Prof. Taddesse Tamrat, historian and educator, dies at 78
By Addis Journal
May 27, 2013



Professor Tadesse Tamrat
Prof. Taddesse Tamrat
Ethiopian intellectual Taddesse Tamrat, the pre-eminent historian of medieval Ethiopia, died Tuesday in a hospital in Chicago, where he was being treated for acute sickness. He was 78.

A towering figure in Ethiopian medieval history and one of the first full-time members of staff at the Department of History of Addis Ababa University, Taddesse became an active and prolific scholar and teacher whose students became well-known academics in the field.He is the author of the internationally acclaimed “Church and State in Ethiopia: 1270-1527?, seen as a pioneering monograph on nineteenth century Protestant and Catholic missions in Ethiopia.Accessibly written, it reached a large public and inspired an interest in church history and monasticism in many casual readers, as well as in some who went on to enter the profession.

Professor Marilyn E. Heldman, author of African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia, described the book as “the essential text for the history of the highland Christian state of Ethiopia during the period of its development as the dominant state in the Horn of Africa”.Professor Charles F Beckingham, Emeritus Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of London, wrote that the book offers “the reader much more than the title might suggest, for it examines most aspects of the Ethiopian state and the Ethiopian church from the supposed restoration of the supposedly Solomonic dynasty to the eve of the Muslim invasion [Ahmed Gragne] in the sixteenth century.”

Professor Taddesse has also produced several articles on Ethiopia that have appeared in numerous academic journals, magazines and newspapers.

He helped form the Institute of the Ethiopian studies, centre for the international studies of the arts of Ethiopian, and was one of its Directors and the Addis Ababa University Press, where he was one of its most admired figures for a decade, serving as director, and editor.

Living in the United States for a number of years, the late Professor served as a visiting professor at the University of California, Northwestern University, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Professor Taddesse was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London in recognition of his work as one of Africa’s foremost modern historians. He received his PhD in History from SOAS in 1968, specializing in the history of Ethiopia and he was published extensively throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

As an eminent Ethiopianist, Prof. Tamrat was highly regarded for his views on the history of Africa and the Ethiopian people,according to a post on the Soas website. He was a strong advocate of an indigenous history of Africa written by Africans rather than the Europeans, it was said.He was also an accomplished linguist, translating Tobbya, Ethiopia’s first novel, which appeared in Amharic in 1900. Professor Tamrat was frequently interviewed for his views on modern African history and guest lectured at numerous international symposiums and conferences.

Tadesse is survived by his three daughters.


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