In July, the Ghana Studies Association held a conference in Accra. While attending the panels, I thought about how the digital humanities can feature in Ghana Studies scholarship. The conference featured presentations across the humanities and social sciences organized around the theme “Ghana as center.” One of my favorite panels was titled “(Re-)Writing Ghana’s Economic Pasts and Futures” and included presentations from Nana Osei-Opare, Bianca Murillo, and Laurian Bowles, with Gareth Austin as commentator. Each presenter considered the economy from a different angle with discussions of consumption, industrialization, and precarious forms of labor in the neoliberal economy.
In her discussion of consumption, Murillo discussed the importance of “commercial intermediaries,” or male and female Ghanaian employees, to trading firms during the colonial period. She also discussed how distribution channels for imported commodities shaped the creation of consumers. Both of her points drew from the information contained in company records, some of which could be organized as quantitative information. Thus, data visualization tools in the digital humanities could facilitate the analysis.
My summer research in the Ghanaian archives also demonstrated the possibility of exploring economic-related history with trading data. The records I examined typically came from customs checkpoints and thus would need to be handled differently than the information contained in company records. Nonetheless, data visualization tools could also be applied to explore historical trends in the quantitative data. This type of analysis could bridge social and economic histories where quantitative data is available.