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Historical Studies Library Guide: Finding Materials in the Library

A general guide for students in Historical Studies

Useful Shelf Numbers

These are the broad subject areas for history:


         320   Political History

         330.9 Economic History

         337.7  Environmental History

         900  General History

         907.2 Historiography

         909  World History

         911  Historical atlases

         930  Ancient History

         940  European History 

         950  History of Asia and the Far East

         960  African History 

         968  South African History

         970  North American History

         980  South America History

         990  History of Australasia and other areas


Finding Materials



History material is found in various parts of the library – the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library, Special Collections including Government Publications Department.   


Material is arranged according to the Dewey Classification system.  History resources are generally in the 900s range, but material on the history of specific subjects (e.g. economics, science) will be found on the shelves in those specific subject areas.  


These resources include:-

  • Books and Journals 
  • DVDs and Videos
  • Encyclopedias, Altases and Reference Books
  • Masters and Doctoral Theses


  • Documents including Legislation, Policy, Annual Reports, Statistics,  and other documents including government related documents published by countries (mostly African) and institutions.
  • A range of electronic resources including databases and online books.




Materials in Special Collections and Government Publications Department are not available for loan.





Special Collections

The African Studies Library collections are made up of:-

Published monographs including a collection of early Africana.  Focal areas include gender studies, media studies, HIV/AIDS and the debate around the study of Africa.   There is a strong collection on Southern African indigenous languages, donated to the library in the 1950s, which aside from dictionaries and grammars, also includes religious texts and school textbooks.  Many of these titles, published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are relatively scarce.

Pamphlets including a very strong collection of Southern African conference proceedings, seminar series and individual unpublished papers; empheral reports from research institutions and NGOs in Africa; material published by political parties, organisations, societies and interest groups.   There is also a collection of over 200 volumes of bound pamphlets published before 1925.

Journals including journals from the early nineteenth century, such as the Cape Town street directories which have value for local historians, as well as journals which for historical reasons are rare in South African libraries, such as a complete set of the African Communist dating from its inception in 1959.

Newspapers including local and national newspapers, some early black newspapers and a range of Southern African newspapers.  There are also several large collections of news clippings indexed by subject.

Political emphemera assembled in the 1980s and 1990s but including material produced before that time.  This collection consists largely of 1 or 2 page pamphlets which were distributed - often illegally - by political groupings.  Incorporated into this collection are pamphlets from the archive of the printing department of the ANC which was donated to the African Studies Library.

* Theses including the archival set of University of Cape Town theses and a range of theses from other universities.

Audio-visial materials including large holdings of videos and DVDs on Africa (both documentaries and feature films), CDs and audio recordings.

Maps of Africa dating from the 17th century to the present including topographical, topocadastral, military and administrative maps as well as street and other urban plans.

Posters including a large number of South and Southern African political posters.

Rare Books

The collections in Special Collections covers many disciplines and are ecletic.

Ballot-Kicherer Collection  -  This collection is an example of an 18th and 19th century Cape gentleman's library containing, inter alia, many fine 17th century Dutch texts.  It also contains a copy of a 1535 Dutch Bible, believed to be the oldest in South Africa.  The work is also extremely rare as it was strictly suppressed and all copies burnt, and the printer condemned and beheaded (or burnt at the stake) for publishing it.

Bowle-Evans Collection  -   This is a collection representative of the reading tastes and cultural interests of an English county family (1750 - 1870).  The original collector, the first English editor of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, was a literary scholar and an antiquarian. The collection includes Bernard de Montfaucon’s Antiquity explained and represented in sculptures (London, 1721-22), a 7v. work containing a record of classical and Egyptian religion and culture as represented in sculpture and other works of art.

