The workshop session on textiles in Ethiopian manuscripts is hosted by co-discussants Eyob Derillo (British Library) and Michael Gervers (University of Toronto).
Textile use in Ethiopian manuscripts is extremely common from the early modern period to the present day, but quantitative research is lacking on this topic. Derillo and Gervers explore their extensive dataset of 154 manuscripts with textile pastedowns from the Maqdala Collection at the British Library, the monastery of Gunda Gunde, and other ecclesiastical sites in northern Ethiopia. Because of the size and date range (15th-20th c.) of their dataset and identification of pastedown cloth by textiles scholars, they are able to demonstrate the proliferation of textile use in manuscripts beginning in the 16th century. They analyze manuscript textiles by date, origin, and type, and discuss the trade routes, partners, and Ethiopian patrons that facilitated the prolific trade in textiles from this period onward. Together with paintings of textiles and clothing shown in miniature painting, this demonstrates the extensive trade Ethiopian courts engaged with manufacturing centers across Europe, the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Asia. These textiles include silks, velvets, and cotton fabrics from India, Middle and Far East, Europe, and North Africa. The material evidence of these textiles captured within books, paired with the literary evidence of Ethiopia’s trade in textiles, illustrate that Ethiopia was a global trade partner connected to vast networks across the premodern and early modern worlds. The research team’s approach, thus far, has centered on the pastedowns in the manuscripts, to the exclusion of oversleeves, protective cases, veils and page markers. Their longer term objectives are 1) to identify what the textiles have to tell us about the international trade in textiles that brought these pieces to the Ethiopian highlands; 2) to determine the relationship between pastedowns, binders, patrons and book genre; and 3) to compare extant textiles to apparent counterparts in miniature painting and church decoration.
This research was supported by consultation with past and present textiles curators from the Victoria & Albert Museum – Rosemary Crill, Jennifer Wearden, Clare Browne, Sau Fong Chan – as well as Philip Sykas of Manchester Metropolitan University, Silk Roads textile scholar Helen Persson, Carolina Melis (Research Assistant, University of Toronto), Jacek Tomaszewski (Asia and Pacific Museum, Warsaw), and Sean Winslow (Austrian Centre for the Digital Humanities).
The contents of this pre-workshop video were discussed by panelists during the workshop on June 2-3.