Account for the rise of Economic History as discipline and analyse the trends of historical writing on that discipline in Tanzania.

The term Economic History has been defined by different scholars as follows;

Economic history can be defined as the study of wealth-gathering and wealth-using activities of man[1]. Williamson (1944:25), from this definition the main attempt of economic history is centered on the evolution or development of economic institution such as commercial system and banking structure. The main duties of historian is to describe the development that have been occurred in the institution under the examination to analyse and explain the forces that has been affected its evolution and its influence in turn economic life.

Economic history is the study of economies or economic phenomena of the past. Analysis in economic history is undertaken using a combination of historical methods, statistical methods and the application of economic theory to historical situations and Institutions[2].

Generally Economic History is the study of a past economic perspective of a given society Economic history focuses on various resources found in a given society such as land, labour, it explain the economic development which occurred in a particular society.

Economic History can be traced back from 1930’s to 1940’s, and it emerged first in Western Europe and North America specifically in Britain, Germany and United States (US). Since when Economic History has undergone different changes in its thematic and theoretical concern, analytical methodologies and language, the spartial and temporal scales in which it is framed.

Before 1930’s, Economic History in Europe was not an independent discipline but it was taught as a part of the economic. Later on from 1940’s it emerged a debate in Europe about Economic History, where some of economists decided that Economic History to be separated from Economics and to became an independent discipline. For example John U. Nef (1994) argued that, “Economic History is too vast and too narrow”, in the context that too vast means subject can combine several issues at the same time and too narrow in the sense that, subject has nothing to do but it summarize what economists already done[3].

Economic History emerged as a discipline firstly in Western Europe and North America especially in Britain and developed as an independent discipline following by the emergency of industrialization in Europe particularly in Britain in Late of 18th Century to early in 19th Century. Up to 1940’s Economic History had become an established discipline not only in Western Europe and North America but also to other parts of the world like Japan. This was evidenced by the work of Germany Scholar Van InamaSternegy published between 1877 and 1879.

Based on African context particularly in Tanzania, Economic History as a discipline is still infancy since it emerged as a discipline only when African countries began to gain their independence from the late of 1960’s to 1970’s. Economic History in Tanzania associated by the African historians who tried to reconstruct the African Economic history by rejects the European views about Africa, since Europeans wrote African history in a negative way. Forexample John U. Nef, argue that Economic rationality in Africa was introduced by European and that before them African had no rationality of their Economic history before the contact with European[4].

The rise of Economic History as an independent discipline was influenced by various factors as follow:-

The rise of awareness among new African Historians, this was associated to decolonization of African countries especially from 1960’s, the rise of awareness among African historians acted as a limelight towards the rise of Economic in Tanzania. Since many historian after independence were free to write different writings including the history of the past without any interference contrary from historian during colonial period where were not able to write their own Economic History. From 1960’s where many African countries started to gain their independence particularly Tanzania where elites especially historians started to reconstruct the economic history of the Africa in a positive way. For example some these historians where reconstructed the Economic History as a discipline in Tanzania were Sutton (1965) wrote about early trade in East Africa, Edward Alpers (1975). Wrote about ivory and slave in Central Africa, Gerald W. Hartwig (1974), wrote about the Victoria Nyanza, contrary from European writers during colonial period that they wrote African history in negative way based on their perception.

Growth of the social science historical Association and the establishment of course in quantitative methods written the history department, this indicate that within historical department the cliometric revolution still have some life. This is particularly so within the area of demographic history. Some of this staffing economic as a social science history positions and were continues trained in Economic. This methodology is like to revolutionalize history department in the current states of contraction much more than it did during the boom period of the 1960’s and will never overwhelm entire history department the way it did the teaching of Economic History as a discipline[5]. By 1970’s the Economic History as discipline was adapted in the department of history at University of Dar es Salaam and some of the historian started to write about Economic History of the country. Some of these historians were A.M. Juma (1882) who wrote about cattle riots, peasant rise in Zanzibar,KimamboI, wrote about the modern History of African, Andrew Coussoan (1982) wrote about Tanzania Political Economy.

Development of science and technology, through advancement of technology more task performed easily by various devices especially electronic devices which simply contributed more in economic activities. Some of these devices are computer, cellular phone and Telephone. Device like computer used in storing historical information more easily and at recent time. Also science and technology has brought about ground breaking solution to numerous deadly diseases which can hinder people to engage in Economic activities for their economy. Computer device became more important in private and public sectors especially based on Economic history.

