The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Book Review - Twenty-Five Years of Service at the University College of Addis Ababa and the Institute of Ethiopian Studies

Stanislaw Chojnacki

Reviewer - Dorothea McEwan


Every student of Ethiopian life and letters knows the name of Stanislaw Chojnacki and his books and articles. It is therefore with sadness that we record his death on July 3rd, in Sudbury, Canada. The research community of Ethiopian studies has lost an outstanding teacher and friend. His memory and his scholarly output will remain forever.

Stanislaw Chojnacki was a prolific writer, and through his erudition and scholarship contributed greatly to the sheer enjoyment of looking at art from Ethiopia. His books Major Themes in Ethiopian Painting: Indigenous Developments, the Influence of Foreign Models and Their Adaptation (1983), Ethiopian Icons: Catalogue of the Collection of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Addis Ababa University (2001) and Ethiopian Crosses: A Cultural History and Chronology (together with Carolyn Gossage, 2006) are landmarks in scholarship, and the fruit of many years of research in Ethiopia and abroad.

He was well-known as an art historian, but less well-known was his work as founder and curator of the University College Museum Addis Ababa, which is now known as the museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies.

This is precisely the scope of this book by Chojnacki, an assessment of the first years of both institutions in pictures interspersed with autobiographical information. Appointed in 1951 to the post of Librarian in the newly founded University College in Addis Ababa, he was there from the very beginning, helping to build up the Library and the Museum. He had been entrusted with two important tasks: that of collecting books, and collecting and displaying objects 'from the everyday life of Ethiopia's people'.

The photographs from this time show Chojnacki with representatives of the political and educational establishment of the country, with the Emperor, with the Vice Minister of Education Lij Endalkachew Makonnen, as well as with visitors from abroad - General Charles de Gaulle, Vice President of the USA Richard Nixon and his wife, Queen Frederika of Greece, Crown Prince Akihito of Japan, and many more.

Following the amalgamation of the University College with other post-secondary educational establishments to establish the Haile Sellase I University in 1961, Chojnacki became the interim University Librarian, until Rita Pankhurst was appointed first Librarian one year later and Chojnacki was appointed Curator of the Institute for (sic!) Ethiopian Studies. This meant that his work extended to be the Chief Librarian of the Museum, the Curator of the Museum, the Co-editor of the Journal of Ethiopian Studies, the organiser of the Society of Friends of the IES, and the administrator of the Institute.

The photographs from this time of Chojnacki's work until his return to Canada, where he had originally settled after World War II, show him proudly pointing out objects in the Museum to illustrious visitors - Queen Elizabeth II, President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Marshal Tito, President of Yugoslavia, Princess Anne of Great Britain, the Crown Prince Asfa Wossen - the list goes on and on. Chojnacki included these historic photographs to document the interest many visitors from Ethiopia and from abroad had in the life of the fledgling academic community, the teaching and research, and the library and museum.

Chojnacki has to be applauded for re-telling the history of first, the establishment of the University College and then, the establishment of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Addis Ababa University mirroring his own work in both institutions. The second part recounts in a more detailed way the development of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. It is, of course, not the definitive history of both institutions, but their foundation and some of their important steps, refracted by the personal memories of the author. All this make a very interesting read. The purchase of art objects is a vivid reminder of difficulties encountered.

There are some problems with the presentation of the publication. The style is confusing: the author uses the first person when telling some particular personal memories, as well as the third person, when he uses his job titles. The spelling of names, bibliographical references in the footnotes, apostrophes, absence of articles are at times inconsistent.

But all these do not take away from the very important point, that the book presents a good first approach to the historical growth of two important institutions in Ethiopian educational life. Chojnacki's contribution to both institutions deserves to be remembered; his vivid memories, not only of various visitors but of the pitfalls and difficulties encountered, throw light on those pioneer years, when, with a minimum of resources, academic life took shape in Addis Ababa.

Now that the university system is growing and spreading all over Ethiopia, the role of a research institute like the Institute of Ethiopian Studies is ever more important to become, and be, the place of pluridisciplinary research, as envisaged by such luminaries as Professors Stanislaw Chojnacki and Richard Pankhurst and their co-workers and staff.

Twenty-Five Years of Service at the University College of Addis Ababa and the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Addis Ababa University (Formerly Haile Sellase I University) Between 1950 and 1975 by Stanislaw Chojnacki, Toronto, 2010.
78 pages, 200 x 200mm; 47 black/white photographs
Paperback
Price £15.00

First Published in News File Summer 2010

Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Society.
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