Africa’s Imperial Commodities

Africa’s Imperial Commodities is a digital history project that explores commodity exports from Africa to Europe. The project utilizes available export data from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to interrogate the trade relationships between the two continents. While the export data constitutes the core content of the project, the published website contextualizes the data with webpages about historical sources, individual commodities, and similar digital projects. The webpages about individual commodities discuss the historical changes reflected in the export data and include interactive data visualizations for users to further engage the information in the underlying dataset. The project contributes to digital history by making export data more accessible to students and researchers. Moreover, the project illustrates the importance of the African context for understanding the historical trade relationship between Africa and Europe.

The digital project incorporates different website technologies in the final product. The website itself is hosted on GitHub pages and utilizes Bootstrap for its frontend framework. The Clean Blog frontend theme made by Start Bootstrap was customized to include necessary website elements and content in the HTML and CSS. The data visualizations form the technical core of the digital project. These visualizations were created with D3.js, a JavaScript library that can build interactivity into visualizations on the web. The scatterplots and bar graphs that feature in the commodity essays include zoom functionality and tooltips for users to explore the underlying data. While the data is available online as an excel spreadsheet, it was cleaned and transformed into JSON files with R, a programming language for statistical analysis. The website’s HTML, CSS, and JavaScript coding are available in an open source GitHub repository.

Ryan Carty

2018-2019 CHI Grad Fellow Cohort

PhD Student, Department of History