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African History: Colonial Period

What Are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are materials that provide direct evidence or firsthand testimony concerning the period or subject under investigation. The definition of a primary source may vary depending upon the discipline or context. Examples include:

  • Diaries, letters, speeches, interviews, manuscripts
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Records of organizations and government agencies
  • Journal and newspaper articles written at the time
  • Photographs, audio recordings, video recordings
  • Public opinion polls conducted at the time
  • Research reports or articles reflecting the results of scientific experiments or studies
  • Works of art, architecture, literature, and music such as paintings, sculptures, musical scores, buildings, novels, poems, etc.
  • Artifacts such as plant specimens, fossils, furniture, tools, clothing, etc. of the time under study

Secondary sources interpret or analyze an event or subject. Examples of secondary sources are biographies and journal articles written well after the event or time period under investigation.

(Original author, Meredith Kirkpatrick, 2021)

Ephemera / Pamphlet Collections

   What is ephemera or gray literature?  

Ephemera is a term given to materials that are considered to be of only temporary importance. Materials could include things like typescripts, manuscripts, memos, hand-written letters, pamphlets, etc. 

Gray literature typically includes publications such as reports (annual, research, technical, project, etc.), working papers, government documents, white papers and evaluations. Organizations that produce grey literature include government departments and agencies, civil society or non-governmental organizations, academic centres and departments, and private companies and consultants.


The African Studies Library has a significant collection of ephemera / gray literature / pamphlets organized by country/region and subject. Ask the African Studies Librarians to show you the collection; it's a treasure trove of information!

Government Documents at Boston University

Locating Government Documents at the African Studies Library can sometimes take a bit of practice.  Quirks of library history and space restrictions have led to an unusual shelving arrangement.  Please always feel free to ask for assistance at the ASL reference desk; we are happy to help!  

There are two categories of goverment publications in our library: JDOCs (generally pre- 1982) and African Docs.  JDOCS and African Docs may be shelved either on the 6th floor general stacks or in the Reading Room, with smaller publications generally being housed in the reading room.  It therefore may be necessary to check both the general Mugar Stacks and the Reading Room to locate the desired item.

JDOCs (Before 1983)

J Documents are government publications that were received by the library prior to 1982.   These materials are not listed in the BU Library Search and are not searchable online.  Instead, they are listed in a card catalog in the Reading Room.  J Documents may be found in two places: either in the 6th floor stack at the back (beyond the circulating books) or the unbound (ie smaller) JDOCS whiich are shelved in the Reading Room. 


Card catalog drawer

African Documents (1982-Present)

African Documents 

These are the Government Documents that the library received after 1982.  These documents are listed in our online catalog and will have a location of African Studies Library Document Collection.

BU Library Search Box