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Precolonial Metallurgy and Mining across Africa  

Shadreck Chirikure

Since their inception, precolonial mining and metallurgy gradually became essential social, technological, and even politico-economic pillars of African communities of varying time periods. However, the onset of metallurgy and mining and the associated technology and sociocultural beliefs varied from region to region in a way that defies generalization. Owing to their cultural and geographical location, Egypt, the Sudan, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa share some very broad similarities in their metallurgical histories. This in some cases sharply differs from that of many regions such as West, central, East and southern Africa. Interestingly, these regions too are characterized by technological similarity and diversity. When considered together, the multiple trajectories taken by metallurgy and mining in Africa’s different regions are essential for achieving a comparative understanding of the continent’s rich technological history. Achieving this, however, requires an interdisciplinary approach from documentation through data analysis to eventual interpretation. This contribution combines insights from various disciplines to present an overview of precolonial metallurgy and mining in Africa’s many regions.

Article

Technological Change in Late 19th-Century South Africa  

William Storey

Societies and technologies were deeply intertwined in the history of late 19th-century South Africa. The late 19th century saw the significant development of capitalist agriculture, together with the expansion of mining. The technological side of farming and mining had a significant influence on social and political development. Meanwhile, as in many other colonial outposts, local innovators and entrepreneurs played significant roles in business as well as government. Technological developments were not simply imported or imposed from Great Britain. Everyday technologies, ranging from firearms to clothing, were the subjects of extensive debate across southern Africa’s different cultures.

Article

Sources for the History of the Copperbelt  

Duncan Money

The Central African Copperbelt is among the most closely studied regions on the African continent and has been of enduring interest to successive generations of scholars. This mining region stretched out across the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Zambia and was transformed by the onset of industrial mining in the early 20th century, which brought about rapid urbanization and wide-ranging social change. The type and location of some of the major available sources on the Copperbelt’s modern history vary widely and include those produced by the state, companies, international organizations, missionaries, and scholars, along with newspapers and photographs. Knowledge production about the region has been shaped by the mining industry and the state and this has consequences for the kinds of sources available about the past, which are primarily state and company archives.

Article

Women and Mining in Africa  

Blair Rutherford and Doris Buss

Women have long participated in mining in Africa and have been implicated in it in varied ways. The combination of archaeological research, oral histories, comparisons with colonial and postcolonial mining activities, and a few written observations show that African women were active in various mining activities throughout the continent before Europeans began their formal colonization of much of the continent. Conquest by different European states and colonial rule brought not only a new type of mining and new players, networks, and markets into many parts of Africa but also new gendered norms and discourses when it came to women working in mines. Colonial legislation often prohibited women from working underground, and women’s work in mines was actively discouraged or hidden. European-controlled industrial mining in Africa in the late 19th century up until the 1970s was labor intensive, almost exclusively hiring men, most of whom were African. Yet these industrial mining areas attracted many women for economic and social reasons. These women became the targets of varied types of moral projects from different colonial and African authorities, which strongly shaped the pathways, possibilities, and barriers to varied (non-mining) economic activities for African women in the mining communities. The end of colonial rule and the emerging independent governments across Africa starting in the 1950s saw significant changes for women and mining in different parts of the continent, even though there are many strong continuities from the colonial period. These continuities and changes are apparent when examining access to mining livelihoods and working conditions for women and the role of family dynamics, both in terms of industrial mining and artisanal and small-scale mining. There is also a growing targeting of women and mining in Africa in policies, programs, and by social movements.

Article

Saharan Peoples and Societies  

E. Ann McDougall

The Sahara: bridge or barrier? Today, most would answer that the desert was more a historical facilitator than hindrance in moving commodities, ideas, and people between North and sub-Saharan Africa. A recent publication even coined a new name for the region: “trans-Saharan Africa.” However, the Sahara is also a place where people live. Complex societies, sophisticated polities, extensive economies—all flourished at various times, waxing and waning in response to much the same factors as societies elsewhere. It is just that in the Sahara the vagaries of climate and the availability of water always established the parameters of development. A long-term drying era led to the dispersal of the Late Stone Age Dhar-Tichitt agro-pastoral settlements in eastern Mauritania, but in the east, Lake “Mega-Chad” shrank, leaving rich, sandy soils that attracted new cultivators. The Garamantes people of the Libyan Fezzan overcame their lack of water by developing a sophisticated underground irrigation system that supported an urbanized, cosmopolitan civilization that outlasted the Roman Empire. The introduction of the camel in the 4th century and the gradual growth of Islam from at least the 9th century added new possibilities for economic, cultural, and religious life. The Sahara benefited from the sequence of medieval empires emerging across its southern desert edge. Camel pastoralism, salt mining, oasis agriculture, and expansive trade networks shaped the region’s economy; those same networks facilitated cultural and scholarly exchanges. As Islam took root, growing its own understandings of North African and Middle Eastern schools of thought, a prodigious body of Saharan scholarship was created. It underpinned much of the jihad-led political upheaval and state-building in the 18th and 19th Sahel. Saharan clerics also directed their religious fervor against the invasion of French imperialists; “pacification” took the colonialists decades to achieve. But the impact of this violence exacerbated traditional clan conflict and disrupted economic life. So too did policies aimed at sedentarizing pastoralists and reshaping their social relations in the interests of the colonial economy. Much talked-about but largely ineffective efforts to abolish slavery had far less real impact than taxation policies; these both suppressed traditional exactions such as those levied by “warriors” and introduced new ones, including those to be paid in forced labor. Life in the Sahara became increasingly untenable. The arrival of Independence did nothing to address colonial legacies; the years of drought that devastated herds and crops in the desert and along its edge less than a decade later further fueled both political instability and economic crisis. That today the region nurtures radicalized Islamic movements promising to return “true meaning” (not to mention material benefits) to that life is not surprising.

Article

The Copperbelt of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo  

Iva Peša

The Central African Copperbelt, a region which straddles the boundary between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, holds exceptionally rich and high-grade copper deposits. These deposits have been worked from as early as the 6th century ce. Still, the commencement of large-scale industrial resource extraction at the start of the 20th century, spurred by imperial rivalry between Belgian and British interests, initiated fundamental processes of change. The Copperbelt urbanized rapidly, as the mines attracted thousands of migrant workers from hundreds of miles away. The social, cultural, economic, and political lives of these new urbanites have attracted much attention from colonial administrators and mining officials, as well as from generations of social scientists and historians. These observers have tended to depict the Copperbelt’s history in terms of stark dichotomies, as part of a transition from rural to urban; from subsistence agriculture to industrial wage labor; from extended kinship to nuclear families; or even from “tradition” to “modernity.” The protracted economic crisis which held the Copperbelt in its sway between 1975 and 2000 painfully revealed the boom-and-bust nature of copper mining. This period of “decline” made scholars question earlier modernization frameworks. Examples showing how kinship ties have been creatively reworked, how gender roles have constantly been subject to negotiation, and how economic precarity was part of urban life throughout the 20th century, suggest that Copperbelt scholarship should abandon narratives of “transformation” and exceptionalism. The Central African Copperbelt, instead, exemplifies African history’s rich complexity.