* Kipling Collection - This is one of the most important, if not the finest, of the University Library's non-Africana special collections.  It commemorates the life and work of Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936), an often controversial poet and writer who, nevertheless, had (and still has) a considerable following.    It was donated to the library in 1959 by John Scott Ivan McGregor,   a retired Potchefstroom Boys' High School educator who had been a book collector all his life.  The University Library had previously been a beneficiary of his generosity.  He was an avid collector  of Kipling material:  books by and about Kipling; any books in which Kipling's name was mentioned; books influenced by Kipling's writings or giving him inspiration; ephemera, scrap book material; anything of relevance to Kipling.  All were meticulously annotated and indexed.  The collection continues to live on, and is now a very good resource for, inter alia, works on colonialism in literature.

*  Cape Town Diocesan Library  - This is a vast library of largely theological texts dating back to the 15th century, formerly in the possession of the Cape Town Anglican Diocese.

Cameron-Swan Scottish Collection  -  A collection of books about things Scottish, covering the fields of Scottish literature, history, culture and thought.

Historical Children's Literature Collection - This collection contains examples of (mostly, but not exclusively) English literature written for children (including periodical literature) between the 17th century and the mid 20th century, as well as works of critical relevance.  The collection includes two important mini collections - the Alice in Wonderland Collection and the Robinson Crusoe Collection.

Jack Maclean Memorial Collection   - Jack Maclean was a tea and coffee importer in Cape Town whose large private library was bequeathed to the University Library.  Later his mother bequeathed funds to support its growth. Further donations were added to the collection.  It is a gentleman's library, containing works of a general nature covering topics such as travel, alternative therapies, cookery, wine, gardening, sports, house design and decoration, art collecting, popular history, biography, etc.  This eclectic collection adds considerably to the depth of the University Library holdings, and is used by  researchers from all sections of the academic community.  

John Davidson Phrenological Collection - This is a small but unique collection of books, pamphlets and journals dealing with the "science" of phrenology, a method of determining character by examining the shape of the skull.

McGregory Poetry Collection -  This is an extensive collection of poetry volumes and journals collected over more than 50 years by John Scott Ivan McGregor.  The collection contains many first and limited editions of the works of poets from all over the English-speaking world, published during the first half of the 20th century.  McGregor was also the collector of the Alice in Wonderland Collection and the Kipling Collection, both of which he donated to UCT Libraries. 

Mossop Chinese Collection - Books about China and the Far East bequeathed to the library by a former Solicitor-General of Shanghai.

Rare Books Collection  This collection consists of books and journals about, and representative of, man's intellectual and cultural development.  Book arts and the history, development and future of the book and related subjects are collecting interests.  It includes a fine selection of 18th, 19th and early 20th century general encyclopaedias.  Apart from some rare editions (such as William Henry Fox Talbot's Pencil of nature, 1844, the first book to contain photographs), the collection also has on its shelves what is thought to be the world's largest collection of fore-edge paintings.

South African Children's Literature Collection -  Books published in South Africa from 1989 and exhibited periodically by the Children's Book Forum of the Western Cape make up the core of this collection, apparently the only one of its kind in the country.  The collection contains many useful texts used in the study of South Africa's languages.  It is consulted by researchers in a number of disciplines such as English, Afrikaans, African Languages and Education,  others researching the sociology of South African childhood as portrayed in children's books, as well as educators, book illustrators, writers and publishers. 

South African Speleological Association's Collection - A collection of books and journals about speleology, caving and cave diving.  The material is housed in the department on long loan from the Cape Peninsula Speleological Society.  It is a unique collection in an African context as it is the only one of its kind in the public domain on the continent.

Speculative Fiction Collection   - This is a collection of science fiction and fantasy books, including critical and historical works,  that have come into the library largely by donation.  Its core is the Tolkien Collection donated by a student society, the Tolkien Society, which initiated its establishment.  It is a unique collection in an African context as it is the only one of its kind in the public domain on the continent. 

Willis Naval and Aeronautical Collection - This is an extensive collection of books and journals dealing with every aspect of sailing and flying, including naval and aeronautical history and engineering, and the design and construction of naval and air craft.  There is a strong emphasis on  warfare, with the naval, aerial and military history of the wars of the last century being particularly well represented.  The core of the collection was donated  to the library by Humphrey Charles Willis,  who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Simon's Town Historical Society.