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date: 24 March 2019

Business Records as Sources for African History

Summary and Keywords

Business records are documents routinely produced by employees and management of commercial businesses. They may be part of internal processes or produced to communicate with stakeholders or to meet legal requirements. They usually include a mix of qualitative (reports and correspondence) and quantitative (detailed accounting data) material. Depending on how complete the material is, documents may relate to: strategic management; accounting and financial data; operational matters; legal issues; trademarks; marketing; personnel files; and labor and welfare issues. Business records add a different dimension compared to information from government and colonial office sources by providing a private sector perspective on key episodes of colonial and postcolonial history, including strikes and protests, the relationship between the (colonial) state and business, and decolonization. Historians have used business records as sources for histories of business and trade in Africa, for studies on industrialization and development, and also to inform studies on colonialism and political history, as well as economic, social, and labor history. Business records may be kept in company archives, where they are not always easy to identify or access, kept in public repositories, or privately held. Many business archives have been weeded, whereby documentation relating to special activities, challenges, and crises has been retained, while routine documentation of interest to economic and social historians has been destroyed. Other collections appear to have disappeared altogether when companies went out of business or were taken over by others.

Keywords: business records, sources for African history, evaluation, interpretation, analysis, identification

Business Records: A New Source for African History?

Businesses continually produce documents in the course of their daily operations: accounts need to be kept, supplies need to be ordered, market demand needs to be evaluated, and relations with customers, business partners, and relevant authorities need to be maintained. More complex enterprises, with operations abroad or multiple sites of operation, also produce more documents that are needed to maintain control over overseas activities and manage more complex workforces.1 Such documents are produced, organized, and kept more or less diligently, depending on the individual business. Since the late 19th century, however, the formal registration of legal ownership, taxation, and the regulation of business sectors by states have gradually come to determine a minimum set of business records that enterprises should produce, that should contain particular information in a fixed format (that varies with the country of operation), and that should be kept for a specified period of time. Thus each business that has been active in Africa, whether locally owned or foreign-owned, will have produced a set of records, part of it qualitative (reports and correspondence) and in a format specific to the business (though frequently influenced by fashions in organizational and management theory) and part of it quantitative (accounting data) and prepared to meet generic formal reporting standards.

Assuming these records have been retained and can be found and accessed (which is not always the case), the quantitative data will mainly be useful for economic historians, who can analyze and compare the data across sectors and companies. However, such data can be of wider interest as well. For instance, detailed lists of gin exports found in the archives of Dutch distilleries detailed fluctuations in demand—in terms of type of gin, unit size, as well as quantity—that were useful in writing a cultural history of gin in West Africa.2 Meanwhile, the qualitative data will contain much that is of use for political, social, business, and cultural historians, offering a private sector perspective on key episodes, including strikes and protests, the relationship between the (colonial) state and business, and decolonization. This includes the impact of the integration of African societies in the global capitalist economy and the development of labor markets in Africa. This qualitative material can also open up themes that are less well documented in colonial or missionary sources (the other written sources frequently used by historians), such as the process of the creation of “African consumers” not only through commoditization but also through changing attitudes and fashions.3

Business records do not always represent a foreign perspective. Not only were many records in European-owned businesses produced by African employees, there also exist records of African-owned businesses. For instance, the national archive in Ghana (PRAAD) holds the remaining business records of a number of African entrepreneurs going back well into the 19th century, including ledgers, cash books, account books, stock books, letter books, and loose correspondence—again providing a mix of quantitative and qualitative data.4

Business records may appear to be a new and unusual type of source, but this is mainly because sources and methods handbooks for African history tend not to mention them. In fact, business records have been frequently used by historians not only to write histories of businesses in Africa but also, for instance, to research the history of the slave trade and the history of West African coastal societies affected by trade.5 They formed the basis for an exploration of anti-cosmopolitan discourses and hate speech dating back to the colonial period and were used for a book on an important early photographer from Nigeria.6 A recent book has used business records from shipping lines to explore the experience of working-class Nigerians with decolonization and the postcolonial state.7 These examples suggest the importance of business records as a potential source for many studies beyond economic and business history. What to expect of business records, ways of reading them, and how to locate them will be covered in the remainder of this article.

Historical Contexts in Which Business Records Were Produced and Perspectives Offered

The term business records clearly covers a wide variety of documents. Which of these are available in a given business archive depends on a number of factors, including the company’s size, its location, and the historical era during which it was active. The latter is an important factor, partly due to the development over time of business organization and bookkeeping practices, and partly due to changing regulatory frameworks. The following paragraphs will introduce several businesses and the kinds of records that they produced that have been used by historians working on Africa. The features of some of the types of business records that are mentioned here will be discussed in more detail in a following section.

The Slave Trade

One group of business records that has seen use by historians is that relating to the transatlantic slave trade. For us in the 21st century it is of course problematic to talk about a “trade” in enslaved humans as a legitimate “business,” but this was exactly what it was for many from the 16th through the 19th century. The slave trade produced many records resulting from attempts to overcome the challenges of managing distance and risk. Ship captains were in charge of their vessel and crew and conducted business on behalf of the ship’s owners, being away and out of contact for months. Meanwhile, to spread the risk of failure (which was considerable given the frequent problems with the supply of enslaved Africans, revolts by the enslaved, illness, and adverse winds or other weather conditions), slaving voyages would often be organized by a group of traders and investors, who would buy or charter a vessel together and each hold a share in the venture. These investors needed to know how their money had been spent and that any profits were fairly distributed. This organization of the trading business thus necessitated the production of legal and financial documentation as well as log books detailing the slaving voyages.

The organizers of a slaving voyage would prepare a letter with detailed instructions for the ship’s captain, not only specifying the route to be taken, where to trade for slaves, and how to conduct the business but also setting out the specific information the captain would have to record, including, for insurance purposes, signed certificates testifying to the nature and time of death of any enslaved African who died during the voyage.8 A ship’s captain was usually also required to keep a detailed log book or journal, which remained the property of the ship’s owners. In it he had to write down anything that could have an impact on the profitability of the venture, including prevailing winds, estimated progress of the journey, any transactions conducted, illness or death among enslaved Africans or ships’ crews, and so on. Such log books thus not only provide information of interest for historians working on the slave trade, they also contain observations and data about the African places where the slave captains traded and hearsay about the African societies where slaves came from. A number of such log books and journals have survived, together with ledgers, accounts, and correspondence, and have been used by historians writing about West and Central African societies. Very useful also have been the lists of goods purchased for sale to African business partners before the start of the journey, which allow historians to develop insights in the kind of goods that were valued, produced, or imported into African societies.9

For certain periods in some European countries, the slave trade was organized differently from what has been discussed thus far, with it being the preserve of slave trading companies holding an official monopoly, such as the English Royal African Company or the Dutch West India Company. However, as these companies dealt with the same issues of distance and risk, their organizations produced similar documentation to that discussed before, much of which is well described and accessible in official archives.

