July 15-17, 2010, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs of Harvard University, in connection with the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS), is holding a conference on "Understanding African Poverty in the Longue Durée." The conference will be held in Accra at the International Institute for the Advanced Study of Cultures, Institutions and Economic Enterprise (IIAS).
From the point of view of the West, the longue duree is viewed as a process of divergence. But Africa remains to be incorporated into the grand narrative. Addressing the periphery, scholars ask why the colonization of North America led to much more economically dynamic societies than that of South America? But Africa is omitted from the narrative of convergence as well. We would therefore like to begin a dialogue about how to integrate Africa into accounts of long-run development. In addition, we are convinced that any explanation of the poverty of Africa today must be historically grounded and involve an understanding of the impact of its geography, culture and institutions not just since independence, but also before and during colonization.
Our aim is to bring together a diverse group of social scientists and scholars—historians, economists, political scientists, archaeologists and anthropologists—who have thought about different aspects of these issues, including some who have addressed it very centrally. We hope to discuss a variety of themes: the timing and the nature of the Neolithic Revolution in Africa, technology adoption (the wheel and the plow), state formation and trade, and the impact of disease and slavery. We aspire to do this in a way which maximizes the scope for comparison with countries and regions outside of Africa.