The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Thursday 9th September 2010

The founding of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and Early Days at Addis Ababa University

Given by - Richard Pankhurst

Reviewed by - Richard Snailham


The Society was honoured to welcome Professor Richard Pankhurst and his wife Rita on September 9th at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Richard addressed a few words to us and then Rita read his paper on the subject "Some Memories of the Foundation of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and Research Projects in Ethiopia Prior to the Revolution".

In the aftermath of the liberation of Ethiopia from Italian colonial rule in 1941 the education system was heavily dependent on British and American models. Soon there was criticism of this: scholars learned more of Shakespeare than they did of their own writers, some said. Ethiopianisation (horrible word!) was needed. A research library and museum were felt to be essential. Many heads of state visited Ethiopia in the 1950s and 60s and the Emperor wanted to show his country to them in its best light. The first International Conference on Ethiopian Studies was held in 1959 and scholars like Stanislaw Chojnacki, Edward Ullendorf and Enrico Cerulli were engaged in important research.

At this time African Studies' Departments were springing up in universities in the USA and were proving popular. Why not have one in Addis Ababa? Richard Pankhurst thought it best, however, to have an Ethiopian research establishment which could also encompass the whole Horn of Africa and that neighbouring countries like the Yemen and Sudan should be included.

And so it was. The Institute was founded in 1963 and Richard Pankhurst was its first Director. Twelve men and three trucks from the Imperial Bodyguard helped to move material into the Genet Leul Palace. Stanislaw Chojnacki was Librarian and Curator at the University and came in as Librarian for the new Institute. There were problems over the pronunciation of his Polish name: one enquirer covered himself by asking to see both Mr Chodge-Nackey and Mr Hoy-Natski.

The problems were always a shortage of funds and staff. But much excellent work was done: a register of current research was produced and the Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography published. Students came to the Institute from Britain, Israel, Japan and the USA and went back to teach in their own countries; the Journal of Ethiopian Studies was among the many publications of the Institute (including Richard's own Social History of Ethiopia); there were studies of the church, the wartime Patriots and qene and many distinguished Ethiopian scholars emerged.

The International Conference of 1959 was followed by others in the 1960s. The third, held in Addis Ababa in 1966 was a great success - a wider variety of academics, more Ethiopian participants, more governmental support (the Ethiopian Air Force flew scholars to Gondar and other sites). The Proceedings of the Conference, which included reports of some 300 hitherto unrecorded rock-hewn churches in Tigre, were published in three volumes.

But there had been difficulties: two participants were barred from attending - Enrico Cerulli because of his fascist past and Donald Levine who had employed the phrase 'myth or reality' in a recent study of the Emperor.

Other hiccoughs occurred when the Institute began awarding prizes: in 1965 and 1969 Enrico Cerulli was a front runner but some branded him a war criminal and he was passed over. In 1973 the Emperor gave prizes for the last time.

After the Revolution the Institute survived the Mengistu years, 1973-91, but with some difficulty. Visitors were fewer and there was censorship of books. However, a Survey of the Languages of East Africa appeared in 1976.

Since 1991 the Institute has blossomed. Scholars have carried out useful research in all corners of the country. There is now a Society (SOFIES) devoted to its support. A new library is being built on a site formerly given over to grazing for the Emperor's horses. At the time of writing it was complete up to its first storey. By the time you read this it may well be finished. The future is bright.

First Published in News File Winter 2010

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