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The Story of an African Famine: Gender and Famine in Twentieth-Century Malawi Paperback – February 12, 2007

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ISBN-13: 978-0521035514 ISBN-10: 0521035511

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Book Description

This account of the 1949 famine in colonial Malawi employs a wide variety of historical sources, ranging from Colonial Office documentation to the songs of women who lived through the tragedy. The analysis of the causes and development of the famine takes the reader through a detailed agricultural and social history of Southern Malwai.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (February 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521035511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521035514
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,164,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By S. Smith on July 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This book deals with a 1949 famine in southern Malawi (then Nyasaland) and is a near-perfect example of a historical monograph. It covers a single subject in detail; its subject has intrinsic interest; its main theme is dealt with thoroughly and in such a way that the reader can examine the evidence presented and test its conclusions; it includes both archival research and oral testimony; it combines an analysis of the local effects of the famine with a wider discourse on famines and it is written in a very readable style, neither over-technical nor dumbed-down. It was first published in 1987, based mainly on research undertaken in 1982-3. Perhaps ironically, its publication was near the end of a period of food security in Malawi that started soon after the 1949 famine. More recent conditions of chronic food insecurity in Malawi may well have given a different emphasis to some of the book's conclusions, and a fully revised second edition, not just a reprint, would be useful.

Megan Vaughan's book starts with a useful introduction on the background to African famine and a discussion of the theoretical approaches to famines. The first chapter is a narrative of the course of the 1949 famine: it is followed by four chapters examining the famine from different angles, and a conclusion. Chapter 2 demolishes the suggestion that the 1949 famine was a "Malthusian crisis", caused by overpopulation and destructive land use and argues that European agricultural innovations rather than pre-colonial agriculture practices were ecologically unsound. For three decades or more after 1949, the land supported an increasing population using mainly traditional techniques without major soil degradation.
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The Story of an African Famine: Gender and Famine in Twentieth-Century Malawi
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