Book Reviews


Alfred Kagan, ed.
Reference Guide to Africa: A Bibliography of Sources 2nd ed.
Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005. $55.00
ix, 222 pp.
ISBN 081085208X

By David M. Westley, Boston University

This is an excellent guide to reference materials on Africa. Its origin was in a graduate course taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign on "The Bibliography of Sub-Saharan Africa" which was taught by Yvette Scheven from 1976 to 1992. This course was taken over by Kagan upon Scheven's retirement in 1992. Ms. Sheven and Kagan, the current editor, published the 1st edition in 1999. The 2nd edition, dedicated to Ms. Scheven, actually has fewer citations than the 1st edition, since more material was deleted than was added. Two entire sections, "Internet Resources" and "Current Events" were deleted. Still there are many more sources devoted to North Africa and Islam in Africa and the course name has been changed to "Bibliography of Africa."

There are few courses of this kind taught in the United States. This is due mainly to the limited number of African Studies Centers here. There are innumerable graduate students across the country pursuing degree topics related to Africa for whom such a course is not available nor are so many of the resources. In the composition of this book the editor has included many comprehensive, non-Africa specific materials that contain Africa related sections, so that the lone student in a mostly Africa-barren environment can find support.

The book is divided into two parts, General Resources and Subject Sources. Under General Resources fall 1)Bibliographies and Indexes 2) Guides, Handbooks, Directories and Encyclopedias 3) Biography 4) Primary Sources 5) Government Publications and 6) Statistics. Part II, Subject Resources include 7) Agriculture and Food 8)Communications 9) Cultural Anthropology 10)Development 11) Environment 12) Folklore 13) Geography and Maps ) 14) History 15) Languages and Linguistics 16) Libraries and Librarianship 17) Literature and Theater 18) Music 19) Politics and Government 20) Publishing and the Book Trade) 21) Religion 22) Visual Arts and 23) Women. Another section that might have been added is "Public Health and HIV/AIDS'. There is only one citation in the entire book having to do with AIDS (#250) UNICEF's Africa's Orphaned Generations. The enormity of health problems in Africa begs for a chapter devoted to this matter.

Kagan's book is mostly sober and dispassionate. He does criticize at times but frequently he lets the citations speak for themselves often allowing sheer numbers to comment on the excellence of certain works. Perhaps a tad more enthusiasm might make the loner pay more attention. To my mind JSTOR (#15) is one of the neatest things to come down the pike in recent years. In this book the acronym is explained followed by "Includes more than 100 journals, twelve focused on Africa. Back files have full text." And that's it. Never mind that there are thousands of searcheable full text Africa related articles in other JSTOR journals. At other times he is more effusive e.g. in #445 L'Afrique et la Lettre he refers to the item as "A visually exciting exhibition catalog giving examples of various African scripts within their cultural contexts. Large format with attractive illustrations."

This Reference Guide on the whole shows wide knowledge of reference sources for the study of Africa. The first part is especially valuable in its use of sources that are world-wide in scope and hence more likely to appear in libraries where Africa is not the focus. The second section comprises some of the best subject areas. However there is a tendency in some situations to subsume certain works under one citation when each should have its own entry. For example, Patrick Ofori's Black African Traditional Religions and Philosophy (#706) is given in bold but his subsequent works, first on Christianity and second on Islam, are given in italics and are not given a number. It is very easy for the user to miss the two final references. These kinds of situations recur throughout the book. The same can be said for Scheven's second bibliography given in italics and not numbered under the bold-faced first bibliography (#3). Gerard's European Language Writing in Sub-Saharan Africa is subsumed in italics under his African Language Literatures (#514) despite the fact that that these are wholly different works. There are many other examples.

Every critic will have an opinion on what should and should not appear in a reference work of this kind. On the whole I am impressed by the inclusiveness of this work. On occasion I would find an item that the editor seemed to have missed only to find it later. I think his decision (if indeed he made one) not to include The Linguasphere Register of the World's Languages and Speech Communities is a wise one. It covers mostly non-African languages and for those it does cover the information is already available in other formats. In the deleted "Internet Sources" chapter, however, he has left two resources high and dry. The first is the discussion groups under the general rubric of H-Africa and the second is Karen Fung's Africa South of the Sahara (best simply to google Fung Africa South). For the readership of this newsletter the first needs no justification nor probably does the second. Again I am thinking of the lone Africanist graduate student who might also benefit by reading more about the Conover-Porter Award since it appears so frequently in these pages. The inclusion of the Journal of American Folklore and Folklore (London) might also be held in the chapter on folklore. Both are found in JSTOR and both include much African material. Ethnologue appears briefly under "Cultural Anthropology" (p. 61) but should also be listed under "Languages and Linguistics" too. Its subtitle is "Languages of the World" and it is also available electronically.

