Welcome to our project website!

This research project sets out to explore the history of economic and social development of sub-Saharan Africa using African parish registers.

Sub-Saharan Africa today is the world’s poorest region by any measure, be it GDP per capita, life expectancy or literacy rates. It is well known that Sub-Saharan Africa has lagged behind the rest of the world for many decades, certainly since the early 1960s, when most African states gained independence. It is not so well known, however, how much further back in time Africa has underperformed, and to what extent social and economic development outcomes can be attributed to colonial and missionary influences.

The main aim of this project is to develop a new empirical basis for a comparative study of long-term economic and social development across Africa. The vital registry of mission churches presents one of the earliest historical sources. We digitally preserve the earliest hand-written and hitherto unexplored Anglican marriage registers to be found in former mission stations of the Church Mission Society (CMS) in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa. An example of a marriage certificate, and what it contains, is shown below.

marriage register example

Our goal is to collect and safeguard a large sample of demographic statistics recorded in the earliest parish registers from various African countries and to use those statistics to estimate long-term trends in labour market participation and human capital formation among male and female Christian Africans.

The database will include information about marriage patterns (from age at marriage), educational and social status attainments (derived from occupational titles), literacy skills (from signatures), and numeracy skills (from age heaping behaviour). Parishioners’ names are redacted for privacy protection. Using this micro-data we seek to develop a quantitative perspective on the short- and long-run influences of European missionary and coloniser activities on the economic development of Christian Africa(ns) since pre-colonial times.

We collaborate with Mountains of the Moon University in Western Uganda and Stellenbosch University in South Africa in the collection process and entry of the data. Follow us on our field-work in Africa here.

The research team consists of Dr. Felix Meier zu Selhausen and Prof. Jacob Weisdorf. Project collaborators include Prof. Ewout Frankema (Wageningen), Prof. Marco H.D. van Leeuwen (Utrecht), Prof. Jörg Baten (Tübingen), and Prof. Johan Fourie (Stellenbosch).

The EHCA project co-funds the IV AEHN Annual Meeting taking place 21-22 October 2016 at University of Sussex (UK).

The project is funded by the Danish Research Council (DFF 4003-00088) and hosted by the Department of Business and Economics at University of Southern Denmark and is scheduled for 2014-2016.

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You can read more about our projected goals here. You can also find information about our conference activities and our publications based on the project. If you have specific questions about our project, or would just like to hear more, then please feel free to contact us at contact@ehca.info or using the fields below.

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