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, since 2021 at the newly established Centre for Transcultural Studies / Perthes Collection. Furthermore, we thank the International Office at Erfurt University, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, and the Ernst Abbe Foundation for their financial support.
Image: Statue on the Adi-Haqi Campus of Mekelle University © Peter Nadig
Concerns about the armed conflicts in Ethiopia have also, unfortunately, accompanied the cooperation activities with our Ethiopian partners at the beginning of 2021. Despite the adverse circumstances, we have been encouraged by the fact that Samuel Kidane Haile, a doctoral student from Mekelle University, was able to start his research visit as a Herzog-Ernst fellow at the newly established Centre for Transcultural Studies in June. While in Gotha, he is conducting research on holdings of the Perthes Collection for his project "Bambilo Milash, Alawha Milash and Marab Milash in the Setting of Ethiopian History: A Geohistory of Northern Ethiopia in the 18th and 19th Centuries" which will form a part of his doctoral project. At the same time, Aychegrew Hadera Hailu arrived in Gotha as a Herzog-Ernst fellow working on his project “A History of the Qemant.” Until 2019, Aychegrew Hadera Hailu was an Assistant Professor at Mekelle University and played a crucial role in developing the partnership between our institutions. He is now working at Bahir Dar University, so his visit also contributes to the expansion of our recently initiated collaboration with that university as well.
Images: Welcoming the Herzog-Ernst-Fellowships holders 2021 © Claudia Berger
In view of the ongoing difficult situation in Ethiopia, we are also grateful for the commitment made by the Gerda Henkel Foundation in November to support our cooperation with Mekelle University in the field of Patrimonies. Through this support we have been able to expand our scholarship program and thus continue our joint research investigations of the holdings of the Perthes Collection. This has in turn generated new opportunities for our academic partners, who have suffered greatly from the severe damage to higher education infrastructure and the restrictions on scholarly life due to the crisis in the region over the past year.
2020 was a difficult year for our cooperation. We had anticipated the arrival of two of our scholarship holders from Mekelle and Bahir Dar, who were to travel to Gotha early in the new year on a Herzog-Ernst-Fellow to research in the Perthes collection. However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, neither could come. Then, in May, we received the news via the GothAdua Association of a growing food shortage in northern Ethiopia. In addition, since the end of September, the political strife between the state government of Tigray and the federal government in Addis has escalated. Since the beginning of November, war has raged in northern Ethiopia, and it is impossible to predict when it will end.
At the beginning of December, the Historical Seminar of the University of Erfurt hosted a discussion concerning the conflict. Jalele Getachew Birru (Erfurt), Habtom Kahsay Gedey (Munich) and Wolbert Smidt (Jena/Mekele) contributed their assessments and comments to the virtual podium to examine this difficult situation, during which they made a central point of the problematic chosen narratives and themes, as well as the conflicting legitimising strategies, which have all served to justify the use of force in the region. Moreover, the often highly emotive but rarely sufficient media coverage was also on the agenda, as well as our great fears for our colleagues and friends. All in all, it was emphasised that the situation remains unclear because of the extensive communicative isolation of the state of Tigray from the rest of the world. A sustainable peace in the region, let alone in the whole country, remains a distant goal. What is more, the further construction of a federal Ethiopia that recognises and acknowledges the country’s ethnic diversity in an improved manner — another point made clear to the large public audience at the aforementioned discussion by the presenters — remains only a foundation. For the country to achieve comprehensive peace and calm, it is vital that this goes hand-in-hand with comprehensive efforts at extending democratisation and education.
Image: Northern Tigray region © Manfred Weber
2014 - 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.
Images: Iris Schröder on the Adi-Haqi campus at Mekelle University © Ned Richardson-Little / Lecture Solomon Abraha on the topic "Reckoning with the Post-Cold War, the End of Liberal Internationalism, the Era of Strongman and the Horn of Africa: Changes, Continuities and Context", Theater Hall, Adi-Haqi Campus © Paul Sprute / Adi-Haqi Campus, Mekelle University © Franziska Rantzsch / Aychegrew Hadera speaks at the conference on "Development Interventions in the Kobo-Alamata Valley: 1960s-2017", Theater Hall, Adi-Haqi Campus © Franziska Rantzsch / Participants in the “Africa and the Global Cold War II” conference in front of the Theater Hall, Adi-Haqi Campus © Paul Skabe / Bahir Dar University Main Campus © Ned Richardson-Little
Zegeye Woldemariam Ambo, PhD student at Mekelle University, visited the Gotha Research Centre as Herzog-Ernst-Fellow from March to July to work with the holdings of the Perthes Collection. He also presented his project “The Kingdom of Kafa: An Ecological and Political Ethnohistory from the late 14th to the early 20th centuries”.
We also welcomed our former scholarship holders Fesseha Berhe Gebregergis and Wolbert Smidt. Both participated with lectures international conference on the topic "Ulrich Jasper Seetzen's trip to the Near East. New Approaches to Travel Research” as a lecturer (and also the 4th alumni meeting of the Herzog-Ernst scholarship programme).
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 shown in the Alliance éthio-française in the Ethiopian city of Dire Dawa and subsequently to several Ethiopian universities.
Images: Map exhibition in Addis Ababa © Wolbert Smidt
At the invitation of the Department of History and Heritage Management’s invitation, Felix Schürmann visited the Bahir Dar University as a guest lecturer in November/Dezember 2019. In addition to holding a workshop on historical methods for PhD-students, he gave a public talk on the importance of the politics of nature for the history of decolonisation in Africa. Thus, the ground was prepared for closer cooperation with Bahir Dar University. In the following year, our partnerships with Mekelle University and Bahir Dar University should be sustainably strengthened through an enthusiastic exchange of teaching staff. Felix Schürmann also visited the Martyrs Memorial Monument Museum Bahir Dar and recorded his impressions in a short review.
Images: Bahir Dar © Felix Schürmann
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 Campus 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.
Image: Christian Methfessel in conversation with Haile Muluken Akalu in Mekelle © Peter Nadig
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.
Images: Lecture Aychegrew Hadera Hailu / Lecture Iris Schröder / Final commentary Achim von Oppen © Philipp Metzler
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.
Images: 20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies in Mekelle / Landscape around Wukro / Wukro / Fesseha Berhe Gebregergis and Wolbert Smidt / View from the Axum Hotel in Mekelle / Iris Schröder with staff from Mekelle University © Iris Schröder
Haile Muluken Akalu, Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Heritage Management at Mekelle University, visited Gotha 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.
Image: Visit of the delegation from Mekelle University © University of Erfurt
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”.
In 2016, Fesseha Berhe Gebregergis, Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Heritage Management, came to 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 Campus 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 was 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.
Image: Abyssinia, excerpt from: Hermann Berghaus, Chart of the World, 6th edition, Gotha: Justus Perthes 1871 © Gotha Research Library
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.
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 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.