Doing economic history in Africa: experiences from the archives in Uganda

Nice post by Michiel de Haas, Felix Meier zu Selhausen and Kate Frederick. Two of them are economic historians in Africa.

They point to their experiences in building archives and connecting dots in Uganda:

The field of African Economic History is flourishing. The rising number of participants at the annual meeting of the AEHN, the increasing flow of articles in mainstream economic history journals and thriving research groups in Lund, Wageningen and Stellenbosch, just to name some of the larger research clusters, testify to this. The ‘new economic history of Africa’ is strongly data driven, with researchers using published and unpublished sources to create datasets, establish and compare trends, and conduct statistical analysis to tease out causality (for discussion and an overview, see the recent paper by Johan Fourie (2016)

To further expand our empirical knowledge of long-term African development, the potential of colonial archives in Europe is hardly exhausted, with researchers using trade, tax, wage, price, climatological, and criminal statistics to make a wide range of new and compelling contributions. However, there is much scope to venture beyond Europe’s missionary and government archives, which tend to focus on key administrative matters and provide only limited information on the seemingly mundane and practical intricacies of colonial rule. Previously neglected, individual-level data sources have already shown to harbour great potential to advance our knowledge of long-term African development. Recent contributions have utilized sources preserved in archives on African soil, including military recruit records, the performance files of police officers, hospital registries, and the marriage records of Anglican Africans.  

Archival documents in Uganda are in a state of flux after having been largely neglected or even destroyed during Uganda’s troubled post-colonial history. In recent years, things have been changing for the better. Social, cultural and political historians such as Derek Peterson (Michigan), Holly Hanson (Mount Holyoke) and Shane Doyle (Leeds) – just to name a few internationally renowned scholars – have been producing work that is firmly based on local source materials found in Uganda’s national, district and missionary archives.

Michiel de Haas and Felix Meier zu Selhausen share some of their experiences exploring a variety of source materials in Uganda. Michiel has been affiliated with the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) in Kampala and visited the National Archives in Entebbe and five district archives. He has also conducted oral history interviews with cotton farmers in Eastern Uganda. Felix lived in Fort Portal for three years where he taught at Mountains of the Moon University. He has digitized marriage records from Anglican churches all over Uganda and in-patient registers from Western Uganda’s Kabarole Hospital.

Wow. This must be one of its kind experience. Church or any centre of religion archive is such a crucial place to understand initial development.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: