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IMC 2023: Sessions

Session 699: Keynote Lecture 2023: 'So, Who Killed the Elephant?' - Tracing African-European Entanglements in the Age of the 'Global Middle Ages' (Language: English)

Tuesday 4 July 2023, 13.15-14.00

Speaker:Verena Krebs, Historisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

The study of Eurasian interaction has long been established in Medieval Studies, most notably in Mediterranean history. In more recent years, the Indian Ocean has also become the subject of increasing scholarly attention. However, the same cannot be said about what we call 'Africa' today - the integration of agents, realms, and networks anchored south of the Mediterranean into the concept of the 'Global Medieval' remains an ongoing challenge for the field. Often, this has been attributed to an assumed dearth of sources. But is that really the case? Or have we, perhaps, just not been asking the right questions?
In this keynote, I trace the histories of two very different objects to uncover a web of medieval entanglements that reached from the Niger to the Saar and Moselle rivers, and from modern-day France to the highlands of the Horn of Africa. The first is a German ivory carving of Christ in Majesty, made for a man called Eberhard in the early 1100s; the second, a painted enamel of two kings with an inscription in the old Ethiopian language of Gǝʿǝz, commissioned by Ethiopian Queen Naʿod Mogäsa from a Western European workshop in the early 1500s.
While these objects have been known to scholarship for many decades, only their style and artistic value have received attention. The question of the local conditions and long-distance networks required to bring these items into existence, however, has been insufficiently addressed by medievalists. Only very recently have scholars begun to ask about the material origin of an ivory such as Eberhard's, tracing its source to the African Savannah elephant.
Yet: who hunted the elephant? And who traded its tusk to a peripheral region in what is today Germany? What insights may we glean by cooperating with scholars far outside our disciplines? And, simultaneously, how and why was the Ethiopian queen’s enamel created in the first place? For what purpose was it brought to early 16th-century Solomonic Ethiopia? As I will argue, questions such as these can help us shine a light onto a larger, long-ignored history of African-European connections in the medieval period and provide new ways to integrate research on African realms, agents, and networks into the emerging field of the 'Global Middle Ages'.

Please note that admission to this event will be on a first-come, first-served basis as there will be no tickets. Please ensure that you arrive as early as possible to avoid disappointment.