The Oxford Encyclopedia of African Historiography

Methods and Sources

The difficulties of exploring African history, especially for earlier periods, have spurred the development of a wide range of methodologies and approaches, such that Wyatt McGaffey once termed it "the decathlon of social sciences." Historians have long utilized archaeology, ethnography, historical linguistics, and oral traditions in their study of the continent, but are only beginning to explore the possibilities of genetics or many of the techniques used by modern archaeology and other emerging sciences. And as digital sources—from historical documents and statistics to cartographic, climatic, demographic, and environmental modeling—proliferate, so do the problems in using them. The Oxford Encyclopedia of African Historiography: Methods and Sources, winner of the American Historical Association’s Waldo G. Leland Prize for the most outstanding reference tool in the field of history, examines how these developments have influenced the scholarship that historians produce. Such methods continue to evolve, demanding that historians develop basic understandings of them. Thus, the two-volume Encyclopedia builds a theoretical foundation for the field, expanding the ways that Africa can be studied, and recovering the histories of the continent that often appear outside the documentary record.

Volume Editor

Thomas Spear, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Associate Editors


  • Archaeological Methods and Sources
  • Biological and Environmental Sciences Methods and Sources
  • Language Methods and Sources
  • Anthropological and Ethnographic Methods and Sources
  • Documentary and Written Sources
  • Digital and Numerical Sources
  • Oral Sources
  • Cultural Sources
  • Schools of African History
  • Histories and Historiographies


Archaeobotany: Methods (Louis Champion, Dorian Q. Fuller)
Archaeozoology: Methods (Veerle Linseele)
Atlantic Slavery and the Slave Trade: History and Historiography (Daniel B. Domingues da Silva, Philip Misevich)
Climatology: Methods (Sharon E. Nicholson)
Colonial History and Historiography (Marie-Albane de Suremain)
Community-Based Approaches to African History (Peter R. Schmidt, Kathryn Weedman Arthur)
Environmental History (Emmanuel Kreike)
Ethnicity in Africa (Gabrielle Lynch)
Exploring Present Pasts: Popular Arts as Historical Sources (Bogumil Jewsiewicki, Allen F. Roberts)
Genetics and Southern African History (Francesco Montinaro, Cristian Capelli)
Oral Traditions as Sources (Stephen Belcher)
Photographs as Sources in African History (Robert Gordon, Jonatan Kurzwelly)
Rock Art Research Methods (Jeremy Hollmann)
The Bantu Expansion (Koen Bostoen)
The Dakar School of African History (Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch)
The Internet and Social Media as Sources (Aubrey Bloomfield, Sean Jacobs)