Workshop on African History and Economics

The Workshop on African History and Economics (WAHE) brings together two recent academic trends in a forensic examination of African economies in historical perspective:  the development of the “New Economic History” with its tendency for comparative studies of regional economic performance; and a new emphasis on longue durée studies in African history. WAHE foregrounds dialogue between academic researchers, development experts/policy makers, and African entrepreneurs. It prioritizes graduate research in African economics and economic/business history, drawing on the research agenda that emerges from conversations between researchers, policy makers and business people, and utilizing WAHE’s network of African entrepreneurs to place graduate students in crucial fields of research.


The past decade or two has witnessed the rise of the New Economic History with comparative studies of economic performance that have juxtaposed Africa side by side with other world regions. The result has been to draw Africa into comparative analysis without Africa driving the research agenda. This intersects with growing interest in emerging economies and in Africa’s recent growth acceleration, the dynamics of which are not well understood. The New Economic History has drawn attention to the importance of institutions and underscored the reality that Africa’s growth and development challenges are among other things a crises of institutions. Africa has caught the attention of Western financial institutions. In the past decade or so, six out of the ten fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa, and Africa has grown faster than Asia in eight out of the last ten years. That Africa is benefiting from a commodity boom is clearly evident, and prices for gold and oil have reached some of the highest on record in the past decade. Whether Africa has undergone qualitative structural change that could make this commodity boom the basis of an economic takeoff is being debated. The World Bank has recently emphasized growth in African fiscal competence, and the fact that Africa came out of the 2008 global financial crisis much better than was anticipated.[1] The jury is still out whether Africa’s brain-gain in the past decade or so has contributed to this technical competence, and how to factor the African Diaspora into Africa’s development plans more broadly. Non-mineral exporting countries like Ethiopia are also experiencing fast growth based on strong agricultural exports. In 2009, China surpassed the World Bank as Africa’s most important donor and has also become Africa’s largest trading partner, highlighting the importance of South-South trade. The past year has witnessed several academic conferences or seminar series and special issues of magazines around the world on the theme “Africa rising.”[2] We need new tools and concepts to better understand Africa’s changing economies. We need research on African entrepreneurship and African businesses. There is an interest in writing the history of business and firms in Africa, and the past decade has seen important work by scholars such as Chibuike Uche on Shell and Nigeria, and Dmitri van den Bersselaar on the operations of Unilever (UK) and Bols Distilleries of the Netherlands in West Africa. We need to interrogate institutions in Africa over the longue durée as Robert Bates, James Robinson, Daron Acemoglu, Raul Sanchez de la Sierra and others are doing and create space for institutional reform and innovation with an African imprint.

African countries have begun to investigate ways to target academic training towards the needs of industry. African policy makers and business people have turned to the academic community for insight, and we believe Harvard should be at the forefront of the production of knowledge about Africa’s economies in the 21st century. With limited resources, even with deficit financing, which sectors should African governments prioritize that have knock-on effects for growth? What are the implications for African economies in the ongoing transition from agriculture to the service sector without the intermediary sector of manufacturing? This workshop seeks to provide a forum for cutting edge work on African economic history and economics, and to facilitate dialogue between academic researchers, international development agencies and policy makers, and business people. We need a clearer understanding of African dynamics and the economic terrain. There is even no agreement on the reliability of African economic statistics and national accounting, as the works of Douglas Rimmer and, more recently, Morten Jerven have argued. There is a sharp disjuncture between indicators of growth and lived reality within many African countries, and significant wealth disparities across rural-urban, gender and class divides. Political corruption remains intractable and databases such as the Afrobarometer measure the social, political and economic atmosphere in Africa, examining key issues such as the impact of corruption on institutional trust and economic performance. How do we incorporate Africa’s growing number of trade and investment partners within the present political and economic landscape? The current international preoccupation with China in Africa obscures the changing face of Asian investment and trade in Africa, for India, Malaysia, South Korea, and Taiwan had been bigger players in several African countries before China's rise. Talk about China has displaced also an increasing investment by Arab Gulf countries in Africa, especially in Eastern and Southern Africa, as seen in the work of Mina Baliamoune-Lutz and Mwangi wa Githinji.

