jean); Hudry (H.); Hulstaert (G.); Hurel (Père Eugène); Hutereau (A.); Jacottet (Édouard); Jeannest (Charles); Joseph (Gaston); Joset (Paul-É.); Jouannin; Joyce (T. A.); Junod (Pasteur Henri-A.); Kanté (Diguy); Kikoko (Simon); Koné (Jean-Marie); Konte (Amadou Théophile); Labouret (Henri); Lagae (C. R.); Landeroin (M.); Langhe (H. de); Largeau (V.); Lazarine (Houssou); Le Bourhis; Le Herissé (A.); Léger (A.); Lemaire (L.); Lifszyc (Déborah); Lindeman (M.); Loupias (Père); Luthala (A. G.); Luyeye (Jacob); Ly (Djibril); M’Ba (Léon); Mamet (M.); Mangin (Père Eugène); Mazières (A.); Mietje; Mojard (M.); Molin (Mgr.); Mongis (R.); Monod (M.); Monod (Th.); Monteil (Ch.); Nicol (Yves); Norman (Paulin); Oliveira (F.); Pagès (A.); Pagès (Père G.); Paulme (Denise); Quénum (Maximilien); Quix (J. P.); Roblin (A.); Roehric (V.); Roger (Baron Jacques-François); Rolland (E.); Rousseau (R.); Sadler (Athanase); Saint’Anna (Bernard); Samain (Al.); Sangaré (Satigui); Sano (Mamba); Saron (G.); Sedolo (Michel); Sidibé (Mamby); Solichon; Soucou (Crabé); Tauby (M.); Tauxier (Louis); Télémaque (Hamet Sow); Thomann (George); Tilho (J.); Torday (E.); Torrend (J.); Toulze (M.); Trautmann (René); Travélé (Moussa); Trilles (Père Henri); Van Den Byvang; Van den Hove (L. J.); Van Den Plas (V. H.); Van Goethem (E.); Van Wing (J.); Van Wing (S. J.); Verleersch (S. J. A.); Vertenten (Père P.); Viard (René); Vidal (J.); Vieillard (Gilbert); Walker (Abbé A.); Wannijn (Robert); Yangha (Henri); Zeltner (Frantz de); Zuure (Père Bernard)

Discover this rich resource!