SOAS Library
  • Context
  • Collection
  • Coverage
  • E-Resources
  • Future


1. Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

The Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa is a vibrant place of research and learning. What makes the Department unique in the UK is the close interaction between African language study and work on African cultural and literary studies, reflecting the general orientation of SOAS.

The department offers undergraduate, MA and MPhil/PhD programmes.

The department has 13 FTE academic staff, 111.3 FTE students, including 77.3 undergraduates, 29 taught postgraduates and 5 research students.

For more information see:

2. Centres

2.1 Centre of African Studies
  • The University of London's Centre of African Studies is the largest centre of expertise on Africa outside Africa.
  • The Centre has responsibility for co-ordinating, stimulating and promoting interdisciplinary study, research and discussion on Africa within the University; and promoting a wider awareness of African issues.
  • For more information see: Centre for African Studies
2.2 Africa Asia Centre
  • The Africa Asia Centre was established in 2007 to facilitate and develop interdisciplinary research, teaching, and other activities aimed at understanding this emerging, dynamic axis of engagement
  • The Centre is a collaboration between the Royal Africa Society and SOAS and is housed in the London International Development Centre.


3. History

The Library:
  • Has actively built up research collections relating to Africa, including publications on and from Africa, within the fields of languages and cultures, arts and humanities, and law and social science.
  • Seeks to develop and maintain representative collections of publications on and from Africa.
  • Supports course reading lists, including multi-disciplinary and Diaspora studies, on Departmental subject courses relating to Africa.
  • Selectively acquires material on the African Diaspora in Europe and Asia.

4. Languages

The Library collects:

African languages
  • publications in and on African languages across the entire continent are actively acquired.
  • Where English or other European languages dominate publishing and scholarship, works of scholarship in African languages are selectively acquired
  • Coverage includes linguistic studies; translations to and from African languages; traditional and contemporary literature; religious texts; law (including customary law); and social, cultural, economic, political and historical studies.
Other languages
  • African studies publications are actively acquired:
    • In the languages of the former colonial powers in Africa, including literary works, primary material and contemporary scholarship, e.g. works in French and Portuguese on and from Francophone and Lusophone Africa
    • In European languages (primarily English, French, Portuguese) which are official, business and/or languages of literature and scholarship in Africa
  • African studies publications are very selectively purchased:
    • In a range of other European languages (e.g. Italian, Russian, Spanish)
    • In Asian languages. These are held in the relevant regional collections (e.g. studies in Japanese on Africa are held in the Japan collection).

For more details see the General Collection Development Policy

5. Classification

  • Print publications acquired since 1973 are mostly classified using a modification of the Dewey Decimal Classification (with letter prefixes indicating region or country, e.g. U = Africa, VA = East Africa, WC = Cameroon).
  • Earlier material is grouped by region or country (using the letter prefixes) in numerical order of purchase.
  • A superseded classification scheme using Roman numerals is extant for some publications acquired in the past in European languages (e.g. XIII.L) and some African languages (e.g. XIII.1. Miscellaneous).
  • Additional prefixes are used for:
    • Large books ("L")
    • Reference books ("Ref ")
    • Large reference books ("L Ref").
  • An in-house classification scheme is in use for all African language material acquired more recently, using the letter prefix Y followed by the name of the language (arranged in alphabetical order) and either the letter A (for linguistic studies), B (for literature and translations) or C (for works of scholarship in the language). For example, Y Hausa A for a Hausa grammar, Y Swahili B for Swahili poetry, and Y Zulu C for a history of the Zulus in Zulu.

6. Special Collections

Hausa Popular Fiction: Furniss Collection
  • This is a collection of works of popular fiction written in Hausa that was collected by Professor Graham Furniss and acquired by SOAS Library in 2008.
  • The collection was deposited in the Archives and Special Collections department.
  • For more information see
Hardyman Madagascar Collection
  • A unique collection on Madagascar, donated in 1991 by Mr and Mrs J.T. Hardyman
  • While reflecting Mr Hardyman's life and work as a missionary in Madagascar it covers a range of subjects and includes a large number of works in the Malagasy language.
Society for Libyan Studies Collection
  • The Library of this archaeological society is held on permanent loan to SOAS Library.
  • It covers mainly history and archaeology in Libya, North Africa and further afield and includes books, journals and pamphlets.
African Christianity: Gifford Collection
  • This collection consists chiefly of late 20th century African Christianity.
  • The collection was built up Professor Paul Gifford and donated to the Library in 2009 and will be deposited in the Archives and Special Collections department.
  • These materials provide a snapshot of popular African Christianity around the turn of the Millennium.
  • For more information see Archives


Within the School, the Library supports the teaching and research needs of:

The collection aims to collect materials to a teaching level for all courses taught within the Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa and Regional & Departmental Centres.


The collection aims to collect material to a research level for all the subject areas detailed in section 8 below :

8. Detailed structure

The main subject areas of collecting for the Africa department are detailed below (based on the Conspectus Level). For details on the Conspectus Level see Collection Development Policy .