Some categories of business records produced during the slave trade are harder to find and access. For instance, following the formal abolition of the slave trade (from 1807 onwards), business records remained silent about involvement with the now-illegal trade or were kept in secret and destroyed quickly (although information does exist, as attempts to suppress the trade produced sources about the trade from a different perspective).10 Other slave trade-related business records that are hard or even impossible to find are those records that might have been produced by African slave traders (many of whom will not have produced written records, but others, particularly Muslim traders, did). This is unfortunate as these records would have contained more information about African societies and economies than those produced by European slave traders. A glimpse of the potential of such records is offered by the diary of Antera Duke, an 18th-century African slave trader from Old Calabar in what is now Nigeria. Antera Duke kept a diary in “trade-English,” which provides valuable information on Old Calabar’s economic activity both with other African businessmen and with Europeans who came to trade for slaves, produce, and provisions.11

African Traders and Entrepreneurs

Some sets of business records from African traders and entrepreneurs have been kept. Islamic entrepreneurs involved in trading in and across the Sahara produced business records, including records of credit extended, accounts, market conditions, and correspondence, mainly written in Arabic (though for some collections translations into French or English have been produced).12 Some of these were written by literate slaves, who played crucial roles as agents in their masters’ commercial networks.13

Business records from African merchants have also been kept for West and West Central Africa, particularly from the second half of the 19th century onward, when Africans who had been educated in Christian mission schools started to trade with Europe, making use of the regular steamship services between Europe and the West African coast that had been established from around 1850.14 The key sector they were involved in was produce trading, particularly in palm oil, cocoa, and rubber. They set up businesses with branches along the coast and into the interior, employing traveling buyers, branch store managers, store clerks, and porters and other day laborers. They supervised their business through regular tours of inspection, systematic correspondence with—and reports from—agents and store managers, and double-entry bookkeeping. Their business records, in addition to the correspondence in letter books, include: cash books for various trading stations; wholesale books; stock books; records of goods shipped and received; wages books; and annual ledgers showing assets and liabilities.15 Remaining records shed light on aspects of the commercial, economic, social, and cultural history of West Africa.

African traders were also active in East Africa, in the coastal Swahili area connecting with Indian Ocean trading networks, as well as in the interior. Little use has been made of the business records they have produced, and their history has largely been written on the basis of records from foreign traders, colonial sources, and archaeology.16 For the East African caravan trade, for instance, we know about the existence of African professional intermediaries who managed trade and business correspondence through German colonial sources.17 Where available, African traders’ business records such as account books may contribute to themes such as the history of consumption.18

Another example of an African business sector for which (incomplete) records remain is that of photographic studios. African photographers have been active since the last decades of the 19th century in urban centers across the continent and had local African families and entrepreneurs, European businesses, and colonial administrations among their clientèle. Their studio archives contain financial data as well as rich visual materials that illustrate the changing societies in which these photographers were active.19

Foreign Business

Meanwhile, foreign businesses engaged in the West African produce trade operated in very similar ways as local African merchants did, employing African agents, clerks, and storekeepers. They also produced similar types of business records, including correspondence, station reports, trade diaries, lists of goods shipped, and accounts. Most of them, like the African merchants, were relatively small businesses. In time, however, the intense competition in this trade, and the capital needed to extend the credit that had become the norm in this sector, led to many mergers among the foreign trading businesses. The resulting large trading businesses, through economies of scale and vertical integration (for instance, through owning their own ships), pushed the smaller European and African merchants out of business.20 The records of these companies at times contain much lively detail about the African societies where they were trading. An example would be the records of John Holt, a trading company named after its founder who started out trading in Bioko (Equatorial Guinea) and subsequently expanded operations to include Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo, and Ghana. Many of the records retained are of a financial nature, including ledgers, journals, cash books, and invoice books. Additionally, correspondence and personal notes included in trade diaries contain much information about local African society that is not merely of commercial interest.21

Following the establishment of European colonial rule in most parts of Africa between 1870 and the 1920s, many European businesses were imperial businesses, either as freestanding companies or as multinationals. Of course, as has been shown for Egypt, the establishment and later success of foreign business frequently depended on the role played by African entrepreneurs or specialists who supported, or worked for, the foreign firm.22 Especially in the period between 1870 and the First World War, many foreign businesses operating in Africa were set up as freestanding companies: firms established in one country (often a colonial power) specifically to operate in a foreign country (in Africa usually a colony). These businesses usually specialized in a single commodity, product, or service in a single colony. In Africa many such businesses were active in trading in specific commodities, plantations, or mining. They were legally incorporated in the colonial metropole, where they maintained a small head office which raised investment capital, sold the commodities from Africa on the world market, and exercised managerial control over the activities in the African colony.23 Their records—as far as they still exist—will be in the colonial metropole. An example of such an enterprise is Diamang, a company based in Lisbon, funded by private and corporate investors from around the world specifically to mine diamonds in Angola. Its records are nowadays held at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.24

Trading companies contributed to the commodification of land and facilitated the spread of capitalism among African farmers and entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, mining and plantation companies contributed to the commodification of labor (even when some of them, like Diamang, relied to a large extend on forced labor made available to them by the colonial administration).25 The activities of all types of companies eased the introduction of colonial currencies.26 Even though John Holt, for instance, initially expressed concern about the introduction of colonial currency in Nigeria, because it feared being left with a large quantity of cowrie shells (one of the African currencies in use till then) it had imported for use in Nigeria, it quickly recognized that the change would be favorable to the interests of business in the long run.27

