African Collection


African Studies at Yale began in the late 1700s with the Divinity School and its study of African languages. Yale was one of the first universities to incorporate African studies into its mainstream curriculum prior to World War II. In the 1980s, the MacMillan Center’s Council on African Studies became a Title VI African Studies National Resource Center, based largely on the breadth and depth of the library holdings.

Yale’s library collections on all of sub-Saharan Africa constitute one of the three largest collections in North America and Yale’s collections on southern Africa may be unrivaled worldwide. Major strengths include the vast collections of primary source archival materials, ranging from manuscripts, diaries and correspondence, to photographs, pamphlets, microfilm, realia, and a large renowned postcard collection. The African Collection is particularly mentioned for the great strength of its holdings of African indigenous languages, which are written in various scripts and represent an impressive portion of languages from the world’s most linguistically diverse continent.

Departments/disciplines/programs/subject areas supported

The African Collection supports the research and teaching needs of faculty with interests in sub-Saharan Africa and provides resources for students at undergraduate and graduate levels.

Schools, department, programs, and disciplines supported include: anthropology, archaeology, art history, sociology, political science, economics, management, law, history, divinity and religious studies, forestry and environmental studies, epidemiology and public health, literature, linguistics, and gender studies.

Materials in education, district-level government publications, certain applied sciences, music, psychology, and other subjects are collected selectively, based on current student research and teaching needs or by request. 


The African Collection is responsible for acquiring the above-mentioned disciplines and formats that have been published or printed in Africa. In addition, the African Collection is also responsible for collecting materials in the humanities published in the field of African Studies published in North America, Europe, and other imprint areas outside of Africa south of the Sahara. Items published in North Africa are the responsibility of the Near East Collection.

Formats collected

Monographs, serials, newspapers, microforms, audio, audiovisual, electronic databases, official publications, and pamphlets, and selective collections of manuscript or archival materials, subject to library approval. 

Languages collected

Most material published in Africa in the African Collection is in western languages from the Francophone and Anglophone areas of the continent, with a lesser emphasis on Lusophone areas. We also cover indigenous languages from sub-Saharan Africa; of more than 2,000 languages, our collection includes representative material from three hundred. Our library resource building effort is focused on Afrikaans, Amharic, Tigrinya, isiZulu, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, the Akan group, Wolof and Kiswahili. A particular specialty at Yale is the acquisition of published materials in African languages written in non-Roman script, such as Arabic (Ajami), Ethiopic, Tifinagh, Vai, Adlam, and N'ko.

Chronological and geographical focus

Collecting is for contemporary material published in Africa or about sub-Saharan Africa in the humanities. 

Geographic emphases reflect the historical strengths of the collection, as well as current Yale faculty research interests in the field. Areas of special strength (in comparison to other Africana collections elsewhere) include: South Africa and the Anglophone countries of southern Africa (Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi); the countries of eastern Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania—including Zanzibar); central African Francophone countries (Rwanda, Burundi, D.R. Congo, Congo, Gabon, Central African Republic); some of the Anglophone and Francophone countries of west Africa (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria); certain countries of the Sahel (Mali, Niger, Chad), and finally, Ethiopia. Madagascar and the various Indian Ocean islands such as Mauritius, Réunion, Comoros, and Seychelles are currently de-emphasized in the collection.

Collaborations within Yale

We collect in collaboration with Art and Architecture, Marx Science and Social Science Library, Law, Divinity, Maps, Manuscripts and Archives, and Humanities Collections. In addition, there is a close connection between the collection and various departments at the university such as those listed above, and the Yale University Art Gallery, in much the same way. 

External collaborations

  • Title VI Libraries – The African Collection collaborates with the other Title VI Africana libraries on various jointly funded microfilm and digital projects.
  • CAMP (Cooperative Africana Materials Project) – Through the Center for Research Libraries, the African Collection is a major participant and contributor in determination of cooperative microfilming projects.
  • Africana Librarians Council – Yale actively participates in this group of academic institutions in the US collecting African imprints.

Subject Librarian: