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The Data Revolution in African Economic History


  • Johan Fourie


Big Data can be consequential for the field of history. The surge in computing power and access to data processing software and online resources have enabled historians over the past two decades to capture historical statistics on a much larger scale than before. Here I argue that the data revolution is especially valuable when applied to regions where written records are fairly scarce, such as sub-Saharan Africa. The tools of data transcription, augmentation, and collaboration have revealed much we did not know about the African past and its echoes in the present. The continuing projects to transcribe and digitize large numbers of colonial and post-colonial records are likely to teach us much more about Africa’s economic past over the coming decade.

Suggested Citation

  • Johan Fourie, 2015. "The Data Revolution in African Economic History," Working Papers 555, Economic Research Southern Africa.
  • Handle: RePEc:rza:wpaper:555

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    Cited by:

    1. Johan Fourie, 2019. "Who Writes African Economic History?," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 34(2), pages 111-131, May.
    2. Broadberry, Stephen & Gardner, Leigh, 2019. "Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa, 1885-2008," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 100473, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    3. Michiel de Haas & Kostadis J. Papaioannou, 2017. "Resource endowments and agricultural commercialization in colonial Africa: Did labour seasonality and food security drive Uganda’s cotton revolution?," Working Papers 0111, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).

    More about this item


    Data Revolution; Economic History; Sub-Saharan Africa;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N01 - Economic History - - General - - - Development of the Discipline: Historiographical; Sources and Methods
    • C80 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - General

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