These business activities also interacted with the development of African cultures of consumption.28 This was in part a case of businesses responding to African demand. However, businesses also intentionally encouraged Africans to become consumers (i.e., users of goods produced by others), as many European businessmen as well as colonial administrators (and commentators) assumed that a desire to acquire consumer goods could encourage Africans to increase agricultural production (if farmers) or to seek paid work as laborers.29 At the same time, it was clear to trading companies and producers of mass consumer goods that the development of African cultures of consumption could significantly increase markets for consumer goods.30 For all these aspects business records can provide rich sources. For instance, trade diaries contain specific, local observations about African consumption.31 Factories that exported much of their production to African markets may have conducted market research to optimize their products for these markets (though not all of them did). An example of this is the detailed research done by Dutch textile manufacturer Van Vlissingen to ensure that their wax print cloth would meet the taste of West African consumers, which included regularly inviting groups of African market women to the factory in the Netherlands to get their opinions on new designs.32 In Egypt, the locally established (but foreign-owned) breweries Pyramid and Crown closely followed—and played a role in—the development of a local consumer base for beer in the predominantly Muslim country.33

Multinational Business

Detailed material on these aspects can be found in the archives of multinational companies trading in, or producing for, African markets. For example, the records of Unilever include market research, household consumption surveys, blind taste tests aiming at identifying the flavors preferred by local African consumers, marketing and advertising strategy documents, advertising materials, and so on.34 Such records have also been identified in the Nestlé corporate archive.35 Multinationals differed from other businesses in their ability to raise and invest capital, their centralized resources to develop products or services, and their ability to apply knowledge or experience gained in one country to other countries of operation. For example, when, in the 1960s, Unilever decided to develop, produce, and market processed foods aimed at the Nigerian mass consumer market through its West African Cold Storage (WACS) subsidiary, it had access to the experience and technology of another Unilever-owned company, the British sausage and ice cream manufacturer Walls.36 The archives of multinationals may also contain the business records of other, frequently smaller or more specialized companies acquired over time.

Business, Colonialism, and Decolonization

Following decolonization, the size, foreign ownership, and influence of multinationals were politically problematic, and multinationals had to consider the possibility that they might either be asked to leave countries they were active in or face the threat of nationalization. The company perspective on such developments, efforts to find out and understand what African governments were planning, initiatives to lobby governments and to assist them with information, and attempts to anticipate the outcomes of political processes in independent African states have all left traces in business records. For instance, it turns out that during the period of nationalizations of many foreign businesses in Egypt, one or two prominent Egyptian lawyers who claimed to understand the complexities of their country’s regulations had a strong influence over the taking of crucial business decisions in the Ford Motor Company’s Egyptian subsidiary.37 In another case, in a clumsy analysis of the spate of military takeovers that occurred during the mid-1960s, the management of the United Africa Company (UAC) concluded that these constituted an anti-revolutionary movement serving to isolate revolutionary governments such as that of Congo Brazzaville. As such, these military takeovers were not necessarily expected to be bad for business. Commenting on the 1966 New Year’s Eve coup d’état in the Central African Republic, which brought Colonel Jean-Bédel Bokassa to power, UAC directors described Bokassa, who later turned out to be a brutal dictator, as “a military gentleman who had been well known to us for some time.”38

At times, such interest went beyond trying to understand the political processes to actually influencing their outcome through lobbying and direct negotiations. Business records related to the US multinational Kaisers show that in the early 1960s the company reached very high levels of influence with the government of Ghana.39 Records of multinationals also contain materials relating to corruption. These include reports and accusations of corrupt behavior of governments and officials as well as evidence and reports of corrupt practices by (foreign) businesses, including the payment of both direct bribes and indirect kickbacks, through: invoicing too low, too high, or twice; refunds of payments; or payments in a foreign currency into a third country. For example, the correspondence of Kaisers includes allegations of bribes paid (by another company) into a Swiss bank for the use of several Ghanaian government ministers and political organizations.40

Another category of business with its own type of records is that of banking. Banks provided crucial financial infrastructure for other businesses as well as governments and—later—also for African farmers and the general public. The first banks in Africa were set up in the 19th century by European traders and investors to handle local as well as long-distance payments and credits for European businesses and colonial administrations and at times also to manage the supply of colonial currency.41 They thus fit the model of the freestanding company, while some later developed into multinationals. Throughout the colonial period, the foreign-owned banks serviced the colonial economy and paid relatively little attention to African (potential) customers. During the decolonization process, the banking sector was thus seen to have been part of the colonial project. As part of efforts to decolonize African economies, nationalist politicians and entrepreneurs set up African-owned banks.42 Meanwhile, the existing foreign-owned banks responded with changes in their business model, increasing the number of African managers, and chasing business among African customers, including an aggressive approach to extending credit. The archive of Barclays Bank, for instance, contains documentation on this changing relationship between the banking sector and broader African society and economy, as well as qualitative and quantitative records relating to more conventional day-to-day banking business.43 For the period since the ending of colonial rule, the records of now mainly African-owned banks, where accessible, provide insights into the responses to the changing fate of African economies, the impact of foreign exchange and other regulation, and the insecurities and opportunities brought by conflict and structural adjustment.44

The records of both indigenous and foreign businesses in other sectors of the economy similarly reflect the ups and downs of African economies, including import restrictions, how to deal with inflation, economic hardship, and the impact of state initiatives and politics. Questions of business failure or success for this period point toward changing macroeconomic and political contexts and also to the differing aims of businesses founded and investments made. While many new businesses, such as the Guinness breweries in Ghana and Nigeria, were set up to generate profits for their foreign or local investors, other enterprises were set up with political or development aims that were more important than for the individual enterprise in question to turn a profit. For example, already before its opening in 1969 it was clear that the Mwinilunga pineapple canning factory in Zambia would never be profitable. Although now considered a failed business, it did achieve its political goals and its development aim of encouraging local farmers to produce for the market.45 Business records of this period thus contribute data for research on the history of infrastructure and industrialization, including the local implementation of development ideology.

South Africa

The chronology and nature of business records relating to South Africa differ from that elsewhere on the continent, partly because of the different nature of the early engagement of European business, partly because South Africa was more industrialized than other parts of Africa, and partly as a result of the apartheid system. South Africa also has more company archives than other African countries. There exist also many similarities between South Africa and the rest of the continent, such as the neglect during the 20th century of African (potential) customers by the South African financial sector, including insurance companies and banks.

