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Ethiopic studies is more than a heritage program. It can help all Canadians better understand the birth of modern civilization. Studying Ethiopia, we can see Africa not in isolation but as a global crossroads.
The study of Ge’ez—the ancient language of the Horn of Africa, spoken since 2000 BCE—has the potential to transform our understanding not just of the Horn of Africa, but of the medieval period in the region stretching from the eastern Mediterranean to sub-Saharan Africa. Training the next generation to read medieval manuscripts written in Ge’ez will enrich our knowledge of Ethiopic culture, and also allow new interpretations of the intertwined histories of the region.
“While there is still so much to be learned about our journey and our history, this is not only about Ethiopia or Africa; it’s about the history of humanity. To do research and study in an internationally recognized university like the University of Toronto is significant. Together we can do this; you will be proud for making it possible!”
– Board of Directors, Bikila Award
In 2017, the University of Toronto offered North America’s first undergraduate course in Ge’ez. The course was funded by generous donations from U of T historian Professor Michael Gervers, from the family of pop superstar Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd), and from many other members of the Ethiopian community. The course received international media attention, and generated much excitement and pride in the local community. Most important, it got the attention and interest of young Ethiopian-Canadians, who told us they want more courses on their cultural heritage.
With the funds we have raised to date, we have been able to offer two courses to undergraduate and graduate students: Introduction to Ge’ez and a class on the social history of Ethiopia. A new course on the Archaeology of the Horn of Africa will be offered in spring 2018 and a new Intermediate Ge’ez course in spring 2019. Additional funding would allow us to make the Ge’ez courses permanent, and to expand the offerings.
The Ethiopic Culture and Language Endowment will allow us to permanently include one Ge’ez language course per year in the University’s curriculum. Thanks to the inspiring work of our volunteers and friends, and the generosity of many donors, we have raised over $286,000 – more than halfway to our initial goal.
Our long-term vision for the Ethiopic Culture and Language Endowment is to raise $2.5 million to create a full permanent lectureship that will allow U of T to offer a suite of courses in Ethiopian history, culture and language.
Toronto has the largest Ethiopian-heritage population in Canada, and the third-largest in North America. The University of Toronto is one of the world’s top research universities – strong in African studies, Near and Middle Eastern civilizations, society and politics, medieval studies, and the history of religion – all of which are interconnected with the study of Ethiopia.
By working together to enhance our Ethiopic studies programming today, we can help ensure that this important field of study continues to grow and flourish at the University of Toronto. Knowledge and research in this field will help to promote the preservation of the largely unknown manuscripts in Ge’ez that are in degrading physical conditions. Most importantly, these courses will provide future generations of students with the opportunity to study the language, history and culture of the Horn of Africa, and will advance the understanding of Ethiopian culture at U of T and across North America.
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