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The archaeological potential for the history of labor relations in East Africa, ca. 1500-1900

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Publication details

JournalHistory in Africa
DateE-pub ahead of print - 23 Apr 2014
DatePublished (current) - Jun 2014
Number of pages30
Pages (from-to)277-306
Early online date23/04/14
Original languageEnglish


Previous studies of past labor relations in different parts of Africa have relied almost entirely on documentary sources. While such records can provide valuable insights into the range of different labor categories that have existed and the relative proportions of the population involved, for much of the continent they are severely restricted in a temporal sense. Thus, for many areas suitable documentary materials covering the periods prior to 1850 are scarce; as is the case, for example, for much of East Africa. To extend scholarly understanding of the nature of labor relations prior to this date, alternative sources need to be utilized. This paper presents a brief overview of the potential scope for utilizing archaeological data, with specific reference to mainland Tanzania. The paper also highlights the many limitations of archaeological data and offers some thoughts on how these might be addressed from both a conceptual and methodological perspective. The paper concludes with an appeal for more studies oriented toward investigation of the archaeological remains of the last five hundred years and greater dialogue between the region’s historians and archaeologists.

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