Accepted paper:

Studying a rural development project in Ethiopia in the 1990s and early 2000s: the value of historical methods


Justin Williams (University of Birmingham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will present ongoing research into a large rural development project implemented by a German NGO in Ethiopia from 1992-2007. It will also seek to outline the contribution that historical methods can make towards a greater understanding of development projects and their consequences.

Paper long abstract:

History and heritage are gaining recognition among development agencies, whilst development is an important topic of study for many historians. Despite this, actual dialogue between historians and development policy makers has been limited in recent years. Following Bayly et al (2011), this paper will argue that one distinctive contribution that the discipline of history can make to development debates is through its method. The field of development studies can appear polarised between positivist researchers who foreground 'objective', often quantitative data, and critical scholars who emphasise particular theoretical frameworks of interpretation and the subjective understandings of individual actors. Historical methods have the potential to bring together aspects of both approaches, by integrating critical theoretical insights and subjective understandings into a broadly empirical account. The paper will locate its methodological discussion in the context of ongoing research into a single development intervention: the Merhabete Integrated Rural Development Project, implemented by the German NGO Menschen für Menschen in one woreda (district) of Amhara Region, Ethiopia, between 1992 and 2007. It will argue that careful use of archives, combined with oral history material gathered from different actors - NGO staff, drivers, security guards, migrants, government officials, and the range of men and women who lived in the woreda during project implementation - has the potential to provide a rich, textured and detailed picture of a development project, as well as the range of different understandings of its long-term consequences.

back to panel O3
Interrogating development through stories and experiences
History and development: practicing the past in pursuit of 'progress' [paper]