Nubia and Nubians: the ‘museumization’ of a culture – a thesis by an Italian scholar against the background of earlier Italian contributions to Nubian Studies

In the previous entry, we referred to the second seminar in the frame of the Aurora project, and we saw that the representative from the University of Bergen was the Italian Dr. Elena Vezzadini. Her field of interest is the history of modern Sudan and particularly the revolution of 1924. Elena is not the only Italian active in Sudan Studies.

In our field of interest, namely medieval Nubia, the most renown Italian researcher should perhaps be considered Father Giovanni Vantini, whose Oriental Sources concerning Nubia has been since 1975 one of the most referenced publication about Christian Nubia, since this is the sole existing compilation of medieval written sources on Sudan translated in English. Vantini took somehow the lead from the pioneer historian and archaeologist Ugo Monneret de Villard whose works on Medieval Nubia still offer insights to the state of monuments from the early 20th century that help understand them today after their flooding by the Aswan High Dam or their deterioration by time and modern development.

During the Aswan High Dam campaigns another group of Italians came to the fore: the University of Rome excavated several sites among which the church of Sonqi Tino brought to light the most interesting results perhaps. Almost 50 years later, the University returned to the study of this material and a conference has already been presented in our blog HERE.

Even more recently, on the 19th of April, there was organized in Rome again another seminar at the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography: the Fourth Day Seminar of Nubian Studies with the title: a Tribute to Nubian civilization.


The list could be expanded with for example the Italian teams who have contributed extensively to our understanding of the Kushite era in the Napatan region, or to our knowledge of Sudanese prehistory. Among those special reference should be made to Elena Garcea who has also done extensive work on Sai Island and is currently the president of the Society of African Archaeologists.

But today we wish to concentrate to a brand new contribution by a good friend of ours, whose doctoral dissertation appeared online at the beginning of the year: Maria Costanza de Simone, Nubia and Nubians: the ‘museumization’ of a culture.

Front Page

In the past, Costanza had kindly accepted to be interviewed by us (see interview no 7. HERE), although as a character she likes keeping a low profile and as a UNESCO expert she has certain limitations to the opinions she can express publicly when these could be taken as UNESCO views on burning topics. And Nubia can very easily be seen as a burning topic, since the land, the people, and their culture are constantly threatened by ‘development’ projects in the form of dam buildings.

But this time, it is herself as a scholar who exposes not only views but carefully selected data on the topic that is closest to her heart: the way Nubia and the Nubians have been made part of museum exhibitions around the globe. She has been herself very active on the field, by bringing to life the Nubia Museum in Aswan, by preparing the concept of the sister museum of Aswan, the highly-expected Nubian Museum of Wadi Halfa, and by working with the rehabilitation of the Sudan National Museum (SNM) 1in Khartoum – in the frame of this UNESCO project, I had in fact the responsibility of rehabilitating the Medieval and post-Medieval exhibitions at SNM.

I will not proceed hereby in a complete presentation of Costanza’s work, the quality of which is guaranteed by the prestige of the University where she successfully defended her doctoral dissertation. But I’d like to insist on the very interesting term ‘museumization’ that she is using in the title. She defines the term (verbatim in pages 8 and 299) as follows:

“the trend of museums around the globe to include exhibitions of Nubian culture and artifacts”

But this definition leaves me in want. Because the term ‘museumization’ has a wider meaning than just that of a trend. And it is an act that derives from the local people too. What are the borders between what is imposed upon the Nubians and whatever they themselves choose to do with their cultural and natural landscape?

Would be great to see this problematization of the museumization of Nubia and the Nubians continued also through here. To conclude, some nicely phrased thoughts that I found in another wordpress site:

In any case, CONGRATULATIONS Costanza :-)

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9 Responses to Nubia and Nubians: the ‘museumization’ of a culture – a thesis by an Italian scholar against the background of earlier Italian contributions to Nubian Studies

  1. dianabuja says:

    Thanks for the interesting thoughts and links. Many years ago I collaborated with a senior notable in the Nubian community that had been moved north of the Aswan Dam into Egypt while their beloved communities and fields were flooded. He and members of that community were keen to develop a little museum in Aswan, southern Egypt, that would highlight life and culture of the Nubia that had been so inundated. Also, they thought of putting with it a little cafe featuring traditional Nubian dishes and sales of art works that would support aspiring Nubian artisans.

    I was most sympathetic about this cause, and being a fluent speaker of colloquial Egyptian I represented him to various donors in Cairo who might help, and some indeed did – including the Ford Foundation, the Canadian Embassy, and others.

    What I really liked about the venture was the fact of its being totally internally driven – ‘museumization’ as you discuss – from the inside in order to represent a lost life to others while also creating a method of both not forgetting and experiencing that lost life by those having left it.

    This, it seems to me, is quite different from the use of local artifacts and culture by outsiders in order to reconstruct a museum-view of a particular reality.
    Hum. I will need to think about this, and perhaps do a little blog.

  2. ergamenis says:

    Thank you for this new very interesting comment!
    Looking forward to reading more in a future blog!

  3. dianabuja says:

    Thanks toyou, and I have just updated and reposted a link a about coffee ritual in the Red Sea Hills and elsewhere in the area that you might enjoy.

  4. costanza de simone says:

    “Museumization” it is a trend, as well as an act, which involves both local and foreigns.

  5. costanza de simone says:

    By the way I wish to thank the authors of this blog, for the nice surprise and for the their friendship and the professional cooperation

  6. costanza de simone says:

    It is a pleasure

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