University of Erfurt

Globalgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts

Cooperation

Research Cooperation with Mekelle University (Ethiopia)

Campus Mekelle University, © A.Savin, Wikimedia Commons

Since 2014, the Chair of Global History at the University of Erfurt has been cooperating with the Department of History and Heritage Management at Mekelle University. In the beginning, this cooperation focussed on 19th century studies related to collections in Gotha, whereas now the joint efforts have broadened to reach into the field of contemporary history as well as teaching.

The initiative builds on the engagement of former fellows of the Herzog-Ernst fellowship program at the Gotha Research Centre. Furthermore, we thank the International Office at Erfurt University and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation for their financial support.

2014

It all started with the extraordinary collections on the cartography of Ethiopia – a relatively unknown section of the Perthes Collection – which brought Wolbert Smidt, Associate Professor at the Department of History and Heritage Management at Mekelle University, to Gotha Research Centre as a Herzog-Ernst-Fellow in 2014. Through the cooperation with Wolbert Smidt, the extraordinary potential of the Gotha Collections became evident, as it offers a wide range of sources for the study of the history of the Horn of Africa. The idea for a broader research collaboration quickly developed.

2015

In the spring of 2015, Iris Schröder travelled to Mekelle to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. This official agreement of cooperation between Mekelle University and Erfurt University aimed at creating a framework for further activities. The participants agreed upon common research initiatives in the field of the history of cartography and, beyond that, on a teaching exchange program.

2016

In 2016, Fesseha Berhe Gebregergis, Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Heritage Management, came to the Research Centre Gotha as a Herzog-Ernst-Fellow. During his research stay, he worked closely with the Perthes Collection for his project “Research on Historical Maps to Examine the Developments of the Lowland-Highland Territorial Concepts in Northern Ethiopia with the Example of the Dobᶜa”. Furthermore, he supported a course jointly taught by Wolbert Smidt and Iris Schröder on the “Holy Land in Africa”, which focused on the maps of Ethiopia in the Perthes Collection.

During the same year, another joint project was launched: “Cartographic Sources and Territorial Transformations in the Horn of Africa since the Late 18th Century” (ETHIOMAP) –led by Wolbert Smidt and Eloi Ficquet from the EHESS in Paris. The project is based at Gotha Research Centre as well as in Paris and Mekelle. It brings together researchers from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS/Paris), Mekelle University, and Erfurt University. The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the French National Research Agency (ANR).

In the context of this broader research program, Iris Schröder accepted a position as Guest Professor for the PhD Program of the Department of History and Heritage Management in Mekelle in December 2016 and January 2017.

2017

Haile Muluken Akalu, Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Heritage Management at Mekelle University, visited the Gotha Research Centre as Herzog-Ernst-Fellow in April 2017. He worked with the collections of the research library in the context of his postdoc project “Pre-colonial, Colonial and Postcolonial Cartographic Trajectories Underpinning Ethiopia’s Boundary Conflicts with Somalia and the Sudan”, which focuses on the dynamics of border disputes in the Horn of Africa.

In June 2017, a delegation of Mekelle University visited Erfurt University. Haile Muluken Akalu was instrumental in promoting this visit, which offered an opportunity for an intensive exchange concerning common research interests. The visit of the colleagues from Ethiopia culminated in a workshop organized by Haile Muluken Akalu and Christian Methfessel on “Peace and Conflict in the Horn of Africa: National, Regional and Global Factors”. As a result of the workshop discussion, a new promising field for common research emerged: The international history of Africa and, specifically, of the Cold War on the Horn of Africa. Moreover, the contemporary history of dictatorships was identified as a further common field of research with a potential of bringing together researchers working in Mekelle on the DERG-Regime and those working in Germany on the two German dictatorships. With a view towards historical German-Ethiopian relations and, later, relations between Socialist Ethiopia and the GDR, the participants to the workshop agreed to deepen their research cooperation in this field.

In the fall of 2017, the 8th Gotha Map Week (8. Gothaer Kartenwochen) focused on the surprisingly manifold Ethiopian traces in the collections in Gotha. The unique collection on the cartography of Ethiopia stood at the centre of a cabinet exhibition curated by Wolbert Smidt. In this context, first results of the project ETHIOMAP were presented and discussed with an international expert audience during a conference on “Ethiopia and Its Neighbours on Maps. Local Knowledge, Territorial Constructions and International Map Making”.

2018

Upon invitation from the Department of History and Heritage Management, Christian Methfessel travelled to Mekelle in March 2018 as a Guest Lecturer. His public lecture on “Depictions of the Battle of Adwa in the English and German Press” met with a great response – not least because of the annual day of commemoration of the battle on Adwa Victory Day (March 2nd 1896).

In April, Fesseha Berhe Gebregergis returned to the Gotha Research Centre for six months to work on the ETHIOMAP project and to continue his research on the Dobᶜa with the materials from the Gotha collections. We owe much to his support and, upon his return to Mekelle, he will be our contact person for our future cooperation together with Aychegrew Hadera Hailu, Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Heritage Management.

The official launch of the closer research co-operation in the field of the international history of the Horn of Africa took place with the workshop “Africa and the Global Cold War” in July 2018. Aychegrew Hadera Hailu represented Mekelle University in the conference organizing committee. The workshop aimed at identifying and developing further research areas and questions. During the ensuing meetings, the participants of both universities agreed on the cornerstones for future cooperation in this field.

The agreements also relate to the research project carried out by Christian Methfessel, funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and starting in October 2018, on “Annexations and Secessions during the Cold War”. The project profited from the exchange of ideas with the Ethiopian colleagues from its inception, thus motivating common research activities on the history of the Cold War in Africa.

At the beginning of October 2018, Mekelle University hosted the 20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies. On a panel on “Cartographies and Itineraries” organized by Wolbert Smidt and Eloi Fiquet, Iris Schröder presented her research on Gotha cartography. Following the conference, the annual project meeting of the ETHIOMAP project took place in Wukro.

2019

In March 2019, the follow-up conference “Africa and the Global Cold War II” took place in Mekelle. In addition to the Department of History and Heritage Management, the Department of Political Science and Strategic Studies of Mekelle University were also involved in the program planning for the first time.

With the intention of opening up new perspectives for interdisciplinary research on the Cold War in Africa, this conference focused on the changes and continuities of African relations with external actors.

After the conference, future collaborative activities with members of Mekelle University were discussed and there also was the opportunity make contact with the University of Bahir Dar.

This year between March and July, Zegeye Woldemariam Ambo, PhD student at Mekelle University, worked in Gotha thanks to the support of the Herzog-Ernst Fellowship program. His projekct on “The Kingdom of Kafa: An Ecological and Political Ethnohistory from the late 14th to the early 20th centuries” drew on material of the Perthes Collection. Moreover, we welcomed our former fellows Fesseha Berhe Gebregergis and Wolbert Smidt on the occasion of the 4th Thyssen-Alumni Meeting in June. Both of them contributed to the international conference on “Ulrich Jasper Seetzens trip to the Middle East. New approaches to travel research”.

During summer 2019, the international exhibition “Ethiopia of the mapmakers”, designed by Gotha collection and research institutions, was shown in Addis Ababa and aroused great interest. The exhibition was organized by the research project ETHIOMAP, which is located at the Gotha Research Centre of the University of Erfurt, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris and Mekelle University in Ethiopia, and was supported by the Gotha Research Library. The next stages of the exhibition have already been determined: after Addis Ababa, it will be move to the Alliance éthio-française in the Ethiopian city of Dire Dawa and subsequently to several Ethiopian universities.

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