Pre-Colonial South-East Africa: Sources and Prospects for Research in Economic and Social History

Hannaford, Matthew (2018) Pre-Colonial South-East Africa: Sources and Prospects for Research in Economic and Social History. Journal of Southern African Studies . ISSN 1465-3893, 0305-7070

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In recent years, historical research on the pre-colonial period in the area between the Zambezi and Limpopo has almost ground to a standstill. A number of seminal works on the economic and social history of the area appeared in the 1960s and 1970s, each of which were underpinned by the documentary legacy of the Portuguese presence in the region from the beginning of the 16th century. Since the 1990s, it has been archaeologists that have taken up the mantle of post-1500 history, but the corpora of documentary material available is now seldom used systematically or to any great length. This article revisits the use and availability of historical documents for the study of African society in this region prior to 1840, specifically by presenting a newly constructed database of c.1,140 published and unpublished documents of relevance to African society, economy and the environment. The need for this database is first set into context by a critical overview of two of the major historiographies in pre-colonial economic and social history in this region – those of the relationships between trade and politics and drought and food production – from which a series of common problems are identified. The database is then introduced, together with an analysis of its chronological and spatial coverage and a discussion of the availability and accessibility of the documents. The article concludes by pointing to some potential future directions for a revival of pre-colonial economic and social history in south-east Africa north of the Limpopo, to which renewed interrogation of the wider range of documentary material collated here can contribute.

Additional Information:The final published version can be accessed online at
Keywords:Pre-colonial, Portuguese documents, Zimbabwe culture, Zambezi, Economic history, Social history, Trade, Agriculture
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V250 African History
T Eastern, Asiatic, African, American and Australasian Languages, Literature and related subjects > T500 African studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V310 Economic History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V253 Southern African History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V320 Social History
Divisions:College of Science > School of Geography
ID Code:33927
Deposited On:29 Oct 2018 08:11

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