There are very few misprints or typos in this work. David Dalby's name is misspelled in # 530. It also recurs in the index as do both in the 1st edition. "Khoisan" is misspelled twice on page 113 and in #445 and both occur in the original edition. "Diaspora" gets a typo in #337.

This brings to an end my criticisms of a guide which it is hard to praise sufficiently. The book remains the summation of years of work by two principle researchers who not only know their subject matter but who have worked with students and faculty for decades all told and they have obviously enormously benefited by it.


The African Studies Companion: A Guide to Information Sources. 4th ed.
Hans M. Zell. Ed. Lochcarron, Scotland: Hans Zell Publishing, 2006. xxx + 833 pp.
Combined print and online, $296. ISBN 0-9541029-2-4

By Miriam Conteh-Morgan, The Ohio State University Libraries

The 4th edition of what is by now the recognized standard reference guide to information on African studies truly lives up to its “revised and expanded” billing. Vastly updated and enlarged since the first edition in 1989, the current edition further builds on the 3rd which was itself broadened in scope to include online resources. In this edition, Zell has added almost 300 more pages and about a thousand more entries, with close to half of the latter – 475 – entirely new (xxi).

The African Studies Companion (ASC) now features twenty-five sections, two more than the previous edition. The new Section 11, aptly re-named “The African press,” replaces the skimpy 2-page “Guides to African Newspapers.” In addition to the section introduction, it offers a directory of news agencies and newspapers, broken down by country, with useful information on newspaper archives, where applicable. There is, however, a minor change to a section heading that is somewhat interesting. The word “major” is no longer used in the new edition to describe “Online forums and mailing lists,” even though it registered a modest growth in entries. Perhaps this reflects a different editorial decision to merely list what is deemed research-worthy rather than rank them as the big players in the field.

Another new section added to this edition of ASC is the fourteenth, “Centres of African studies and African studies programmes and courses worldwide.” Preceded by two sections on international African Studies library collections and academic libraries and national archives in Africa, it caps the cluster of sections related to educational institutions. This neat arrangement gives the user who is interested in institutional resources a rather seamless and easy way to access associated information without having to flip through different portions of the book.

Zell’s decision to include a guide to using Google for African studies research in the 4th edition represents his alertness to new research realities and a corresponding responsiveness to users’ needs. It is a common knowledge these days that students, the primary audience for this section, use search engines, especially Google, as their preferred discovery tool. For the many who are unfamiliar with resources on Africa, the customized sample searches and explanation of results he provides should be helpful, but I suspect it is the advanced and, often-times, less Google-savvy researchers who would find this section of immense help. However, given Google’s frequent and energetic expansion of features and services, it is not hard to predict that this section would undoubtedly come up for revision in the proposed 5th edition of ASC.

The African Studies Companion does, in a way, track the vital statistics of information sources on Africa. This is evident in the section on journals and magazines. This edition drops ten entries for journals based in Africa which are no longer active, including the sole representatives from Gabon (Muntu) and Mali (Revue Culturelle Tapama). It is, however, worth mentioning that there are 46 new entries for African-published journals. The titles of some of the new journals -- IEA Policy Analysis in Ghana, and African Woman, The East African Journal of Human Rights and Democracy, The Eastern Africa Journal of Humanities & Sciences, and Kwani? a literary journal founded to encourage new writing, all in Kenya — also point to the range of issues presently engaging academics on the continent.

The electronic version of ASC, bundled with the print subscription, is another example of Zell’s ability to respond to research trends. Today’s researchers increasingly expect, and sometimes demand, online access to resources. The online version offers an intuitive search interface, but its other great advantage is the regular updates; there was evidence of that in mid-July when this reviewer accessed the 4th edition, only six weeks or so after the May release date.

It is hard to think of a type of general or multidisciplinary information source that is not already represented, in some way, in the meticulously researched African Studies Companion. Its broad geographic and subject coverage, detailed evaluative annotations, extensive cross-referencing, and user friendliness are just some of the features that make it a highly recommended reference tool for the beginning and experienced researcher, the seasoned and budding Africanist, and anyone interested in an environmental scan of the information landscape on Africa.

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