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Department of Archaeology

Wednesday, 13 November, 2019 - 17:00 to 18:00
Event speaker: 
Professor Shadreck Chirikure

Title: The Political Economy of Precolonial African States - Metals, Trinkets, Land, etc, etc



The political economy of precolonial African states is a topic of huge global significance for the comparative insights that it unlocks. And yet, some dominant frameworks for exploring the topic are still captured by old theories, long superseded in other world areas. For example, external long-distance trade and ‘prestige goods’ are still viewed as major determinants of the rise, flourishing and decline of medieval African states. Because they evolved with no role for local (African) critiques, counter-critiques and local validation of outcome knowledge, contemporary studies of African historical political economies continuously struggle to move past this capture.

This lecture brings together multiple variables such as craft production, land, trade and exchange and among others, ideology, within a framework mediated by concept revision and local knowledge to mint locally centred readings of deep time African political economies. While raising similarities and divergences with historical political economies elsewhere, the lecture though provokingly argues that land and its control offered more options to those in power than trinkets brought from distance through various means, trade included. This raises the point that political economies rooted in production have more potential to transform contemporary Africa than those spurred by the flawed narrative that as with ‘the past’, - the continent’s prosperity must be hinged on exotics – both in cash and goods.   



Shadreck Chirikure holds a British Academy Global Professorship within the School of Archaeology at Oxford. He is Professor of Archaeology, Director of the Archaeological Materials Laboratory and a former Head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cape Town. Funded by the Ronald Tylecote Fund of the Institute for Archaeometallurgical Studies, English Heritage and the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Chirikure graduated with the degrees of PhD in Archaeology and MA in Artefact Studies from the Institute of Archaeology, UCL.

His research interweaves techniques from hard sciences with those from humanities and social sciences to explore ancient African technologies and political economies of precolonial state and non-state systems. Chirikure’s works draw interpretive flavors from African philosophies to revise concepts and to disrupt hegemonic thinking about the evolution of African technologies, their role in society, and to spur a critical reflection, over the long durée of Africa’s place in the world, and the world’s place in Africa.

This work is published in leading edge journals and books by top publishers. His book Metals in past societies (Springer) is the inaugural volume in a series that aims to articulate salient features of African archaeology to a global audience. Other influential works include Managing Africa’s heritage: who cares (Routledge) (co-edited with Webber Ndoro and Janette Deacon) and Archives, Objects, Places and Landscapes: Multidisciplinary approaches to Decolonised Zimbabwean pasts (co-edited with Munyaradzi Manyanga). Chirikure’s application of the framework of concept revision to reinterpret Great Zimbabwe will be published by Routledge in 2020.

Among others, Chirikure is a past recipient of the Association of Commonwealth Universities Fellowship at Linacre College, Oxford and is a former Mandela-Harvard Fellow. Chirikure is a past recipient of National Research Foundation of South Africa’s Presidential Award for outstanding research by persons under the age of 40 and is a founding member of the South African Young Academy of Science. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African Archaeology, a Senior Editor of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. In addition, he is one of the co-editors of Cambridge University Press’ History of Technology book series. Chirikure is a member of the Board of Governors for the Arts Council of African Studies Association and is a member of the Society for American Archaeologists Book Award Committee. Shadreck was recently elected to the Advisory Council of the New York based Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. He sits on at least nine editorial boards of journals in the archaeology field and cognate disciplines. Chirikure has contributed to a number of art exhibitions, documentaries, radio shows and TV programs aimed at communicating archaeology to the general public.

Contact name: 
Emma Jarman
Contact email: 
Event location: 
The Biffen Lecture Theatre followed by a reception in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Geographical areas: 
Archaeological Science
Science, Technology and Innovation
Environment, Landscapes and Settlement
Material Culture
Rethinking Complexity
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Material Culture
Socio-Politics of the Past
Artefact Analysis & Technology
Periods of interest: 
Other Historical
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