Archives Month: Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies

It’s National Archives Month! But you knew that, right? Chicago Collections and the Chicago Area Archivists have adopted the theme of “Hidden Stories” for Archives Month 2017, so we thought it would be appropriate to publish a series of blog entries highlighting NUL’s very own array of Distinctive Collections units. For those who have never had a chance to tour or collaborate with these units, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at each of the mysterious entities whose treasures are hidden in plain sight.


By Gene Kannenberg, Herskovits Library research assistant 

We like to say that the scope of the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies is “as wide as the continent of Africa itself.” We actively and exhaustively collect books and periodicals on all topics related to Africa, and in all languages. In general, if something is written in or about Africa, we try to include it, from academic monographs to weekly gossip newspapers, from cookbooks to comic books, and beyond.

Since our founding in 1954, we’ve also collected a broad range of other materials. Our archives hold the papers of many notable African studies scholars, as well as archival material from the African Studies Association. We have thousands of posters, many of which are on political and public health topics, and our Arabic and Ajami language manuscripts are in great demand by scholars from around the world. We also hold a growing collection of rare artists’ books. And our photograph collections, from individual albums to our monumental Winterton Collection of East African Photographs, provide documentary evidence of a century and a half of cultural change across the continent. As a bonus, many of our archival collections have been scanned and are available onlineMJHL-Handpainted Posters

And the treasures continue to grow with the recent acquisition of thirty African-language Bibles, nearly all over a century old; cataloguing and digitizing of our “Africa Embracing Obama” collection, which includes hundreds of items created in Africa to document and celebrate Barack Obama’s presidency, visits, and heritage; and purchases of Nigerian movie posters, both mass-produced on vinyl and hand-painted on burlap flour bags. And to top it all, we’ve even begun a collection of African board games and puzzles!

Obama Collection

Together, our collections represent a truly distinctive resource for students, faculty, and visiting scholars, many of whom come to Northwestern because the Herskovits contains materials which are no longer available in their country of origin. We’re a world-class destination right here on campus.