Guardians of the Tradition

Guardians of the Tradition

Historians and Historical Writing in Ethiopia and Eritrea

James De Lorenzi

Comprehensively surveys Ethiopia and Eritrea's rich and dynamic tradition of historical writing, from the ancient Aksumite era to the present day.
Ethiopia and Eritrea are home to Africa's oldest written historical tradition, which began in the third century with the monuments and manuscripts of Aksum and has continued to the present day. This study explores the development of this rich tradition, focusing in particular on the dramatic lives and original thought of a group of early twentieth-century Ethiopian and Eritrean historians. James De Lorenzi examines how these scholars used historiography to not only record the past but also grapple with the changes of the modern era. Through their history writings, they made provocative political claims, explored the nature of their communal ties, assessed their inherited institutions and ideas, and critically evaluated the people and cultures of the wider world. Opposing the view that historiography is a uniquely Western intellectual pursuit, Guardians of the Tradition provides new evidence of an African historical consciousness and the vibrancy of history writing outside the West.

James De Lorenzi is associate professor of history at John Jay College, City University of New York.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
The Inherited Tradition
Gabra Krestos Takla Haymanot and the History of Progress
Gabra Mika'el Germu and the History of Colonialism
Heruy Walda Sellase and the New Queen of Sheba
The Triumph of Historicism?


An admirable and surprising work, based on very original and thorough and thought-provoking. HISTORY OF HUMANITIES (Jon Abbink, Leiden University)

De Lorenzi has unearthed the hitherto unstudied works of important figures in the tiny literary space of the Horn of Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. His work is a unique contribution to Ethiopian historiography in particular and African historiography in general. AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW (Alemseged Abbay, Frostburg State University)

The century-long study of Ethio-Eritrean tradition has never been crowned with such an objective, scientific definition as in Guardians of the Tradition . . . [It] shows remarkable insight into a complicated and sensitive problem at the very basis of Ethio-Eritrean studies, for which contribution scholars will be grateful. JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORY (Bairu Tafla, University of Hamburg)

A crucial reference work for Ethiopian intellectual history . . . Guardians of the Tradition is argued clearly and convincingly, with evidence inferred from a wide array of primary sources. [A]n engaging and informative read. CANADIAN JOURNAL OF AFRICAN STUDIES (Fikru Gebrekidan, St. Thomas University)

The creativity and richness of Ethiopian historical writing forcefully challenge the argument that historiography is a product of Western modernity and a Western export -- a point rather obvious for Africanists, but not so obvious in the field of history at large, which De Lorenzi attacks for its "parochialism" and "latent Eurocentrism." AFRICA (Sara Marzagora, School of Oriental and African Studies)

Insightful, painstakingly researched, and innovative in its selection and sensitive to changing regional and international contexts . . . [De Lorenzi] has opened up new vistas to readers of the concerns, conventions, and analytical categories of public intellectuals who combined traditional and modern concepts in the construction of Ethiopian historiography. Ruth Iyob, University of Missouri, St. Louis

De Lorenzi is a remarkable scholar . . . This topic . . . is rarely treated in such a sweeping geographical-historical framework . . . An ongoing debate, a stimulating topic. AETHIOPICA (Irma Taddia, Università di Bologna)

A major milestone in the growing field of Ethiopian intellectual history . . . This is one of the most important books written to date on the development of historical writing in Africa in the early twentieth century. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW (Jacob Wiebel, Durham University)

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