Maritime Exchange Networks and Urban-Centered States in Ancient East Africa

Presented by Chapurukha Kusimba, American University, at the Center for Historical Research, Department of History at The Ohio State University on October 31, 2014.

Trade played crucial role in state formation. Trade linked diverse peoples and communities in a network on interactions that had a huge impact in advancement of the daily life. Archaeologists and historians have documented evidence of biological, cultural, linguistic, commercial, and technical communication between cultures that are traceable far beyond the Holocene. Today, most of the world is integrated in a global economic system, in which as Adam Smith (1776) stated, the markets set most of the prices and determine the flow of trade and division of labor, but governments play a role closer to the one envisioned by John Maynard Keynes, intervening to try and regulate the business cycle and reduce income inequality. Ongoing research in East Africa has irreversibly revised early models that proposed migration as the primary catalyst for regional cultural transformations. It now appears that adoption of agriculture, market-based exchange, and urban centered state structures were the main catalyst for building communal and personal wealth. A steady transformation of the villages and hamlets into small towns, cities, and ultimately to city-states that hosted large and diverse citizenry is evident over much of Eastern and Southern Africa. For trade to prosper, relational and sociopolitical stability was crucial. Could bonds, pacts, treaties, and alliances (including opportunistic intermarriages) that bound the cities to their hinterlands and merchants across the sea serve as the kernel upon which global connections, contributions, and complexity arose? My lecture will discuss use local, regional, and trans-continental frames of reference to discuss the rise of maritime exchange networks and urban-centered States in Ancient East Africa.

The Ohio State University Center for Historical Research in the Department of History provides a stimulating intellectual environment for studying important historical issues around the world. Each year the Center brings together scholars from various disciplines to examine issues of broad contemporary relevance in historical perspective.