Over the past few decades, social history has variously and successfully explored the lives of neglected groups in society. Nevertheless, the question of capturing these “silent voices” in history, including those of women, remains at the heart of social history. Although few sources are available that allow historians to hear these voices, new methodological insights offer opportunities. A multidisciplinary framework and a broad range of methodologies can shed new light on the lives of peasants, who have been often neglected in history and provide opportunities to “hear” their voices and concerns as historical subjects. The object of this paper is to present sortie critical perspective on the use of oral and archival sources for the study of the agricultural history of rural Africa. What I present here is my approach to the collection and use of various sources for the study of Igbo agricultural history in the twentieth century. It suggests that oral sources, in particular, offer an important opportunity in the writing of an inclusive history of agricultural change—a history that for the most part has been created by rural peasants. Another objective is to outline my personal experiences in the field and to suggest important ways of situating the researcher not only in the analysis of the evidence, but most importantly, in the context or the fieldwork environment. Both, as has been clearly shown, can affect the historian's analysis and perspective and the resulting history.
Igboland is situated in Southeastern Nigeria and lies between longitude 7°E and latitude 6°10' N. The region borders the middle belt region of Nigeria to the north, the river Niger to the west, the Ibibio people to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea and Bight of Biafra to the south. Most of the region lies on a plain less than 600 feet (about 183 meters) above sea level. Most of Igboland lies within the Guinean and Sub-Guinean physical environment and is characterized by an annual rainfall of between forty and sixty inches per annum, with a dry season lasting between three and four months in northern Igboland and a mean monthly humidity of about 90% throughout the year. The pattern of rainfall produces two distinct patterns of vegetation. The southern part of the region is characterized by heavy rainfall that produces a dense rainforest that thinned out northwards into a savanna. However, many centuries of human habitation and activities have turned the whole region into secondary forest, with only pockets of forest oasis remaining.
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