The collection includes publications on and from the whole continent of Africa, except for:

8.1 Anthropology & Sociology
  • Social Sciences
  • Sociology & anthropology (Interdisciplinary works on society)
  • Social interaction
  • Social Process
    • Social change (Including contact between cultures)
    • Conflict (Including terrorism)
  • Factors affecting social behaviour
  • Population (Including genocide)
  • Movement of people
  • Social groups
    • Age groups
    • Men and women
    • Social class
    • Religious groups
    • Language groups
    • Racial, ethnic, national groups
    • Occupational and miscellaneous groups
    • Culture & institutions
      • Subcultures
      • Political institutions
      • Economic institutions
      • Specific aspects of culture (not provided for elsewhere–education,language,medicine,art)
      • Religious institutions
      • Institutions pertaining to the sexes
      • Marriage and the family (Including kinship)
      • Institutions pertaining to death
    • Communities
      • Planning and development (Including community participation)
      • Movement of people to, from, within communities
      • Structure
      • Specific kinds of communities (Including rural & urban)
    • Social welfare
    • Customs, etiquette & folklore
      • Costume
      • Personal appearance (Including tattooing)
    • Customs of life cycle & domestic life
    • Death customs
    • General customs
      • Food and drink
    • Etiquette (Manners)
    • Folklore
    • Customs of war & diplomacy
8.2 Art & Archaeology
  • Art general and philosophy of arts
  • Archaeology general (theories, methods etc.)
  • Civilisation (arts)
  • Inscriptions and epigraphy
  • Architecture and gardens
  • Christian art [Byzantine art]
  • Islamic art
  • Sculpture
  • Paintings and calligraphy (print making and prints)
  • Ceramic arts
  • Art metalwork
  • Numismatics
  • Art woodwork
  • Textile arts and costume
  • Other arts
  • General museum guides and handbooks
8.3 Business &Economics
  • Economic systems, schools, theories
  • Econometrics
  • Economic Situation and Conditions
  • Labour Economics
  • Money, banking and finance
  • Land and Property
  • Environmental economics
  • Natural Resources and Energy
  • Socialism and Related Systems
  • Public Finance
  • International Economics & Finance
  • Multilateral Economic Cooperation
  • Industry and business
  • Rural Economics & Agriculture
  • Development and Growth
  • Macroeconomics
  • Distribution of income and growth
  • Trade
  • Microeconomics
  • Political Economy
8.4 Development Studies
  • Aid
  • Agriculture
  • Education
  • Environment/Natural Resources
  • Famine & Food Security
  • Globalisation
  • Health Issues [includes HIV/AIDS]
  • Industrialisation
  • Non-Governmental Organisations
  • Statistical Data
  • Urbanization
8.5 Diaspora, Migration & Ethnic Minority Studies
  • Migration, Social Science aspects
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Ethnic relations
  • Ethnic groups
  • Immigration & emigration - political aspects
  • Colonisation, Political aspects
  • Refugees
  • Slavery and emancipation
  • Migrant and casual workers
  • Law pertaining to migration
8.6 Finance & Management
  • Financial Economics
  • Banks and Money
  • Public Finance
  • Industry and Business
  • Distribution of Income and Wealth
  • Management
  • Corporate Governance
  • Business and Ethics
  • Corporate Finance
8.7 Gender studies
  • Men and masculinity
  • Women and feminism
  • Prostitution
  • Sexual orientation, Homosexuality
  • Sexuality
8.8 History
  • Ancient history (to 499 AD)
  • Cities and urban spaces
  • Colonization
  • Cultural history
  • Environmental history (including urban and coastal areas)
  • Film and history
  • Historiography
  • History of the book, education, literacy and reading
  • History of religions
  • Medieval history (500-1499)
  • Modern history
  • Museology
  • Partitions and reunifications
  • Post-colonial theory
  • Sexual history
  • Slavery and emancipation
  • Trade in commodities
  • Warfare
8.9 Languages

Material in and on all African languages are collected but largest holdings are in:

