New Ventures in African Economic History: Avenues toward a Broad Study of Historical Economic Life

AHA Session 158
Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Room 303 (Hilton Atlanta, Third Floor)
Marlous van Waijenburg, Northwestern University
William H. Sewell Jr., University of Chicago

Session Abstract

In recent years, the study of Africa’s economic past has enjoyed somewhat of a “renaissance” (Austin, EHR 2014). Where economic historians have focused on expanding the quantitative foundations to (re-)evaluate the continent’s long-term development path, social historians have drawn new connections between changing patterns of labor specialization and the socio-cultural fabric in which these took place, and the work of historical linguists has provided unique windows into pre-colonial trade networks and consumer culture. The great variety of methodological approaches taken to study ‘economy-related topics’ point to a resurfacing of African economic history along a wide spectrum of historical inquiry; as historical studies of (African) “economic life” in its broadest sense (Sewell, HT 2010). So far, however, few cross-methodological connections have been made between these different strands of literature. This panel is not only intended to share the insights of these various ‘new ventures’ into African economic history, but also to stimulate a conversation about the complementarity of different methodological approaches to the study of economic life, and the historiographic cohesion such connections can bring about. Although this panel will be geographically focused on Sub-Saharan Africa, we hope that the larger methodological conversation it aims to facilitate will be of interest to historians working on other world regions as well.

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