The records of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) for the South African Cape Colony illustrate the early engagement of European businesses. During the (later part of the) 17th and 18th centuries the VOC was involved much more closely with the local economy (including its large group of European settler farmers) than other businesses elsewhere in Africa. The resulting detailed statistical records have been used by historians to reconstruct the economic history of the period.46 The mining industry that emerged following the discovery of diamonds and gold in the second half of the 19th century not only became one of the leading sectors in the rapidly growing South African economy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its labor needs also greatly impacted on the social and political history of South Africa. A number of studies have used mining company records to analyze these changes and, in particular, to discuss the working conditions and labor relations in the mining industry.47

During the colonial period (until 1911) and the apartheid era (until the early 1990s), Africans did not own large-scale businesses enterprises in South Africa. African-owned businesses, due to the restrictions imposed by the apartheid system, were usually much smaller and aimed specifically at African customers. Such businesses included liquor stores, restaurants, hair dressers, butchers, and general stores, most of which have not retained business records. The South African business sector as a whole suffered from the economic sanctions against apartheid, even though this did not stop some conglomerates, particularly in the mining sector, from being successful. Once the sanctions were lifted, however, more South African businesses developed into large multinationals, often with a focus on the African continent.48 In the years following 1994, ANC governments supported the growth of African-owned businesses through a raft of policy measures including the favoring of black companies for the award of government contracts.49 Business records may thus offer an important private sector perspective on both the apartheid period and the transition after the end of apartheid. They have, for instance, been used as part of the sources for a recent monograph on consumption, identity, business, and economic politics in South Africa from the perspective of the beer-brewing industry.50

Types of Business Records

Different types of business records offer different perspectives, even within the same company. Certain types of records are designed to record particular aspects of the business (and only those!) to inform the company’s bureaucratic processes. Sets of financial data, for instance, tend to have to report very specific information. Additionally, those producing the records have different levels of access to detailed knowledge. How they write down their observations and experiences is also influenced by their expectations and predetermined ideas, including at times colonial, racist, or cultural stereotypes and prejudices. The documentation produced by a company director based in London, for instance, may contain very useful insights in strategic thinking for the development of the business while containing limited detail about the daily operations and contacts that the local branches of the company overseas had with local African communities. There is not the space to describe all types of business records. The focus will therefore be less on relatively common types of records such as correspondence and more on types of records that are typical for the business environment.

One type of business record that has been used by cultural historians is that of the reports of visits by directors of multinationals to overseas operations. Compared to some other categories of business records, which will be discussed below, such reports tend to have a strong narrative, contain much information linked to the strategic priorities of the company, and appear to provide the personal perspectives of the directors in question. The downside of such reports is that they also reflect what were brief visits, and unless the directors in question had gained experience working in the location earlier in their career, a detailed understanding of local cultural and business practices cannot be expected from these sources. Such visit reports thus seem more useful for business historians researching the particular company than for cultural historians looking for information about local African societies. However, even the observations in the visit reports about company operations must be used with care, as any director’s visit tends to be preceded by frantic cleaning up, putting premises and documentation in order, and the temporarily following of company rules to the letter. One Unilever employee jokingly remarked ahead of the CEO’s visit to their department: “he must think that the entire company smells of fresh paint.”51

Board Minutes

Particularly for larger businesses, the minutes of the board of directors form a category of business record that have been regularly used by historians. The board minutes provide insights into the development of business policy and strategic thinking within the company as well as summaries of accounts and approval of expenditure. They also provide information about the context of the business—that is the political, social, and economic conditions of the African country or countries the company was operating in—as company directors needed such information as basis for their decisions. During the 1940s the board minutes of the United Africa Company (UAC), for instance, contain frequent mention and assessment of the wave of strikes that took place across West Africa at that time. Even though many of these strikes did not affect that company directly, their occurrence was followed with great concern.52

Board meetings take place at regular intervals of two or four weeks and tend to follow a fairly fixed agenda. The minutes tend to be brief, summarizing decisions reached, positions taken, and issues to be addressed in future. The detailed information prepared for board meetings is usually kept in separate folders as numbered board memoranda, which are cross-referenced in the minutes. The memoranda include profit and loss accounts (see below); requests for expenditure; proposals for new activities and new policies; various reports on local developments, staff matters, threats, or opportunities; and extracts from correspondence on all such matters and more. Some memoranda are very brief requests giving little information, whereas others run into many pages. They may contain diverse viewpoints from within the company and also from outside the organization when incoming correspondence or reporting in local media is extracted in the memoranda. Where the board minutes frequently show directors who are somewhat aloof from the day-to-day running of the business, the memoranda may offer more relevant detail and are often written by people closer to the African society or situation being discussed.

Yet even with the more detailed data in the memoranda, information from board minutes can be frustratingly concise. This reflects the function of board minutes to provide a record of decisions taken and of the state of the company for future reference. For the same reason, unnecessary or compromising details are unlikely to be included. For instance, the UAC board minutes regularly mention meetings between company directors and African politicians and civilian as well as military heads of state. The meetings took place either in the relevant African capital, or in London at a diplomatic mission or at the company head office. The mentions are, however, very brief, presumably to avoid generating a paper trail that could—correctly or incorrectly—be read as evidence for improper links between the company and African politicians. Thus, while we learn that the company had been requested to second a manager to a government committee, or that one of the directors had been told that the company would not be affected by certain measures announced against foreign businesses, very little of the context is recorded, or what else was said or promised in the meeting. That we may be missing something in the records is also suggested by Stockwell, who claims that the UAC won influence by giving money to politicians and other prominent Ghanaians across the political spectrum.53 Furthermore, in a private interview, a former company chairman argued that the insistence on transparency that his company had embraced in recent years meant that it could no longer deal with Ghanaian politicians in the way that was expected in the country and that as a result the company had been denied opportunities and was becoming less relevant.54

Accounting Records

For most businesses for which records have been retained, among the records kept will be some categories of accounting records. This is particularly the case with limited companies, which are required to produce certain reports and have them publicly available. Accounting records come in very different forms, from the raw data in journals and ledgers to processed data such as balance sheets and profit and loss accounts that have been refined through adjustments and selective omissions. Accounting records are not limited to figures and include supporting information prepared for management such as wages books, sales analyses, and lists of properties and equipment. Often, the less polished materials such as journals, ledgers, and wage records provide more useful information than balance sheets and profit-and-loss accounts (according to Mason “probably the most misleading form of accounting record”), and they are also easier to interpret.55

From the business records of the slave trade, the listings of trade goods shipped, and accounts of prices paid for enslaved Africans come examples of accounting records that can provide insights in the economic and social history of local African communities, for instance, in indicating differing or changing demands for certain imported goods on the part of African trading partners. An example from the period following the slave trade are the John Holt trade diaries, covering a period of thirty years from 1875 to 1905, intended to record daily business. They contain details of which goods were popular among African customers (along with speculation as to why) and when and why the supply of agricultural produce fluctuated.56 Similar information can be gleaned from the “passbooks” given by trading companies during the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries to (often female) customers who took goods on credit, traded with them, and settled the account later with the trading company.

