Bridging the Gap with the 'New' Economic History of Africa

Ewout Frankema*, Marlous Van Waijenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This review article seeks to build bridges between mainstream African history and the more historically oriented branch of the 'new' economic history of Africa. We survey four central topics of the new economic history of Africa - growth, trade, labor, and inequality - and argue that the increased use of quantitative methods and comparative perspectives have sharpened views on long-term trajectories of economic development within Africa and placed the region more firmly into debates of global economic development. The revival of African economic history opens new opportunities for Africanist historians to enrich the interdisciplinary approaches they have taken to study questions of demography, poverty, slavery, labor, inequality, migration, state formation, and colonialism. These fruits, however, can only be reaped if the institutional boundaries between the fields of history and economic history are softened and both sides engage in greater mutual engagement. Our paper aims to move closer to a shared vision on the benefits and limitations of varying quantitative methods, and how these approaches underpin both more and less convincing narratives of long-term African development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-61
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of African History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2023


  • African economic history
  • colonial rule
  • economic growth
  • inequality
  • labor
  • slavery


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