Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

An Economic History of Imperial Madagascar, 1750-1895: The Rise and Fall of an Island Empire

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

An Economic History of Imperial Madagascar, 1750-1895: The Rise and Fall of an Island Empire

Article excerpt

An Economic History of Imperial Madagascar, 1750-1895: The Rise and Fall of an Island Empire. By Gwyn Campbell. African Studies Series 106. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. xvii, 413; 38 tables, 22 figures, 10 maps, 15 illustrations, 3 appendices. $90.00.

Madagascar languishes all too frequently on the periphery of African historical studies, especially in the Anglophone world. In this ambitious and workmanlike study, Gwyn Campbell sets out to break new ground in the history of those areas of Africa washed by the Indian Ocean by reconstructing the economic history of precolonial Madagascar in a wider regional context. In so doing, he challenges colonialist and modern nationalist interpretations of Malagasy history, including what he characterizes as the myth that the nineteenth century witnessed the creation of a unified and progressive Malagasy nation state. He also argues that traditional interpretations overestimate the strength of French influence in Madagascar during the nineteenth century, and underestimate the role that Britain and internal factors-especially the collapse of the Merina empire-played in facilitating the French conquest of the Grande Ile in 1895.

While Campbell addresses political topics and issues, his principal concern is to fashion the first comprehensive economic history of precolonial Madagascar and assess the role that economic activities and policies had on the development and ultimate demise of the Merina empire that came to exercise at least nominal control over much of the island during the nineteenth century. To this end, his first two chapters examine traditional agricultural, commercial and industrial activity between 1750-1820. Chapter 3 focuses on the creation of the Merina empire during the 1810s and early 1820s and its adoption of autarky in 1826. Eight subsequent chapters explore economic life and related developments between 1820-1895 in the realms of industry and agriculture, labor policies and mobilization, population and demography, domestic and foreign trade, the slave trade, transport and communications, and currency and finance. A concluding chapter, which considers how Madagascar fits into the "Scramble" for Africa, is followed by a brief epilogue in which Campbell restates the basic points of his argument. …

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