For a more recent example, the lists prepared by Unilever’s training manager in Ghana during the 1970s of the costs of sending employees abroad for training provide insights into the impact of foreign exchange restrictions and high rates of inflation not only on the business, but also on the opportunities and experiences of its employees and their families.57 Of course, most of these accounting records do not give us much information about the author, as the format of the record (a listing, a calculation, or analysis, for instance) determined the final form more than the personality of its author. This is not to say that the background of the authors had no influence on the record at all, as their ability to understand their context, their cultural understanding, and their contacts had an impact on the quality of the data they produced and on their business success (in the case of trade diaries).

One risk that the historian using accounting records and other business records must be aware of is that such records normalize capitalism. Many of those working in a commercial environment see their world through the lens of capitalism, and they thus ascribe capitalist economic motivations to people who might have different reasons for the purchases they make, the trade they conduct, or the employment they seek. African economies may work differently from the models of Western-style economic theories, and African economic actors have goals that differ from that of the “homo economicus.”58 Business records can be used to gain insights into this, as they provide data on what people purchase, when and how much, and against which prices, and we also get an idea which groups (including gender and age) are engaging in trading and when. However, to do so we need to look critically at how the perspective of the trader, clerk, bookkeeper, or manager may have influenced their observation and thus the recorded data, which is perhaps more difficult for accounting records than for more narrative records, as accounting records look “factual.”

Routine Bureaucratic Documents

Many of the accounting records follow fixed formats and are routinely produced. They are thus part of the routine bureaucracy of business. Most of the business records when created fall into this category. They include reporting on accidents, staff appraisals, and formal returns on all sorts of aspects of the business in a predetermined format. The format masks the personality, background, and preconceived ideas of the author to a degree and makes the information look more objective or factual than it really is. This is especially the case with staff-appraisal records, whereby the assessment of the performance of the individual reflects the personality and expectations of the appraiser as much as it does the performance of the staff member evaluated, but this is not immediately visible from the standardized and formal format of the records (but the patterns become clear when larger numbers of such appraisal records is analyzed).

Although relatively unspectacular, this category of records can be very useful for historians, especially when records relating to a topic are available in large numbers and cover a longer time period. They may thus be used to identify change over time for one aspect, which can be identified quite easily due to the systematic nature of the documentation. They may also serve to draw attention to possible areas of change worth exploring: for example, during the 1930s within Unilever there was an increase in forms requesting the paying out of allowances to workers who had suffered accidents while employed by the company. This suggests that either the company had recently diversified in more dangerous (for its employees) activities or management thinking about how to deal with the consequences of accidents had changed. It fit of course also within a broader regularization of work that occurred in colonial Africa during the 1930s as a result of companies’ initiatives as well as the gradual implementation in the colonies of government regulations relating to work that had previously been introduced in the metropole.

This routine bureaucracy is also in itself a part of African history: in many African countries, as elsewhere, businesses were at least as influential as government administration in developing African white-collar workers, bureaucratic mindsets, and expectations for career progression through the bureaucratic organization.59 Unfortunately, routine bureaucratic documents also tend to be the first documents to be destroyed when a business archive needs more space for other documents, as they tend to report on unspectacular aspects of the business and therefore appear not that worth retaining.

Company Magazines, Documents Produced by Public Relations Departments, and Marketing Materials

While routine bureaucratic documents are prepared for internal use, or to feed into formal standardized reporting, businesses also prepare a range of materials aimed at audiences outside the company. These include advertising copy and other materials prepared by marketing departments as well as company magazines and press releases issued by public relations departments. Here we may also find photo collections. Usually relatively well preserved and providing clear narratives about the business and its past and future, such materials have been frequently used by historians.60 We can of course expect the company to present its own role and achievements in a positive light, so one should take care to maintain a critical distance from such claims. More important is that for these messages to be successful, they had to connect their marketing and public relations strategies to local cultural expectations and sensitivities.61 Marketing and public relations documents can thus be used as sources for understanding the economic and cultural history of the African societies at which such documents were aimed, particularly when there is some information about the relative success of such strategies, for instance, from feedback that businesses gathered from the public through coupons and competitions and through other types of systematic market research.

Locating and Accessing Business Records

Although all businesses consistently produce documents, that does not mean that such business records are accessible to historians or are even still in existence. Many (especially smaller) companies did not keep their records beyond the legal minimum requirements, and more recently the spread of data protection legislation encourages organizations to routinely destroy categories of records relating to individuals that may be of interest to historians. Even when records have been kept, it is not always easy to locate them and then gain access to them. Thus Forrest for his monograph on the history of Nigerian private enterprise located hardly any business records for the smaller enterprises he described. He found more material for larger companies that had gone public on the stock exchange and had thus been required to prepare and provide specific types of (mainly financial and legal) data, which he mainly accessed through published sources and public repositories.62

Historical business records may be found in various locations, including: company archives; public, academic, and official repositories; and in desk drawers and on hard drives of current staff, as well as in the private homes of former employees. It is not unusual for the records relating to one company to be split. Many multinationals and other large businesses have corporate archives, linked either to the legal department (not surprising, given that many of the records that are retained, such as articles of association, board minutes, annual reports and accounts, will initially have been produced to meet legal requirements) or to marketing. Examples of corporations with company archives who have been active in Africa include Unilever, Nestlé, Barclays, Ford, and Coca Cola. Large companies based on the African continent are less likely to have set up company archives than those operating from Europe or North America, but a number of companies in East and Southern Africa in particular have done so. The two large Zambian copper mining companies RCM and NCCM have each established a company archive, while a number of initiatives were under way in Zimbabwe in the 1990s. A number of South African businesses established company archives, mainly for public relations and promotional purposes, including Barlow World Limited, De Beers, Sanlam, Anglo American, Armscor, First National Bank, and Standard Bank.63

The existence of a corporate archive does not mean that all business records that had been created will have been kept: multinationals produce very large numbers of documents, and it is physically impossible to list, store, preserve, and catalogue everything. Furthermore, materials from branch offices and subsidiaries will arrive irregularly in large batches (or not at all), and documentation from companies that have been recently taken over will also have to be absorbed. Records will therefore have been appraised as they entered the archive. Certain categories will have been kept as a matter of course, including trademark registrations, property deeds and leases, annual reports, accounts, and board minutes. Other material will have been more or less heavily weeded to concentrate on moments and areas of particular interest, including challenges, achievements, and changes for the business. While this makes sense from the perspective of documenting material that is relevant for the history of the company, this may frustrate economic, cultural, and social historians who often find much of interest in documentation relating to routine years and activities.

