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Confidential Print: Africa, 1834-1966

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Source Archive(s)

  • The National Archives, UK

Period Covered:

Early 19th to mid-20th Century




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Complementary Title(s)

Themes/Subjects Covered

  • Administration
  • Agriculture
  • Alcohol
  • Anti-Foreign Sentiment
  • Britain's Rivals for Influence in Africa
  • Commercial and Trade Negotiations
  • Developing British Influence in Africa
  • Development of Infrastructure
  • Education
  • Environmental Protection
  • Establishment and Development of the Commonwealth
  • Frontier Disputes
  • Immigration to the United Kingdom
  • Industrial and Mining Development
  • International Conferences
  • Military and Intelligence Matters
  • Political and Constitutional Change
  • Public Health and Medicine
  • Relations between the United Kingdom and the Emerging Dominions
  • Scandals Regarding Treatment of Workers
  • Women

Key Features

  • CO 879/1-190 Africa general covers the period from 1848 to 1961, from the early stages of the European powers’ full penetration of Africa to the height of decolonisation. There is a concentration on the area that would become South Africa and the surrounding territories, but also coverage of British activities in the areas of modern Ghana, Gambia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
  • CO 885/1-140 Colonies general (selected files) covers the period from 1907 to 1929. These files are largely, but by no means exclusively, concerned with disease and medicine in Britain’s tropical African colonies
  • CO 886 1/11 Dominions general covers the period between 1887 and 1926. The Union of South Africa was a dominion (a self-governing part of the British Empire) from 1910, when the four colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Transvaal and the Orange Free State were brought together.
  • DO 114/1-140 Dominions general (selected files) covers the period between 1924 and 1947. Many of these files deal with Imperial Conferences and with the relationship of the emergent dominions to various international treaties.
  • DO 116/1-8 Union of South Africa and High Commission Territories covers the years 1913 to 1944. During this period, the newly unified South Africa struggled to achieve unity between its dominant British and Afrikaner communities, with the issue of South African involvement in the Second World War a particular cause of friction.
  • DO 201/1-53 Commonwealth Relations Office (selected files) covers the period between 1949 and 1966. The decades after the Second World War saw a great expansion in the remit of the CRO as British colonies became independent.
  • FO 341/1-3 German Empire miscellaneous covers the years 1884 to 1900. These papers focus on the West Africa Conference (also known as the Berlin Conference and Congo Conference), which took place in Berlin in 1884-85 and marked the beginning of the European powers’ ‘Scramble for Africa’.
  • FO 401/1-48 Abyssinia covers the period between 1846 and 1956. Abyssinia, later known as Ethiopia, was the only native African state to resist the main wave of European expansion in Africa in the late nineteenth century (Liberia, also independent, was a client state of the USA, founded for freed American slaves). Abyssinian armies defeated the Italians at the Battle of Adowa (or Adwa) in 1896, securing the country’s independence until 1936, when Mussolini’s forces invaded and conquered Abyssinia. Italian rule was short-lived, however, as an invasion by the British in 1941 restored Emperor Haile Selassie.
  • FO 403/1-482 Africa general spans the period from 1834 to 1959.
  • FO 413/1-99 Morocco and north-west Africa spans the period from 1839 to 1957. After occasional skirmishes with the rulers of the Algerian coast over the previous two centuries, the French invaded and conquered the area in the 1830s. Tunisia became a French protectorate in 1881 and Morocco, after several decades of inconclusive fighting, was divided between France and Spain in the 1900s. Though Morocco and Tunisia achieved independence relatively smoothly in the 1950s, the presence in Algeria of several million French settlers and their descendants led to a protracted and bloody war there until France finally withdrew in 1962.
  • FO 458/1-157 and FO 485/1-3 Liberia cover the years 1882 to 1950. Liberia was established as a home for freed slaves by the American Colonization Society, a philanthropic organisation, in the early 1820s. The country declared independence in 1847, under the dominance of the immigrant Americo-Liberian minority. A one-party state developed which excluded the native majority from participation in government.
  • FO 468/1-4 British Commonwealth general covers the period 1945 to 1949. After the controversy about South African involvement in the Second World War laid bare the divisions in white South African society, the Afrikaner National Party grew in strength, leading to its victory in elections in 1948 and its subsequent establishment of apartheid (‘separate development’) as the formal structure of South African society, leading gradually to international isolation.
  • FO 540/1-6 Libya covers the years 1951-1956. After being under Italian rule since 1912, Libya was taken by Allied forces during the Second World War. British control was established in the provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, whilst France ruled the province of Fezzan. Though France made some attempts to entrench its position in Libya, and Italy to regain it, the country became an independent monarchy under the auspices of the United Nations in 1951
  • WO 287/1-287 War Office (selected files) covers the period 1905 to 1944.


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