Cornell University

CMS Seminar: “Historical Legacies of Islam in Africa” by Melina Platas, Political Science, NYU Abu Dhabi

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 at 4:30pm to 6:00pm

White Hall, B14

The process of colonialism coincided with a dramatic reversal of fortune for Africa’s Muslim populations. In the 1500s, Africa’s political landscape was dominated by strong, centralized Islamic states. These states maintained internal stability, regulated commerce, and promoted education. Levels of literacy were relatively high among Muslims and the expertise of Muslim bureaucrats was sought out by non-Muslim kingdoms. In contemporary Africa, these relationships are reversed. What explains the reversal of fortune seen among Africa’s Muslim populations? In this paper, we compile a new dataset on pre-colonial kingdoms in Africa and combine this with Murdock’s Ethnologue to examine the long-term effects of exposure to pre-colonial Islamic kingdoms on development outcomes including education, health, and night lights. We find that educational attainment and night light density are lower and infant mortality higher in ethnic groups with homelands in pre-colonial Islamic kingdoms compared to those groups with homelands within stateless areas or pagan kingdoms. We further investigate a set of mechanisms linking Islamic kingdoms to development outcomes in the contemporary period, and find evidence that lower missionary investment in Islamic kingdoms had a long-term effect on development.

Co-sponsored with Government

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Event Type



Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Anthropology, History, Government, Comparative Muslim Societies Program, Global Learning, Global Cornell

Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Eric Tagliacozzo


Melina Platas

Speaker Affiliation

Asst. Professor, Political Science, NYU/Abu Dhabi

Disability Access Information

Building is wheelchair accessible

Open To

Free and Open to Public

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