Africa's Imperial Commodities

Commodities offer a unique perspective on global material flows. The commodities themselves feature in a long chain of exchanges between producers, traders, and consumers. During this process, the commodities change as part of natural, human, and machine processes that alter the materiality of the objects as well as their economic value and social meanings.

Africa’s Imperial Commodities focuses on goods exported from Africa to Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth century. This digital project interrogates the history of commodity flows that featured in unequal trade relationships between the two continents. What commodities did African traders sell to European merchants? How did the volume of commodity exports change over time? Do the exports vary significantly by region and colony?

This digital project explores these questions in a series of essays about single commodities exported from Africa. The essays focus on the changing volume of commodity exports and discuss the available data in light of changing production processes in Africa and Europe.

Africa’s Imperial Commodities was built as part of the Cultural Heritage Informatics initiative at Michigan State University. The data for the website comes from the African Commodity Trade Database published as:

Frankema, Ewout, Jeffrey Williamson and Pieter Woltjer. “An Economic Rationale for the West African Scramble? The Commercial Transition and the Commodity Price Boom of 1835-1885.” The Journal of Economic History 78, no. 1 (2018): 231-267.