[1] Shanta Devarjan and Sudhir Shetty, “Africa: Leveraging the Crisis into a Development Takeoff,” Economic Premise, The World Bank, No. 30 (Sept. 2010), pp. 1-4.

[2] “Africa Rising” The Economist (December 3, 2011); “Africa Rising,” TIME Magazine (December 3, 2012).


Events around Harvard

The African Business Conference at Harvard, February 27-March 1, 2015

          The African Business Conference is an annual conference held at the Business School for entrepreneurs and businesses working in Africa. The theme for this year’s conference is “A More Inclusive Africa: The Pursuit of Progress for All.”


The Africa Innovate Conference, April 11-12, 2015

          Africa Innovate is an annual conference held at MIT that “is an intimate showcase of the latest ideas and innovations in entrepreneurship, finance, healthcare, energy and education.”


The African Development Conference at Harvard, April 3-4, 2015

            The annual ADC at Harvard is organized by a coalition of Harvard schools (Kennedy, Law, Arts and Science, Education, Public Health, and Design) and brings together distinguished players working towards Africa’s development including visionary policy makers, innovative business leaders and philanthropists, accomplished academics and students, and proactive leaders of civil society organizations.



 African Studies Workshop at Harvard, Mondays at 6:15pm (Lower Library, Robinson Hall)

            Each Monday at the African Studies Workshop, a scholar presents a paper on “one facet of the rapidly changing position of Africa in the global political economy and the impact of that change on global distributions of wealth, well-being, and power. Workshop presenters are scholars of high international repute as well as up and coming Africanist intellectuals.”



Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies Events



Harvard Department of African and African American Studies Events



Harvard Department of Economics Events



Harvard History Department Events



Harvard Hutchins Center for African and African American Research Events



Harvard Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Events




African Economic History

            An annual journal published by the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that “focuses on recent economic change in Africa as well as the colonial and precolonial economic history of the continent.”



African Studies Review

            The principle journal of the African Studies Association (ASA). Includes the highest quality scholarship on Africa from across the disciplines.



Canadian Journal of African Studies

            Published by the Canadian Association of African Studies. “Articles are published in English or French and cover the areas of anthropology, political economy, history, geography, and development.”



Economic History of Developing Regions (formerly South African Journal of Economic History)

           Published biannually, Economic History of Developing Regions "promotes the study of economic change in the developing South, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. It provides an innovative research forum that explores the influence of historical events on economic development beyond the industrialized North."



History in Africa

            Journal published annually in September by the African Studies Association. Addresses “historiographical and methodological issues and publishes analysis and criticism, historiographical essays, bibliographical essays, archival reports and articles on the role of theory and non-historical data in historical investigation.”



The International Journal of African Historical Studies

            Published by the African Studies Center at Boston University. Includes original historical research on Africa’s past from a number of disciplines.



Journal of African Economies

            The Journal of African Economies "is a vehicle to carry rigorous economic analysis, focused entirely on Africa, for Africans and anyone interested in the continent - be they consultants, policymakers, academics, traders, financiers, development agents or aid workers."



The Journal of African History

            The leading journal for historians of Africa, The Journal of African history (JAH) was established in 1960 and includes articles and book reviews ranging widely across time and space. Recent issues have explored diverse themes including labor and class, gender and sexuality, health and medicine, ethnicity and race, migration and diaspora, nationalism and state politics, religion and ritual, and technology and the environment.



Journal of Development Economics

            "The Journal of Development Economics publishes originial research papers relating to all aspects of economic development - from immediate policy concerns to structural problems of underdevelopment." 



Online Datasets and Databases

Africa South of the Sahara: Selected Internet Resources

            Created by Stanford University, this database is the most comprehensive collection of aggregated links to online resources pertaining to Africa. Includes pages devoted to web resources for African History ( and development (




            The Afrobarometer "is an independent, non-partisan research project that measures the social, political, and economic atmosphere in Africa." Numerous yearly reports and datasets available on Afrobarometer's website for 35 African countries.



The Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD)

            Hosted by the International Population, Health and Development Lab at Duke University, BREAD is a non-profit organiztion "dedicated to encourage research and scholarship in development economics." BREAD's website includes links to numerous datasets and BREAD working papers and policy papers.



