In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section South Africa Post c. 1850

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historiography
  • Documents and Archives
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Collected Essays
  • The Making of Social Identities
  • Individuals and Population
  • Regional and Local Studies
  • Culture
  • Economy
  • Religion
  • South Africa and the World

African Studies South Africa Post c. 1850
Chris Saunders
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0091


This bibliography is concerned with the history of the country that came into being in 1910 as the Union of South Africa, the boundaries of which remain virtually the same as those of the present-day South Africa. There are many links and connections between the history of South Africa and that of other countries in the southern African region, but this bibliography is limited to South Africa itself. In the mid-19th century, “South Africa” was only a geographical expression, made up of one substantial British colony, the Cape, a much smaller British colony (Natal), two fragile Boer republics-in-being (the Orange Free State and South African Republic or Transvaal), and a number of still independent African states. The key development in late-19th century South African history was the mineral revolution, which, beginning in the 1870s, laid the basis for the industrialization of the country and did much to create the conditions for the way the country was ruled for most of the 20th century, with a small white minority oppressing a large black majority. In the early 1990s, the country underwent a transition to what was in effect black majority rule, and the implications of that transition are ongoing. This bibliography covers, then, a century and a half of dramatic change, and South Africa has the richest literature of any country in Sub-Saharan Africa, so this bibliography is inevitably highly selective. It overlaps slightly with the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on Southern Africa to c. 1850, which should be consulted on the period before this one begins. To some extent the selections listed here reflect the personal interests of the compiler, which are more political than social or economic, but an attempt has been made to choose what a wide range of historians are likely to consider important works, of use to academics and students. Work published more recently is prioritized, as they are likely to be the most relevant for readers. Memoirs and biographies have on the whole not been included, and there are very few periodical articles, chapters in edited collections, or local studies. For all its limitations, this bibliography aims to open a window onto the many debates that are ongoing in the much-contested field of South African history. After general works and sources, it proceeds chronologically before ending with a few key themes: social identities, people, culture, economy, religion, and South Africa and the World. In all cases, reference should also be made to books in other sections, and it should be borne in mind that what is included is only a minute proportion of what could have been listed had space permitted. Finally, works are limited to those in English, as there is hardly any substantive work on South African history in other languages that has not been translated into English.

General Overviews

Many general histories of South Africa have been written over the years, and new ones appear frequently. These vary greatly in quality. Wilson and Thompson 1971 was a breakthrough when it appeared; with an overall theme of “interaction,” it is the classic “liberal Africanist” synthesis. The Illustrated History of South Africa was, at the time it was published, a pioneering attempt at an alternative history for a popular audience. For those looking for an introductory general overview of all South African history, Thompson 2006 is recommended, as is the multi-authored Giliomee and Mbenga 2007; those with some prior background are likely to find Beinart 2001 the best survey of the 20th century. The fullest one-volume survey remains the heavily political Davenport and Saunders 2000. The most recent scholarly history is Ross, et al. 2011, which is likely to remain the single most important survey for many years to come.

  • Beinart, William. Twentieth Century South Africa. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    A short but pointed survey by a leading Oxford-based historian from South Africa, it draws on both “liberal” and “radical” writing and tries to present an “Africanist” perspective on the South African past, seamlessly blending political, cultural, and economic themes.

  • Davenport, Thomas Rodney, and Christopher C. Saunders. South Africa: A Modern History. 5th ed. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2000.

    The most detailed single-volume scholarly history by professional historians available as of 2012, this is mostly a political history. While it updates earlier editions by T. R. H. Davenport, it now needs further updating.

  • Giliomee, Hermann, and Bernard Mbenga, eds. New History of South Africa. Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2007.

    An illustrated set of essays by historians, summarizing recent scholarship.

  • Reader’s Digest Association South Africa, ed. Illustrated History of South Africa: The Real Story. 3d ed. Cape Town: Reader’s Digest, 1994.

    A popular history that provided a pioneering Africanist perspective when it first appeared in the late 1980s; it is well illustrated and easily readable.

  • Ross, Robert, Anne Kelk Mager, and Bill Nasson, eds. The Cambridge History of South Africa. Vol. 2, 1885–1994. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    Some of the chapters in this important volume are listed separately throughout this bibliography. They represent the most up-to-date historical scholarship on the country, and range from chapters on resistance to others on the economy and culture.

  • Thompson, Leonard M. A History of South Africa. 3d ed. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 2006.

    The last edition of the single most readable history of the country, it includes a chapter on the transition of the early 1990s. By one of South Africa’s leading historians, who wrote as an emeritus professor of history at Yale University.

  • Wilson, Monica, and Leonard M. Thompson, eds. The Oxford History of South Africa. Vol. 2, South Africa, 1870–1966. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

    A pioneering work, notorious for having blank pages in its South African edition instead of the chapter on African nationalism by Leo Kuper, for fear the South African censors would ban the volume. A number of the chapters were not written by historians and lack a strong chronological sense but nevertheless remain worth reading.

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