  • Hausa
  • Somali
  • Swahili
  • Yoruba
8.10 Law
  • Arbitration & Dispute Resolution
  • Civil & Human Rights law
  • Commercial & Company law
  • Competition
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Constitutional & Administrative law
  • Contract
  • Criminal law & Procedure
  • Discrimination & Equality
  • Employment and Labour law
  • Family law
  • Financial law
  • Gender
  • Immigration & Nationality
  • Information Technology
  • Inheritance, Succession, Trusts
  • Intellectual Property
  • International law (generally)
  • Justice
  • Law & Development
  • Law Reform
  • Legal History
  • Legal Systems
  • Nationality & Citizenship
  • Philosophy & Theory of Law
  • Trade
  • The Library has national responsibility to collect legal material (law reports, legislation, official gazettes) for specific regions/countries of Africa. They include:
    • Africa (except Common Law & Roman Dutch jurisdictions)
    • Botswana (customary law)
    • Gambia
    • Kenya
    • Lesotho
    • Malawi
    • Nigeria
    • Sierra Leone
    • Somalia
    • Sudan
    • Swaziland (customary law)
    • Tanzania
    • Uganda
    • Zambia
8.11 Linguistics & Language Studies
  • Language (Interdisciplinary works on language and literature)
  • Philosophy & theory
    • Language and communication (including semiotics)
    • Psychological principles (including language acquisition)
  • Language education and research
  • Treatment of language with respect to kinds of persons and groups
  • Geographic sub-division of Language
  • Linguistics
    • History and description with respect to kinds of persons
  • Writing systems
  • Etymology
  • Phonology & phonetics
  • Grammar
    • Syntax
    • Stratificational linguistics
    • Systemic linguistics
    • Grammatical analysis
  • Style in Linguistics and language
  • Dialectology & historical (diachronic) linguistics
    • Pidgins and creoles
  • Standard usage & applied linguistics
    • Translation and interpretation
    • Applied linguistics in language teaching & Second language acquisition
    • Language disorders
    • Reading
  • Structured verbal languages other than spoken and written ( including Mathematical linguistics & Sign languages)
8.12 Literatures & Literary Criticism
  • Literature (Belles-lettres) and rhetoric
  • Philosophy and theory
  • Rhetoric and collections
  • History, description, critical appraisal
    • Poetry, History and criticism
    • Drama, History and criticism
    • Fiction, History and criticism
    • History and criticism of essays, speech, letters, humour and satire
    • Literature for and by specific kinds of persons
    • Literature displaying specific features
    • Post-colonial literatures
8.13 Media and Film Studies
  • Journalism
  • Sociology of Journalism (with cultural and political aspects)
  • Mass Media and communication
    • Print Media
    • Television studies
    • Radio
  • Digital culture and development of technology
  • Global media
  • Photography
  • Film theory
  • Cinema
  • Stage theatre
  • Dance
8.14 Music
  • Musicology [ethnomusicology]
  • Education and research
  • History of music
  • Dance music
  • Folk music
  • Popular music
  • Religious music [sacred music]
  • Vocal Music
  • Songs
  • Dramatic music
  • Musical instruments
  • Instrumental music
  • Instrumental ensembles
8.15 Politics and International Relations
  • Political Theory
  • Research Methods
  • The State
  • Comparative Government
  • Systems of Governments and States
  • Political Ideologies
  • Political Situation and Conditions
  • Relation of the State to Religious Organisations
  • Relation of the State to Labour Movements
  • Relation of the State to Business and Industry
  • Relation of the State to Political Action Groups
  • Relation of the State to Armed Forces
  • Civil and Political Rights
  • The Political Process
  • International Organisations
  • Political Parties
  • Election systems and Procedures
  • Migration
  • Slavery and Emancipation
  • Colonization
  • International Relations
  • Foreign Policy & Specific Topics in International Relations [e.g. foreign aid, international conflict, use of force]
  • Diplomacy
  • Political Economy
  • Political Violence
  • Energy Policy
8.16 Pure and Applied Sciences
  • The Library does not acquire material on the pure sciences, except works relating to the history of science.
  • The Library collects material on the applied sciences where such works are of an interdisciplinary nature and cover issues such as economic, social, political and development studies.
  • Works of an Interdisciplinary nature includes economic, political and social aspects relating to subjects such as:
    • Irrigation and water resources
    • Agriculture, forestry and land use
    • Medicine and public health but not scientific and technical aspects:
      • Linguistic works on flora and fauna
      • Works on traditional and indigenous medicine and medicinal plants
      • History of medicine
      • Medical anthropology
      • Social and political aspects of disease and public health
    • Environmental and ecological works that are related to development, politics and economics
    • Works on human ecology
    • Material on intermediate and sustainable technologies related to development issues.
8.17 Religions & Study of Religions
  • Anthropology of religion
  • Comparative religions
  • Death
  • History of religions
  • Missions and missionaries
  • Mysticism
  • "New Age" religion and cults
  • Non-violence
  • Philosophy and theory of religions
  • Religious art and iconography
  • Religious mythology and mythography
  • Ritual studies
  • Sociology of religion


9. Major Databases

  • Africa Bibliography
  • Africa-Wide: NiPAD
  • Aluka
  • Cambridge Books Online
  • Cambridge Journals Online
  • Dawsonera
  • EBSCOHost
  • Index to Theses
  • InformaWorld
  • IngentaConnect
  • International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS)
  • ISI Web of Science / Knowledge (includes Arts and Humanities Citation Index, and Social Science Citation Index)
  • Oxford Journals Online
  • Oxford Reference Online
  • Project MUSE
  • Sage Journals Online
  • Wiley Online Library
  • WorldCat
  • Zetoc

10. Online Subject Guide

For more information and online resources see the Subject Guide for Africa

For subject specific databases see Subject Statements

For other databases SOAS subscribes to see A-Z databases list


11. Trends for the Future

Move towards more online full-text resources where appropriate:

  • As the national collection for Asian, African and Middle Eastern studies the Library endeavours to provide electronic access to these materials (e-journals, databases, e-books &c.), where available.
  • For subjects of a theoretical, general or non-regional nature the electronic version (e-journals, databases, e-books &c.) is favoured.