2nd Edition

An Economic History of West Africa

By A. G. Hopkins Copyright 2020
    414 Pages 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    414 Pages 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This pioneering and celebrated work was the first, and remains the standard, account of the economic history of the huge area conventionally known as West Africa.

    The book ranges from prehistoric times to independence and covers the former French territories, as well as those colonised by the British. It criticises conventional beliefs about economic backwardness, offers an alternative account that explains the particular configuration of poverty that characterised the pre-colonial period, and assesses the consequences of the region’s interaction with the wider world – from the growth of the Saharan and Atlantic trades to the rise and demise of colonial rule. This edition contains a substantial new Introduction that discusses the development of the subject during the past 50 years, evaluates the debate over the original interpretation, and provides a valuable guide to additional reading, bringing the reader up to date with current scholarship on the subject, as well as providing avenues for further independent research.

    Appearing at a time when the study of African economic history is enjoying a revival and is engaging economists as well as historians, the book fills a large gap in African studies, provides newcomers with a stimulating point of entry into the subject, and contributes to our understanding of wider issues of global underdevelopment.

    List of maps

    List of figures


    Preface to the previous edition

    Preface to the second edition

    Introduction to the Second Edition

    1 Approaches to Africa’s economic past

    2 The domestic economy: structure and function

    3 External trade: the Sahara and the Atlantic

    4 The economic basis of imperialism

    5 An economic model of colonialism

    6 Completing the open economy

    7 The open economy under strain

    8 The economy in retrospect




    A. G. Hopkins is Emeritus Smuts Professor of Commonwealth History at the University of Cambridge, UK. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of London, honorary doctorates from the Universities of Stirling and Birmingham, and is a Fellow of the British Academy. He has written extensively on African history, imperial history, and globalisation. His other publications include: Globalization in World History (2001); Global History: Interactions between the Universal and the Local (2006); British Imperialism, written with P. J. Cain (3rd ed. 2016); American Empire: A Global History (2018); and numerous scholarly articles.

    'An Economic History of West Africa asserts the centrality of the market in historical reconstruction, thereby exposing the crisis of adaptation to the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, the shift to primary commodity production, and the economic cycles that presaged European imperialism, conquest and the distorted development of colonialism. Hopkins's reflective Introduction is a masterful overview of how he has stimulated research and shaped debate ever since.'

    Paul Lovejoy, York University, Canada

    "As Paul Lovejoy notes in his endorsement of this edition, the book's first edition 'has stimulated research and shaped debate ever since'; nearly four decades later, Tony Hopkins's book remains a standard history of the subject. A pioneering work of historical foresight and insight, the clarity of the text and the significance of its themes make it routinely assigned to undergraduates. It will take many decades for it to be superseded in the canon of the historiography of Africa."

    Toby Green, Journal of African History

    '[T]he introduction is a well-considered, well-written, and inspiring discussion of the state of the art of scholarly knowledge on the economic history of West Africa and the book remains a key reference for both scholars and students in the field. Importantly, it also includes a call for the next generations of scholars to take up the challenge to carry the subject forward by pointing out areas that are under-researched or where a consensus view is still to be reached: ‘[G]aps and uncertainties in the present state of knowledge translate into opportunities for the next generation of researchers’.'

    Jutta Bolt, Economic History Review

    "Written with Hopkins’s characteristic wit and with the wisdom from decades of experience, early and mid-career scholars in African Studies will enjoy the read and the author’s personal reflections on the writing process and reception of this foundational work in the field."

    Marlous Van Waijenburg, International Journal of African Historical Studies

    'If something like a classic on the economic history of Africa exists, it is Hopkins’s volume on the economic history of West Africa published in 1973. The study has now been re-published after nearly half a century, augmented by a long Introduction by the author... [a] tour de force covering 50 years of historiography...'

    Andreas Eckert, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

    '...how deeply impressed I am by the relevance of a book that was written 50 years ago. Its quality easily explains why a second edition was welcome... It is not only that the book has been seminal and foundational for research that came after; it is also that its main messages have not been invalidated.'

    Denis Cogneau, H-Diplo

    'The biggest strength of the book is the clarity and coherence with which it is written. The language is accessible to both field specialists and the general reader. Even more, Hopkins demonstrates his wide reading of scholarship, as evidenced by a comprehensive bibliography of diversified literature ranging from anthropology, geography, history, and economics. His reference to research and studies produced in the French language is most impressive. Hopkins’s extensive engagement with historiography emboldens his analysis in demystifying old myths, and in challenging and reinterpreting West Africa’s economic past.'

    Victor Muchineripi Gwande, H-Diplo

    'In the fifty years since its publication, Antony Hopkins’s An Economic History of West Africa continues to set the agenda and shape the parameters of debate about the unfolding processes of economic exchange and development in the region and throughout the continent more broadly.'

    Jennifer Hart, H-Diplo

    'The publication of a new edition of An Economic History of West Africa by Tony Hopkins is a long-awaited event. That it also comes with a long and well-considered introductory essay makes it worth the wait... An Economic History of West Africa and its new introduction... is a brave defence of letting the evidence rule in itself, and a devotion to avoiding ideology or model to instruct how one fits the evidence.'

    Morten Jerven, H-Diplo

    'For students of African studies and history, this book not only delivers crucial insights into the history of West Africa, but also its historiography and how it has been politically and culturally shaped... This edition is still a key reference for African history, and is crucial for the economic history of West Africa.'

    Sarah Kunkel, H-Diplo

    'Tony Hopkins’s new edition has provided an exemplary review of the trajectory of historiography along with clear views of the course of African economic life as it has been understood over the past two academic generations.'

    Patrick Manning, H-Diplo