The field of Ethiopian studies was long in need of an encyclopaedia which would guarantee scholars and students as well as those simply interested in the subject easy access to reliable and state-of-the-art information on all its important themes and aspects. For this reason the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica [EAe] was launched, intended to serve as the standard work of reference and thus to satisfy this need. In addition to being highly inclusive in its contents and providing the most up-to-date factual and theoretical data, the EAe was designed to facilitate research by attaching a list of the most important primary sources and relevant academic publications to each entry.
The EAe followed the objectivity principle which has been dominant in the research tradition in recent decades. That is, it tried to remain unbiased when describing the actual facts and to keep a certain distance from political or economical allegiances, at the same time considering all complex events and intellectual history of the region – whilst for the EAe the region signifies not the Ethiopia of today, but the whole “Orbis Aethiopicus”, that is the large territory of the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as largely Djibouti and Somalia. The EAe is the only existing lexicon to contain such a wide range of information on the whole Horn of Africa including historical, religious, linguistic, literary, cultural aspects, basic data (geography, flora, fauna) and anthropological research.
1. Objectives and schedule
The EAe with over 5,000 entries, ranging from short notes of approx. 150 words to extensive articles covering several pages, was published in five volumes between 2000 and 2014. A board of supervising field specialists ensured both an adequate selection of entries and the scholarly excellence of contributions. High academic standards did not, however, lead to the use of excessively specialist language that would interfere with the accessibility and readability of the EAe for a non-specialist.
The EAe was created by hundreds of co-operating scholars working in various scientific fields.
The financial support, and thus the necessary material base for the project, came from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft within the framework of a long-term project, from the German-Israeli Foundation, the Zeit-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius, the Johanna und Fritz Buch Gedächtnisstiftung, and the Stiftung zur Förderung der Äthiopistik as well as Hamburg University.
The Harrassowitz Verlag. The fifth volume contains, in addition to articles, a set of maps and overviews as well as an extensive Index, serving as the key to the five volumes.
The editorial headquarters are located in Hamburg at the Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies.
2. Thematic focus
As mentioned above, the EAe focuses on the humanities, social sciences, linguistics and basic data. The major fields of enquiry are anthropology, archaeology, the arts, geography, history (including cultural, economic, legal, and social history), literature and religion. Entries from the natural sciences were included only if they relate unambiguously to a core field.
The geographical focus is in no way determined by the present political borders of Ethiopia. The EAe refers to the region surrounding the core countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia and including also Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan and is to be understood as a lexicon of the entire Horn of Africa. This applies, for example, to the Horn’s historical partners and adversaries in Africa, in the Muslim and Arab worlds, as well as in Europe and among the Oriental Christian nations.
The period covered in the EAe spans from prehistoric times up to 1974, and, to a part, more recent developments. The main focus of the EAe was on recorded times, which left a legacy of written documents.
The amount of research hitherto conducted in many fields of Ethiopian studies varies considerably, and with it the level of knowledge attained in these different fields. For instance, many aspects of Christian highland history, culture, and linguistics have been extensively studied, while our knowledge of, for example Islamic, Cushitic and Nilo-Saharan spheres of Ethiopia/Eritrea remains to this day comparatively sparse. The EAe tried hard to level out – even if only partially – the historical imbalances, giving the non-Christian, non-Semitic spheres their due weight; nevertheless the previous history of Ethiopian and Eritrean research inevitably influenced the contents and structure of the EAe to some extent.