This review article examines the differences in the approaches taken by economists and historians when interpreting social and economic change in the African past. It is argued that it is a mistake to assume that one discipline has supremacy over the other, let alone monopoly, when it comes to evaluating historical causes of African poverty. One of the shortcomings of the ‘New African Economic History’ is that it has largely sidestepped the issue of data quality. In cross-disciplinary work it is generally advised that data points and observations should roughly cohere with the state of knowledge in the other disciplines. Economists do themselves a disservice if the only criteria they consider for ‘robustness’ of historical arguments are those pertaining to econometric methods.