Ethiopian Studies at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies

By Sean M. Winslow

 |  Conferences  |  2 min read

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Ethiopianists at the conference. L→R: Sean Winslow, Augustine Dickinson, Michael Gervers, Meseret Oldjira, Mikael Muehlbauer, Felege-Selam Yirga

On 12 May 2018, we had our first session devoted solely to Ethiopian Studies at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan (known to Medievalists simply as "Kalamazoo" or even "The 'Zoo"). The session was Organized by Sean Winslow (KFU Graz), with the help of Felege-Selam Yirga (Ohio State Unviersity), and sponsored by the Centre for Medieval Studies of the University of Toronto. The room was full, showing the latent interest among scholars to learn more about the Ethiopian past. The session consisted of two speakers and a distinguished respondent:

Augustine Dickinson (University of Toronto)

Augustine recently completed his first year as a PhD Student at the Centre for Medieval Studies of the University of Toronto, where he is preparing for his dissertation work on ecclesiastical reform under Zar’a Ya’eqob. (He is also the editor of this site.) He spoke on the subject of "Zar’a Ya’eqob’s Campaign against Magic: Prayer, Rhetoric, and Policy," analyzing the famous 15th-century monarch's rhetoric about magic in the context of the religious and social upheavals of his (very eventful) reign, most-notably the controversies of the Ewosṭateans, the Stephanites, and the Zämikaʾelites. The paper charted the course of the Emperor's campaign against magic and magicians, from his harsh early punitive measures through a series of polemics which sought to dissuade people from practicing magic or consulting with magicians to the Emperor's enduring place among the premier religious writers of Ethiopia.

Meseret Oldjira (Princeton University)

Meseret Oldjira is a PhD candidate in the Art and Archaeology department at Princeton University. Her dissertation is a study of the complex relationship between text and imagery in thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century illuminated Gospel manuscripts produced at the Monastery of Däbrä Hayq Estifanos in Ethiopia. She presented a paper titled “Picturing Faith in Ethiopian Illuminated Gospels,” examining Christological scenes in Ethiopian illuminated Gospel manuscripts and focused on how prominent scenes were carefully composed to communicate ideas about faith and the role of Christ and the Christian Church as the source of salvation. She demonstrated the innovative ways in which medieval Ethiopian artists incorporated allusions to ecclesiastical celebrations in these scenes and how they employed the structure of the codex to create a Christological narrative that mirrored the liturgical calendar.

Michael Gervers (University of Toronto)

Michael Gervers is a Professor of History and Art History and Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. He is well-known in the field of Ethiopian Studies, both for his publications and for his extensive photographic documentation of Ethiopian cultural heritage. Professor Gervers acted as respondent, introducing the audience of medievalists to the history of Ethiopian studies and making a case for how the field fits into a medieval studies conference; in the process, he discussed the past of the Ethiopian Studies, his own experiences, and how the work of the presenters and this session fit historigraphically into the field.

Afterwards, the presenters and organizers fielded audience questions. We hope to build upon this success by organizing more sessions for next year's conference, and will write more in this space when we know which sessions have been accepted.

Sean M. Winslow is a post-doc in Information Modelling at the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz. He is a manuscript historian, whose doctoral dissertation (U. of Toronto) was on the craft practices of Ethiopian scribes.