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Level 5

5AAH1039 Historical Origins of Economic Underdevelopment in Africa

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor 2018/19Dr Toby Green
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 2 x essay of 2,500 words (50% each)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years

The course focusses primarily on West and Central Africa.  It considers both long-term economic relationships linking Africa to the world, from the 14th to the 19th centuries, and local factors driving the transformation of economies sand societies in West and west-Central Africa.  These African factors considered include: domestic production and social structure; increases in practices of slavery and dependence in Africa; and the rise of Islamic reform movements in West Africa in the 18th century as they relate to transformations of economic relations.  In terms of long-distance patterns of globalisation, the course looks at: the rise of long-distance trades, how this relates to both culture and geography, the impact of the abolitionist movement, and the relationships these trades have to classic economic theories such as dependency theory world systems theory, and the new “reversal of fortune” thesis. In conclusion we will also look at the way in which some historians now link patterns of production and slavery with modern aid dependency. Students will be asked to answer one essay question related to each section of the course: one on global connections, and one on local manifestations.

It is important for students to also be aware of the critical conjuncture of economic histories at which this debate occurs. The study of African economic history has been in the doldrums for over 20 years. Questions of longue durée historical change have been passed over in favour of the prerogatives of development and theories of postcolonial economic change. Nevertheless, major figures in postcolonial criticism such as Achille Mbembe have noted the structural relations between precolonial, colonial and postcolonial economic systems. Examining Africa’s long-term economic history therefore allows students the chance to consider not only the causes of underdevelopment but Africa’s long-term structural relations with world histories.

Provisional teaching plan

  1. Introductory Perspectives
  2. Production and Reproduction
  3. Land Tenure and Capital Accumulation
  4. Currencies, Inflation, and the Growth of the Market in Africa
  5. External Trade and Political Organization
  6. The Cultural and Physical Geography of Long Distance Trade
  7. Anti-imperialism, the Rise of Islam, and the Manufacturing Boom in Precolonial Africa
  8. 19th-Century Capitalism in Africa and the Growth of the Slave Mode of Production
  9. Slave Trade, Abolition and the Transition to Legitimate Commerce
  10. Global Perspectives: Long-Distance Trade and Comparative Economic Decline

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

Ralph Austen, African Economic History (James Currey, 1987)

JD Fage with William Tordoff, A History of Africa (Routledge, 2001)

AG Hopkins, An Economic History of West Africa (Longman, 1973)

John Iliffe, The African Poor (Cambridge University Press, 1987)

Joseph E. Inikori, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England (CUP, 2002)

Robin Law (ed.), From Slave Trade to Legitimate Commerce (CUP, 1995)

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