From 1960’s many African countries gained their independence particularly Tanzania in 1961, after independence Tanzanian historian started to advance Research Project based on Economic History of Tanzania. This resulted into development various research works concerning with Economic History. Most historians from African countries after gained their independence used advance science and technology to write about African Economic History. Some of these were A.G. Hopkins (1963) A Modern Economic History of Africa.

Apart from the factors contributed the rise of Economic history as a discipline, in Tanzania the discipline had its general trends since 1960’s by considered the approaches which dominated the writing of Economic History.

African Economic History has been dominated by three main approaches namely neo-classical approach, dependency approach and Marxist approach. Each of these approaches offers partial and sometimes misleading analysis of the process and content of Economic changes and development in Africa, Tanzania included. In the pre-colonial era in fact the first two paradigms have little to say about pre-colonial economic history a part from offering myths and stereotypes, because their concepts are derived from and are intended to analyse the operation of capitalism or relationship between advanced capitalists and dependent capitalist’s formation.

Neo-Classical Paradigm, with its deductive abstract models is inherently a historical; Neo-classical economists avoided examining the question of growth development which used to pre-occupy the classical economist and concentrated on maginalist analysis of market process and the problem of resources allocation. They concentrated universal economic laws which were independent of time and place[6]. This gave neo-classical concept on Accra of scientific objectivity and ideological neutrality. In reality, these concepts were obstructions from and nationalizations, if not legislations of capitalists system. Faced with non-capitalist economies, neo-classical concept had explanation power except to create the false dichotomies mentioned above.

Dependency approach, this was born out of dissatisfaction with prevailing neo-classical descriptions analysed and prescription for third world development and was inspired by moral indignation against the west and deep permission about the development prospects of countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. But its concepts of incorporation, unequal exchange, development of underdeveloped and center periphery emphasizes external economic linkages a tended to ignore internal forces. In fact, like its nemesis the neo-classical approach and the dependency approach had for more to say about exchange relation than production processes[7]. Also studies written from the dependency perspective offered little economic history by Africans or any society, incorporation to world capitalism system a part from idealized images of auto-centric and self-sustain development from the moment incorporation dated to 16th century with onset of the Atlantic slave trade. Tanzania Economic History like the history of other so called third world regions is often frozen into an unrelenting saga of deepening underdevelopment.

Marxist approach, Marxist scholars attacked both neo-classical and dependency writers for their theoretical in adequacies, empirical shortcoming and ideological biases. Specifically they criticized the two approaches for giving primary to exchange rather than production relations, the reductionism and for ignoring class struggle. The Marxist thoughts to employ their concepts of dialectical and historical materialism which seeks to examine how specific system originate, develop, function and change in a given historical epochs, tounravel Africans Economic historical realities but the results have been less than inspiring. It proved difficult to fit African into the Marxian models whether Primitive Communalism, Slavery and Feudalism[8].

Generally, the Economic History of Africa, Tanzania in particular is still infancy (young) and facing different challenges in its development since the discipline has few specialized and commitment economic historian who could specialize on writing about Economic History as a discipline in Tanzania. The discipline started to decline in 1980’s following the shortage of funds (sponsors) which results into diminishing of interests of African Economic History, also, the rise of post modernism as a paradigm of writing among scholars since new paradigm come with new style of writing, new themes and new focus, Economic History as a discipline is very important especially on Third World Countries since it try to trace back the significance of economic history in a particular country for both economic and political development for the betterment of African societies.


John U. Nef, “What is Economic History?”The Journal of Economic History, Vol.4 (1994), Cambridge University Press.

Kimambo, I.N (1993). “Three Decades of the Production of Historical Knowledge at Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam University Press.

Kindleberger C.P (1990), Historical Economics: Art or Science? Yale University Press.

Williamson, H.F “What is Economic History: Comment”, The Journal of Economic History, Vol.4 (1944), Cambridge University Press.
Zeleza T. (1993) – A Modern Economic History of Africa, Introduction-Rethinking African Economic His

[1]Harold F. Williamson. “What is Economic History: Comment”. The Journal of Economic History, Vol.4 (1944) (PP.25-28)
[2]Charles P. Kindleberger. Historical Economic: Art or Science (1990).
[3]John U. Nef. “What is Economic History?”The Journal of Economic History, Vol.4 (1944) pp. 1-19.
[4]Ibid. pp. 23-24
[5]A.J Field.The Future of Economic History.Chapter 97, Vol.9 (1987) p. 14.
[6]Paul TiyambeZeleza. A Modern Economic History of Africa Vol.1 The 19th Century. Introduction: Rethinking African Economic History (1993) pp. 3-4.
[7]Ibid. p.4
[8]Ibid p.6

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