Call for papers ESHD 2023

Session proposal for the 5th Conference of the European Society of Historical Demography 


August 30 – September 2, 2023

History of African Population and Health: Data, Methods & Comparisons

Papers are invited in the broad area of African Population and Health History. We encourage submissions of papers which describe and engage with the availability and usability of data sources for historical demography and the history of health, healing and medicine in Africa. Studies which consider the origins and purposes of sources and interrogate their uses and subsequent meanings for (quantitative) reconstruction are welcome. Submissions might also engage with the benefits of mixed-methods research, describing how multiple sources and approaches can be used to test and underpin estimates of past population dynamics. Evidence-based reflections on the importance of furthering understanding of African population history are welcome. Such reflections might consider the role of African population and health history from the perspective of comparative global or comparative African history, from the perspective of current demographic developments in the region, or from the point of view of contemporary global health inequities. How might improving understanding of Africa’s demographic past challenge assumptions and generalities in current and historic global development discourses? Work that engages with postcolonial and critical approaches, the history of health, healing, and medicine in Africa, and the history of global health, as well as their interactions, are encouraged. We especially seek papers which speak to the diversity of demographic and health-related change in Africa over the longue durée, including its interaction with political, economic, sociocultural, and environmental factors.

If you are interested, please send a title and abstract (max. 900 characters, 5 key words) before November 29th 2022 to

Looking Backward, Looking Forward: 
African Demography in Historical Perspective

Conference 2021

Ol Pajeta, Kenya, 30 November – 2 December 2021

The African Population History Network was launched at a conference organised by the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Historical Demography together with The British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The seminar was sponsored by the IUSSP, the Wellcome Trust, the Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius Foundation, and the Galton Institute.

The conference participants (image credit: Sarah Rafferty)

There is a resurgence of interest in Africa’s demographic pasts. Evidence on past population trends is essential to respond to core questions in African history, such as the human cost of the slave trade; the impacts of colonialism on health, wellbeing and the family; the effects of post-colonial policies on households and livelihoods; long-term trends in mortality and migration; and the influence of religion, education and employment on intergenerational relations and the social organisation of reproduction. Improving the evidence on Africa’s past populations will illuminate how people have managed their resilience and reproduction over time, in the face of environmental, epidemiological, political and economic change.

Understanding the historical origins of African demographic regimes may also help to influence current and future population trends. This is important given Africa is projected to account for more than half of all global population growth by 2050, with implications for both demographic dividend and migration. In particular, contemporary demographers have called for interdisciplinary and historical approaches to improve understanding of the contexts of fertility transition in the region, including its stalls, reversals and exceptional age- and parity-specific dynamics, as well as the historical context of the AIDS pandemic. 

The aim of the seminar was to showcase the growing availability of historical demographic micro-data through new digitisation projects as well as bring together scholar from different disciplines interested in the demography and the demographic history of Africa. 

The seminar brought together 26 participants from Belgium, France, Kenya, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Twenty-one participants were present in Kenya and five participated virtually. Twenty-one papers were presented dealing with different contexts in both time and space, as well as different aspects of demography and population history. Several of the papers presented research that made innovative use of new data sources to study African demographic patterns in the past. In addition to the papers presented and a separate discussion session, a special session was devoted to discussion on data, research themes and future collaborations. 

The seminar was organized under difficult circumstances, first scheduled for March 2020, but postponed due to Covid-19. Also, the final seminar was affected by various Covid-restrictions, such as mandatory mask wearing and daily testing.

For the full conference report see here.

List of participants and workshop programme see here.

David Ojakaa gives a paper on regional trends in fertility in Kenya since the 1950s (image credit: Ian Timaeus)