In the case of multinationals, furthermore, it is to be expected that most business records generated by overseas subsidiaries will not have entered the corporate archive. Correspondence with overseas subsidiaries, accounts, and reports will be in the corporate archive, but most of the other records produced by subsidiaries in Africa (relating to human resources, to staff training, and to local marketing, for instance) will have been kept—or destroyed—by those subsidiaries. Many of the subsidiaries will have had their own archive department. In the case of the multinational Unilever, for instance, the main corporate archives in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are well known, while the existence of the Unilever Ghana archive is communicated by word of mouth and hardly known even among the company’s own corporate archivists. As with any archive, with the archives of multinationals it is important to know how the company was organized and functioned and how lines of reporting had been set up—and how all this changed over time. For this, company histories, where available, can provide good starting points.

A number of smaller enterprises in Europe and the Americas, as well as in Africa, also maintain their own archives, such as the Graphic Corporation in Ghana. However, many companies have accessioned all, or part of, their business records that are no longer relevant for the daily running of the organization to a local public repository or to a university or museum archive. Thus Cadburys (the chocolate business) papers are in the library of the University of Birmingham, Raleigh (bicycles) business papers are in the Nottinghamshire Archives, records produced by the Royal African Company (slave traders) are in the UK National Archives, the papers of Elder Dempster shipping line are in the Liverpool Maritime Museum, and those of John Holt (the trading business) are split between the Liverpool Record Office, the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, and the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

As corporate archives have a first responsibility toward the business and must prioritize access and support for their corporate colleagues, it may be easier to get access to business records in public repositories or university collections. However, corporate archivists have a broad and in-depth knowledge of the organization, which may help them to identify relevant records that the researcher otherwise might overlook. In either case the researcher should contact the archive beforehand, discuss what kind of materials are of interest, and agree beforehand on a day, or days, for the visit. The researcher should also be prepared to sign an access agreement specifying what kind of materials the researcher can see and use and under which conditions (this may include an agreement to show draft manuscripts to the company before publication).

In some cases, whole sections of business archives have been destroyed before they could be accessioned to a repository, either through neglect or intentionally during an office move or when storage space was needed or during times of war or natural disaster. Where companies have gone out of business or have been taken over by another corporation, their collections often seem to have disappeared altogether. However, (former) employees may have kept or “rescued” some of the business records in their private homes. These are often, but not always, company managers or family members of the founders of the business. Such sets of privately kept business papers are usually relatively small but may contain important information, and the only way to find out about them is through conversations and informal inquiries with people associated with the business. Tracing business records for a specific company and getting access is not always straightforward. Some useful websites list archives and refer to repositories, and online searchable catalogues of holdings of business records have started to appear, but to date few actual business records collections have been digitized.


The term business records captures very diverse materials, produced by diverse actors. It includes documents about the management and organization of the enterprise (board of directors and human resources), accounting records, legal documents, marketing records, and reports reflecting attempts to understand the political, cultural, and economic context in which the company operated. The European and African company directors, managers, accountants, clerks, traders, and professionals that produced these documents had diverse backgrounds, but the perspective of the business served to bring a sense of similarity in outlook to the materials. What these documents share is the business perspective, which expresses itself in a focus on profit and also—frequently—in a standardized format of reporting which may obscure the particular preconceived notions of the authors of the documents, as many categories of papers had to meet legal requirements or accounting regulations as well as the bureaucratic procedures of the business in question. Nevertheless, many business records still reveal their authors’ various prejudices—racial, cultural, or gendered. Business records offer a private sector perspective on many aspects of the economic, social, cultural, and political history of Africa from pre-colonial times until the present. As such they can be fruitfully read against and alongside other, more obvious, sources such as official administrative records and missionary sources. However, the independence of the view from business should not be overstated, as enterprise has been closely associated with local and global power relations, including the colonial project, Cold War politics and military rule, and neo-liberalism.

Primary Sources

One way to find out if company records exist for the research period and region is to approach the business in question. They may have a company archive or may be able to refer to a repository. Some companies have started to make their archive catalogues available online. For example, the multinational Unilever, which was not only active in African countries under its own name throughout the 20th century but also through a number of well known subsidiaries such as the United Africa Company (UAC) and the Huileries Congo-Belge (HCB), has a searchable catalogue, which also includes references to older records of companies that have since been taken over by Unilever. As with all company archives, an appointment is needed to consult the records, and it is possible that the company cannot grant access for operational or other reasons. Furthermore, as with nearly all archives, there is a closure period of a set number of years after the creation of a record (typically thirty years), and it is not possible to consult records that are still within their closure period.

Many businesses no longer exist, either having been taken over by another company or simply having been closed down. For businesses based or active in the United Kingdom, one could do a search on Archives Hub, which contains information on the contents of hundreds of archives, including business archives. A largely different set of archives is described in The National Archives’ Discovery service,64 including the well-known collections of business records at the Guildhall Library. For businesses based in North America, a starting point is the Directory of Corporate Archives in the United States and Canada maintained by the Society of American Archivists. In Germany many business records are in regional economics and business archives run in association with the Chambers of Commerce. An overview can be gained from the Wirtschaftsarchivportal (also available in English). Another list is maintained by the German Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte (Society for Business History). No such convenient list exists for business records of companies based in African countries, although references to collections of South African business records are included in the archival collections database of the National Archives of South Africa as well as in the Archival Platform initiative from the University of Cape Town and the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. For Egypt, the Economic and Business History Research Center (EBHRC) holds collections of primary sources. The national archives of several African countries contain business records (in the case of Egypt organized in a dedicated Department of Company Archives), and their archivists may know of other collections. For records related to the transatlantic slave trade, the detailed listing of sources in the Voyages database—which covers collections and repositories in many countries—is a good starting point.

