image of hands holding an old tools

K. Oke, Goldsmith tools, Lagos.

Project (2022-2025)

A History of "Making Things" in West Africa, 1920–1980: Creating, Meaning Making, and Experience

This project studies artisans and craftspeople in Accra and Lagos by looking at productive processes with a focus on meaning, making, and creating. The project has two main objectives: firstly, to elucidate West African historical epistemologies and experiences of "making things" both under colonial rule and after; and, secondly, to write entrepreneurial activities back into social, cultural, and political histories of West Africa by moving beyond a reductive frame of capital accumulation. Studying "making" provides a historically situated account of people’s engagement with technologies, which transcends the bifurcation of the imported and the local, and highlights the broad range of agency animating entrepreneurial activity. Furthermore, focusing on bakers and goldsmiths demonstrates various modes of making and trajectories of craft specialization and thus makes gendered epistemologies of making more visible. I intend to challenge Eurocentric notions of innovation and technology, and to highlight West Africans’ individual and collective bodies of knowledge of how to engage with adverse colonial and post-colonial economic contexts, and thus to complicate the ways in which African societies form part of a growing scholarship on the global history of capitalism and science and knowledge.