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The Agrarian history of the West-African Savannah in the pre-colonial period

L'histoire agraire de la savane ouest-africaine à l'époque pré-coloniale

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Published on Wednesday, February 01, 2017


Études Rurales, revue coéditée depuis 1961 par l'École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), le Collège de France et le Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), propose la publication d'un dossier thématique sur l'histoire agraire de la savane ouest-africaine à l'époque précoloniale (XIe-XIXe siècle).


Thematic issue on the agrarian history of the West African savannah in the pre-colonial period

Volker Stamm, Darmstadt, Germany


Études Rurales, a journal co-edited since 1961 by EHESS, the Collège de France and the CNRS, will publish a thematic issue on the agrarian history of the West African savannah in the pre-colonial period.

Throughout this period, from the 11th to 19th centuries, the lives of the vast majority of men and women revolved around agricultural activities. And yet this economic sector has never really been the focus of a historical monography. It is touched on—often rather allusively—in more general historical syntheses, like those by Nehemia Levtzion, John Iliffe and Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, or included in the limited research into economic history (Raymond Mauny, Claude Meillassoux, Antony Hopkins, Ralph Austen), although the latter tends to focus more on trade and issues related to slavery. While research into the economic history of Africa has recently started to regain momentum (see for example, The Economic History Review, Special Issue 67, 2014: The Renaissance of African Economic History), it is nonetheless dominated by economists and the pre-conceived models they test using selected data, an approach to historical “material” that differs quite markedly from historians. Our knowledge of agricultural practices has as such remained limited.

The paucity of historical research into agrarian systems is due in large part to the lack of sources. Neither the Arab scholars (from Al-Bakri to Al-Wazzan) who first introduced us to West Africa, nor the European explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries were particularly interested in agricultural issues. And yet there is a large corpus in the libraries of the Sahel, including at the CEDRAB in Timbuktu, albeit difficult to access and sort through, as well as in the archives of the first European commercial establishments present in Upper Senegal. Methodological approaches that differ from the analysis of written texts have opened new pathways for understanding rural production systems. These notably include research in archaeology and historical ecology, and a re-reading of the oral tradition, some of whose layers are meant to contain traces of social and agricultural practices.

The heuristic potential of these promising documentary bases has by no means been fully exploited. Knowledge about historical agricultural practices and their performance has remained limited and dispersed, often in IFAN Bulletins. The thematic issue of Études Rurales will be devoted to the publication of research that discusses findings, stretches the boundaries of exploration and seeks to fill the persistent gaps that exist, with the aim of opening new avenues to be explored and providing research pointers.

The articles will address the region's interior, areas in the Savannah and Sahel. Proposals for articles on coastal countries, which have specific features, will not be retained. We expect contributions to analyse agricultural and pastoral topics, including:

  • Agrarian systems, their technologies and dynamics;
  • The social organization of agricultural production processes: labour, the status of farmers, the gendered distribution of tasks;
  • Products and their use: consumption, markets;
  • Rules regulating access to natural resources;
  • The influence of ecological factors.

Submission guidelines

We particularly encourage contributions based on new sources or that take an innovative methodological approach. Articles may be written in French or English and must comply with the editorial guidelines (http://etudesrurales.revues.org/7798). They should be submitted by email to etudes.rurales(at)ehess.fr

by 30 September 2017 at the latest.

Chief Editor

  • Bruno Villalba

Redaction Committee

  • Laurent Berger (anthropologue, EHESS),
  • Françoise Clavairolle (anthropologue, Université François Rabelais Tours)
  • Gérard Chouquer (Historien et Archéogéographe, ancien rédacteur en chef),
  • Carole Ferret (anthropologue, CNRS), Agnès Fortier (Ethno-sociologue, Inra),
  • Fabien Gaveau (Historien, Professeur de Classe Préparatoire Dijon),
  • Yves Michelin (Agro-anthropologue, Clermont),
  • François Purseigle (Sociologue, ENSAT),
  • Isabelle Thireau (Sociologue, EHESS),
  • Bruno Villalba (Politiste, AgroParisTech),
  • Magali Watteaux (Archéologue, Historienne et Archéogéographe, Rennes 2).


  • Saturday, September 30, 2017


  • Afrique de l'Ouest, système agraire, Sahel, pré-colonial, production agricole, consommation, ressource naturelle


  • Bruno Villalba
    courriel : bruno [dot] villalba [at] agroparistech [dot] fr
  • Volker Stamm
    courriel : stamm-volker [at] web [dot] de

Information source

  • Anne Both
    courriel : etudes [dot] rurales [at] ehess [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The Agrarian history of the West-African Savannah in the pre-colonial period », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, February 01, 2017, https://doi.org/10.58079/wsm

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