The Demographic and Health Surveys Program (DHS)

            Funded by USAID, DHS assists in collecting data on health and population trends in developing countries. Numerous datasets available for download on DHS's website.



The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

            An invaluable resource for historians, economists, and the interested public, this online database has information on more than 35,000 slave voyages that forcibly brought 12 million enslaved Africans to the Americas. The site includes numerous images, digitalized manuscripts, maps, and graphs, and the voyages are searchable by a number of variables including the ship’s flag, port of embankment, and final destination.



The World Bank Open Data

            Numerous datasets on African countries available for download. 



Initiatives for (African) History and Economics

African Economic Research Consortium (AERC)

            Established in 1988, AERC "is a public not-for-profit organization devoted to the advancement of economic policy research and training. AERC's mission is to strengthen local capacity for conducting independent, rigorous inquiry into the problems facing the management of economies in sub-Saharan Africa."



African History and Economics Network

            Founded in 2011, “the network is an initiative intended to foster communication, collaboration and research as well as teaching amongst scholars studying the economic history of sub-Saharan Africa, from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial era. The network publishes working papers in African Economic History and a newsletter.”



African School of Economics (ASE)

            Headquartered in Cononou, Benin, ASE "is the largest center for training and research in economics and management in Africa [...] ASE will offer a wide range of graduate degrees in Business Administration, Public and International Affairs, Quantitative Methods and Economics, and Development Studies, as well as executive degree programs."



Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE)

            An economic research centre at Oxford University that aims to improve African economic and social conditions through economic research and policy recommendataions based on quantitative analysis. Datasets and papers are available on CSAE's website.



Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA)

            Based in Dakar, Senegal, CODESRIA is an independent pan-Africa research organization dedicated to promoting and pioneering social science research in Africa. 



Economic History Workshop at the Weatherhead Center

            The Economic History Workshop is an interdisciplinary offering of the Harvard Department of Economics that "has become an exceptionally important forum for economic historians in the greater Boston area, serving as a lively and deeply informative seminar for those interested in long-term economic change, economic growth, and development."




            An H-Net online network for scholars of Africa to discuss the continent’s history and culture. H-Africa publishes widely read book reviews, and includes links to past notable threads. Other significant H-Net forums related to Africa are available through this site.



Joint Center for History and Economics at Harvard

            The Center “was established at Harvard in 2007 to promote research and education on subjects of importance for historians and economists, including the history of economic thought, economic history, and the application of economic concepts to historical problems. The objective of the Center is to encourage fundamental research in history, economics, and related disciplines. It also encourages the participation of historians and economists in addressing issues of public importance.”



Program on the Study of Capitalism at Harvard

            Led by Sven Berkert and Christine Desan, the Program on the Study of Capitalism seeks to “identify emerging approaches to political economy and to facilitate interdisciplinary thinking on this important topic among students and faculty at Harvard.”



Cartographic Resources

AfricaMap at Harvard

            Africamap was created on Harvard’s WorldMap mapping software and brings together numerous geographic layers including environmental features, boundaries, ethnic and linguistic distribution maps, historic maps, and more for scholars of all levels to explore.


Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard

            Home for all Harvard GIS resources. Provides a wide array of GIS training, software, tutorials, and information for students and faculty.



David Rumsey Map Collection

          An online database containing over 54,000 historic and contemporary maps, including numerous maps of Africa. Many maps are available for high resolution downloads.


Harvard Map Collection

          Search Harvard’s extensive digital and print holdings for historic maps.


Resources for Students

Center for African Studies at Harvard

            Provides information for Harvard students interested in applying for research grants, studying abroad in Africa, learning an African language, or finding out about Africa related events at Harvard.



Resources for Businesses and Entrepreneurs

Creating Emerging Markets

             An initiative of Harvard Business School, this project conducts “in-depth interviews with top business leaders who have created and managed businesses in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America over the last four decades. These interviews, many lasting several hours, explore pivotal moments of corporate transition, strategic shifts, and responses to economic and political crises. The men and women interviewed show how businesses navigate turbulence, and can create value for their societies.”



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