Further Reading

Austin, Gareth. “African Business History.” In The Routledge Companion to Business History. Edited by John F. Wilson et al., 141–158. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017.Find this resource:

Cleveland, Todd. Diamonds in the Rough: Corporate Paternalism and African Professionalism on the Mines of Colonial Angola, 1917–1975. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Gray, Vic. “Developing the Corporate Memory: The Potential of Business Archives.” Business Information Review 19, no. 1 (2002): 32–37.Find this resource:

Hopkins, A. G. “Big Business in African Studies.” Journal of African History 28, no. 1 (1987): 119–140.Find this resource:

Hopkins, A. G. “Imperial Business in Africa. Part 1: Sources.” Journal of African History 17, no. 1 (1976): 29–48.Find this resource:

Jones, Geoffrey, and Jonathan Zeitlin, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Business History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Lynn, Martin. Commerce and Economic Change in West Africa: The Palm Oil Trade in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Mager, Anne Kelk. Beer, Sociability, and Masculinity in South Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Murillo, Bianca. Market Encounters: Consumer Cultures in Twentieth-Century Ghana. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Phimister, Ian R. Wangi Kolia: Coal, Capital and Labour in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1894–1954. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Reynolds, Nancy Y. A City Consumed: Urban Commerce, The Cairo Fire, and the Politics of Decolonization in Egypt. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Smith, David R. “An Historical Look at Business Archives.” The American Archivist 45, no. 3 (1982): 273–278.Find this resource:

Tignor, Robert L. “The Business Firm in Africa.” Business History Review 81, no. 1 (2007): 87–110.Find this resource:


(1.) Geoffrey Jones, Multinationals and Global Capitalism. From the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 172.

(2.) Dmitri van den Bersselaar, West Africa’s King of Drinks. Schnapps Gin from Modernity to Tradition (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007).

(3.) Bianca Murillo, “‘The Modern Shopping Experience’: Kingsway Department Store and Consumer Politics in Ghana,” Africa 82, no. 3 (2012): 368–392.

(4.) Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD), P.O. Box 3056, Accra, Special Collections.

(5.) Robin Law, “The Royal African Company of England’s West African Correspondence, 1681–1699,” History in Africa 20 (1993): 173–184.

(6.) Stephanie Newell, “Dirty Familiars: Colonial Encounters in African Cities,” in Global Garbage: Urban Imaginaries of Waste, Excess, and Abandonment, eds. Christoph Lindner and Miriam Meissner (New York: Routledge, 2016), 35–51; and Martha G. Anderson and Lisa Aronson, eds., African Photographer J. A. Green. Reimagining the Indigenous and the Colonial (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017).

(7.) Lynn Schler, Nation on Board. Becoming Nigerian at Sea (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2016).

(8.) Elizabeth Donnan, ed., Documents Illustrative of the Slave Trade to America, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution, 1930), 354–355.

(9.) Stanley B. Alpern, “What Africans Got for Their Slaves: A Master List of European Trade Goods,” History in Africa 22 (1995): 5–43; and John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

(10.) Jenny Martinez, The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 67–98.

(11.) Stephen D. Behrendt, A. J. H. Latham, and David Northrup, eds., The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(12.) Ghislaine Lydon, On Trans-Saharan Trails. Islamic Law, Trade Networks, and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 19–20.

(13.) Bruce S. Hall and Yacine Daddi Addoun, “The Arabic Letters of Ghadames Slaves in the Niger Bend, 1860–1900,” in African Voices on Slavery and the Slave Trade, eds. Alice Bellagamba, Sandra E. Greene, and Martin A. Klein (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 485–488.

(14.) Martin Lynn, “Technology, Trade and ‘a Race of Native Capitalists’: The Krio Diaspora of West Africa and the Steamship, 1852–95,” Journal of African History 33, no. 3 (1992): 421–440.

(15.) Raymond Dumett, “African Merchants of the Gold Coast, 1860–1905—Dynamics of Indigenous Entrepreneurship,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 25, no. 4 (1983): 661–693; PRAAD Special Collections.

(16.) John Middleton, “Merchants: An Essay in Historical Ethnography,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9, no. 3 (2003): 509–526.

(17.) Michael Pesek, “Cued Speeches: The Emergence of Shauri as Colonial Praxis in German East Africa, 1850–1903,” History in Africa 33 (2006): 401.

(18.) Jeremy Prestholdt, “Mirroring Modernity: On Consumerism in Cosmopolitan Zanzibar,” Transforming Cultures eJournal 4, no. 2 (2009): 171.

(19.) Isolde Brielmaier, “Mombasa on Display: Photography and the Formation of an Urban Public, from the 1940s Onward,” in Portraiture and Photography in Africa, eds. John Peffer and Elisabeth Cameron (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 253–286; and Charles Gore, “Intersecting Archives: Intertextuality and the Early West African Photographer,” African Arts 48, no. 3 (2015): 6–17.

(20.) Anthony I. Nwabughuogu, “From Wealthy Entrepreneurs to Petty Traders: The Decline of African Middlemen in Eastern Nigeria, 1900–1950,” Journal of African History 23, no. 3 (1982): 365–379.

(21.) Liverpool Record Office (LRO) 380/HOL I (John Holt & Co (Liverpool) Ltd); 380/HOL II (John Holt & Co (Liverpool) Ltd).

(22.) Robert L. Tignor, “The Business Firm in Africa,” Business History Review 81, no. 1 (2007): 109.

(23.) Jones, Multinationals, 21–24, 55.

(24.) Todd Cleveland, Diamonds in the Rough: Corporate Paternalism and African Professionalism on the Mines of Colonial Angola, 1917–1975 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015).

(25.) Carolyn Brown, “We Were All Slaves”: African Miners, Culture, and Resistance at the Enugu Government Colliery, Nigeria (Oxford: James Currey, 2003); Jules Marchal, Lord Leverhulme’s Ghosts. Colonial Exploitation in the Congo (London: Verso, 2008); and Gareth Austin, Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana. From Slavery to Free Labour in Asante, 1807–1956 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2005).

(26.) Jane I. Guyer, Marginal Gains. Monetary Transactions in Atlantic Africa (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004), 11–13.

(27.) LRO 380/COM3/1/1 Minute Book of the African Trade Section 1902–1903, January 12 and 19, 1903; 380/COM3/1/2 Minute Book of the African Trade Section 1904–1905, June 20, 1904.

(28.) Jeremy Prestholdt, Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).

