Events

The History of Poverty in Africa: A Central Question?

Past Series, The Disciplines Series

Cosponsors
  • Institute of African Studies
  • Center for International History
  • Department of History
  • Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality
Organizer
  • Rhiannon Stephens, Assistant Professor of History at Columbia University

In the popular mind, Africa exemplifies poverty. Media coverage focuses on destitution. Recent focus on a growing elite serves to emphasise the abject condition of the majority. This discourse depicts African poverty as timeless or as gripped in a worsening spiral. Africanist historians have long called for the historical study of the African poor with the argument that the most ‘useful’ or ‘usable’ aspect of African history could be to find solutions to poverty in Africa by developing historical understanding of the phenomenon.

The poor are difficult historical subjects: they leave behind them little evidence of their lives. This problem is compounded by orality, which endured longer among the poor. Nonetheless, historians have sought to write the history of the impoverished. This has resulted in work on topics from the importance of reciprocity in assistance to the particular ways people have responded to famines; from the gendered nature of poverty to the changes in poverty brought about by colonialism and neo-liberal reform.

But questions remain: how do we, how should we, approach the history of poverty? What definitions do we use to delimit the poor and how do those definitions shape our studies? How has ‘wealth-in-people’ shaped our understanding of economic inequality? How have ideas of poverty and wealth in Africa changed? To what extent is it meaningful to talk of ‘African poverty’?

Nearly four decades after Terence Ranger’s call for a ‘usable African past’ and over a quarter century since John Iliffe’s history of the very poor in Africa, this is an apt moment to step back and consider these questions in light of the work that has appeared in the intervening years. This conference seeks to achieve that by bringing together a wide range of senior and junior scholars working on the history of the poor and of poverty in Africa, from the first millennium to the late twentieth century.

Program

March 6, 2014  Thursday

5:45pm - 6:00pm EDT

Arrival and Introduction

6:00pm - 7:30pm EDT

Opening Keynote Address
“Paupers. Percentiles. Precarity. Analytics for poverty studies in Africa”

Jane Guyer

George Armstrong Kelly Professor of Anthropology

Johns Hopkins University

March 7, 2014  Friday

8:45am - 9:00am EDT

Arrival and Introductions

9:00am - 10:45am EDT

Panel I: The (mis)Measure of Poverty
Chair

Gregory Mann

Associate Professor of History

Columbia University

“The History of Poverty in Ghana: Reflections from Recent Research"

Gareth Austin

Head of the International History Department

Graduate Institute Geneva

“African Poverty by Numbers"

Morten Jerven

Assistant Professor of International Studies

Simon Fraser University

“Measuring Material Living Standards in Pre-colonial West Africa"

Klas Rönnbäck

Professor of Economic History

University of Gothenberg

10:45pm - 1:45pm EDT

Panel II: The Gender of Poverty
Chair

Megan Vaughan

Distinguished Professor, Graduate Center

City University of New York

“Poverty, Ignorance and Disease: Maternal and Child Health Policy for Nairobi During the Kenyatta Era"

Milcah Amolo Achola

Professor of History

Nairobi University

“Poverty and the Religious Imagination in Northern Nigeria.”us Imagination in Northern Nigeria"

Shobana Shankar

Assistant Professor of History

Stony Brook University

“Wealth-in-Women: Demographic Crisis and Food Production at the Office du Niger (French Soudan), 1935-1946"

Laura Ann Twagira

Assistant Professor of History

Wesleyan University

1:45pm - 3:30pm EDT

Panel III: Poverty of Food
Chair

Rhiannon Stephens

Associate Professor of History

Columbia University

“Hlonipha and Health: Livelihoods, Taboos, and Nutrition in mid-Twentieth Century Pholela, South Africa"

Abigail Neely

Assistant Professor of Geography

Dartmouth College

“Nyakusa Food Security and Safwa ‘Poverty’ 1700-1900: History of Poverty and the Language Surrounding It"

Catherine Cymone Fourshey

Associate Professor of History and Director of the International Studies Program

Susquehanna University

“Statistical Comparability and Racial Incomparability: Conceiving Hunger in French West Africa under late Colonialism"

Vincent Bonnecase

Researcher

Institut d’études politiques de Bordeaux

3:30pm - 5:30pm EDT

Panel IV: Rural Poverty and Urban Poverty
Chair

Mamadou Diouf

Leitner Family Professor of African Studies and History

Columbia University

“Who is a Poor Child? Reflections from a Multigenerational Survey of Childhood in Twentieth Century Lagos"

Abosede George

Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies

Barnard College

“Structural Unemployment, Gender and Poverty in Apartheid’s ‘Dumping Grounds’"

Laura Evans

Lecturer in History

Sheffield Hallam University

“‘Capitals of the Poor’: Spaces of Poverty and Poverty Reduction in Northern Ghana, 1942-2012"

Alice Wiemers

Assistant Professor of History and Political Science

Otterbein University

“Tanzanian Poverty in the Period of Villagization"

James Giblin

Professor of History

University of Iowa

5:30pm - 6:30pm EDT

Closing Discussion
Chair

Rhiannon Stephens

Associate Professor of History

Columbia University

Participants
  • Milcah Amolo Achola Professor of History Nairobi University
  • Gareth Austin Head of the International History Department Graduate Institute Geneva
  • Vincent Bonnecase Researcher Institut d'études politiques de Bordeaux
  • Mamadou Diouf Leitner Family Professor of African Studies and History Columbia University
  • Laura Evans Lecturer in History Sheffield Hallam University
  • Catherine Cymone Fourshey Associate Professor of History and Director of the International Studies Program Susquehanna University
  • Abosede George Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies Barnard College
  • James Giblin Professor of History University of Iowa
  • Jane Guyer George Armstrong Kelly Professor of Anthropology Johns Hopkins University
  • Morten Jerven Assistant Professor of International Studies Simon Fraser University
  • Gregory Mann Associate Professor of History Columbia University
  • Abigail Neely Assistant Professor of Geography Dartmouth College
  • Klas Rönnbäck Professor of Economic History University of Gothenburg
  • Shobana Shankar Assistant Professor of History Stony Brook University
  • Rhiannon Stephens Associate Professor of History Columbia University
  • Laura Ann Twagira Assistant Professor of History Wesleyan University
  • Megan Vaughan Distinguished Professor, Graduate Center City University of New York
  • Alice Wiemers Assistant Professor of History and Political Science Otterbein University