(29.) For background, see Klas Rönnbäck, “The Idle and the Industrious—European Ideas About the African Work Ethic in Precolonial West Africa,” History in Africa 41 (2014): 117–145.

(30.) Timothy Burke, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996).

(31.) LRO 380/HOL I/6 Trade Diaries (1875–1905).

(32.) Ietse Meij, “Shimmering Fabrics for Ghana” in Fashion and Ghana, ed. Ietse Meij (The Hague: Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 2001), 8–27.

(33.) Omar D. Foda, “The Pyramid and the Crown: The Egyptian Beer Industry from 1897 to 1963,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 46, no. 1 (2014): 139–158.

(34.) Unilever Archives and Records Management (UARM), various sections including United Africa Company records, LINTAS records, etc.

(35.) Regina Finsterhölzl, Kommerzielle Werbung im kolonialen Afrika. Die Werbebranche und der politische Wandel in Ghana 1930–1970 (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2015).

(36.) David K. Fieldhouse, Merchant Capital and Economic Decolonization: The United Africa Company 1929–1987 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 539.

(37.) Robert L. Tignor, “In the Grip of Politics: The Ford Motor Company in Egypt, 1945–1960,” Middle East Journal 44, no. 3 (1990): 383–398.

(38.) UARM UAC/1/1/1/2/24 The UAC Ltd Minute Book 21 (minutes of board meeting, January 3, 1966).

(39.) Stephanie Decker, “Corporate political activity in less developed countries: The Volta River Project in Ghana, 1958–66,” Business History 53, no. 7 (2011): 993–1017.

(40.) Bancroft Library Berkeley MSS Edgar Kaiser papers, Chad F. Calhoun, Vice President Kaiser Industries, to W. Averell Harriman, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, September 25, 1964; cited in Dmitri van den Bersselaar and Stephanie Decker, “‘No Longer at Ease’: Corruption as an Institution in West Africa,” International Journal of Public Administration 34, no. 11 (2011): 741–752.

(41.) Chibuike Uche, “Foreign Banks, Africans and Credit in Colonial Nigeria, c. 1890–1912,” Economic History Review 52, no. 3 (1999): 669–691.

(42.) Gareth Austin and Chibuike Uche, “Collusion and Competition in Colonial Economies: Banking in British West Africa, 1916–1960,” Business History Review 81, no. 1 (2007): 1–26; and Chibuike Uche, “Credit for Africans: The Demand for a ‘National Bank’ in the Gold Coast Colony,” Financial History Review 10, no. 1 (2003): 75–90.

(43.) Stephanie Decker, “Decolonising Barclays Bank DCO? Corporate Africanisation in Nigeria, 1945–69,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 33, no. 3 (2005): 419–440.

(44.) Akanmu G. Adebayo, “Money, Credit and Banking in Colonial and Postcolonial West Africa,” in Black Business and Economic Power, eds. Alusine Jalloh and Toyin Falola (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2002), 147–175.

(45.) Iva Peša, “Between Success and Failure: The Mwinilunga Pineapple Canning Factory in the 1960s and 1970s,” in Magnifying Perspectives. Contributions to History: A Festschrift for Robert Ross, eds. Iva Peša and Jan-Bart Gewald (Leiden, The Netherlands: African Studies Centre, 2017), 285–307.

(46.) Pieter van Duin and Robert Ross, The Economy of the Cape Colony in the 18th Century (Leiden, The Netherlands: CHEE, 1987).

(47.) Tignor, “The Business Firm,” 100.

(48.) Grietjie Verhoef, “The Globalisation of South African Conglomerates, 1990–2009,” Economic History of Developing Regions 26, no. 2 (2011): 83–106.

(49.) Okechukwu Chris Iheduru, “The Development of Black Capitalism in South Africa and the United States,” in Black Business and Economic Power, eds. Alusine Jalloh and Toyin Falola (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2002), 572–604.

(50.) Anne Kelk Mager, Beer, Sociability, and Masculinity in South Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010).

(51.) Informal conversation with Unilever employee, Port Sunlight, October 7, 2016.

(52.) UARM UAC/1/1/1/2/6-UAC/1/1/1/2/10 UAC Board Minutes, UAC Ltd Minute Books 3–7 (1941–1952).

(53.) Sarah Stockwell, The Business of Decolonization. British Business Strategies in the Gold Coast (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 150.

(54.) Interview of author with [name withheld], Accra, September 20, 2010.

(55.) Julian Mason, “Accounting Records and Business History,” Business History 24, no. 3 (1982): 293.

(56.) LRO 380/HOL I/6 Trade Diaries (1875–1905).

(57.) Unilever Ghana Archive HRD Box 124.

(58.) Jane I. Guyer, “Wealth in People and Self-Realisation in Equatorial Africa,” Man New Series 28, no. 2 (1993): 243–265; and Charles Piot, “Of Slaves and the Gift: Kabre Sale of Kin During the Era of the Slave Trade,” Journal of African History 37, no. 1 (1996): 31–49.

(59.) David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules. On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2015), 12, 27; and Elizabeth Tonkin, “Zik’s Story: Autobiography as Political Exemplar,” in Self-Assertion and Brokerage: Early Cultural Nationalism in West-Africa, eds. Karin Barber and P. F. de Moraes Farias (Birmingham, UK: CWAS, 1990), 49.

(60.) Stephanie Decker, “Solid Intentions: An Archival Ethnography of Corporate Architecture and Organizational Remembering,” Organization 21, no. 4 (2014): 514–542.

(61.) Frank Mort, “The Commercial Domain: Advertising and the Cultural Management of Demand,” in Moments of Modernity. Reconstructing Britain 1945–1964, eds. Becky Conekin, Frank Mort, and Chris Waters (London: Rivers Oram Press, 1999), 55–75.

(62.) Tom Forrest, The Advance of African Capital: The Growth of Nigerian Private Enterprise (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994), 10–11.

(63.) Barbara Conradie, “Taking Stock: South African Society of Archivists from the 1960s to Beyond the Millennium,” Journal of the South African Society of Archivists 45 (2012): 87; A. G. Tough, “The First Two Years of an Industrial Archive in a Developing Country,” Business Archives 46 (1980): 20–24; and Peter C. Mazikana, “The Management of Business Records and Archives in Zimbabwe,” Business Archives 63 (1992): 13–20.

(64.) This service was formerly known as Access to Archives (A2A).