Last week, the participants from the Bergen side of the Aurora collaboration with the Institute of African Worlds of Paris-I met in a series of fruitful venues at the French capital. These meetings were meant to be the last ones in the frame of the Aurora mobility grant that the two institutions received for 2014, since unfortunately, the grant was not renewed for 2015. The experience from the year we shared, however, proved sufficient for the recognition of the potential of this collaboration and so both sides are determined to find means to pursue our common tasks starting with the seminars planned on the topic of “African books: production, producers, and products”.
All presentations from this year concerned case studies that are already part of this topic. My own contribution a week ago was titled “Christian Literature from Medieval Nubia” and introduced the audience to many topics of the overarching phenomenon of religious literacy in the Middle Nile region with emphasis on issues of codicology, paleography, and language. For all these fields of textual study I used literary works from Nubia relating to the Archangel Michael, favorite topic and end goal for my postdoctoral project at the University of Bergen.
The presentation began and ended with references to the research conducted by Robin Seignobos on the external sources about Christian Nubia, so as to show the complementarity of our approaches in the frame of Aurora and beyond, as well as the importance of Robin’s work for the elaboration of analyses on a multiplicity of phenomena from medieval Nubia. And of course, I wished to underline how crucial it is to support Robin’s research in France – either at his home institution or in the frame of the CNRS – since it is a unique contribution to the field of Nubian Studies, both in the sense of its qualities and in the sense of Robin being the only researcher occupied with this part of studies on Medieval Africa as conducted at IMAF/Paris-I, under the auspices of professors Bertrand Hirsch and Marie-Laure Derat.
At my talk, I was honored by the presence of students of both Hirsch and Derat, as well as of Ph.D. candidates of the IMAF – including the premier moteur of the Aurora collaboration, Rémi Dewière, who right afterwards presented an interesting section of his thesis on the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the frame of a seminar of the doctorants at IMAF, a very praiseworthy effort of sharing the experience of conducting research at this level of one’s academic career.
Moreover, the kindness of Robin to promote the venue at several departments of the vast, and dispersed all over the town, Paris-I university premises brought very fruitful results. For example, among those present at the talk, there was a master student from the École Pratique des Hautes Études, namely Pietro D’Agostino, working on the cult of the Archangel Michael in Byzantium. We were both positively surprised with the interest of the other in the topic and, sharing several views on the cult of Michael in general, we happily concluded that we should remain in contact and collaboration.
At the same time that this meeting took place, I was in contact with a Greek researcher, namely Georgios Tsiaples, who has worked on homiletic literature in Greek relating to the miracles of the Archangel Michael for a conference he participated in at the end of November organized by Parekvolai, An Electronic Journal for Byzantine Literature.
An idea starts being formed about a seminar on the cult of Michael in Early Eastern Christianity. Such a seminar will not only enrich the perspective of the individual researches conducted on the topic, but it will hopefully also enhance the place of Nubian Studies in the framework of larger regional, historical, religious, cultural horizons.
Such an integration of the Nubian world in larger contexts can be felt very acutely when one visits world-class museums, like the Louvre. With new exhibitions on Christian Nubia, as well as on Kush and Sudan, it was natural that Robin and myself chose to spend our free day after the presentation in this most impressive of all European museums.
The two displays in question were located beside the exhibits from Egypt relating with the respective periods. In detail, Kush follows the predynastic and Pharaonic periods’ halls and consisted of two panels and two showcases, as well as a free-standing sculpture.
Christian Nubia is placed right before the beginning of the galleries dedicated to Coptic Egypt. No more than 25 objects are displayed in the tiny room: two mural paintings, two architectural spolia, two funerary stelae, ten ceramic vessels, and nine bronze ones. They manage though to encapsulate quite a lot of the traits of the Christian Nubian civilization, like the importance of the cult of the Archangel Michael (one of the murals), the persistence of the use of the Greek language (in both stelae), the exquisite quality of the ceramics. From the latter it is worth mentioning that most are dated in the Post-Meroitic period (ca. 4th-6th centuries CE), and three of those come from the island of Sai. Three vases of the Classic period displayed are given as proposed provenance “Upper Egypt”. The other sites represented are Faras (murals and spolia), Qasr Ibrim (bronze cup), Ballana (bronze recipients and incense burner), and Sesebi (Post-Meroitic pottery).
The excavations conducted by Louvre at Muweis in Sudan, as well as other French expeditions working in the Middle Nile, should provide material in the future for temporary exhibitions or a renewal of the permanent display in the Louvre. The strengthening of the museum’s collaboration with the Sudan National Museum may also enlarge the place of Nubian antiquities in the Louvre.
In any case, the organizers of temporary exhibitions in that museum have not neglected Sudan archaeology. An exhibition on Meroë was mounted four years ago, and we were lucky enough to purchase the very fine catalogue for less than half the price from the museum’s book store!
However, the Sudanological activities of the day did not end in the Louvre. As darkness was falling over Paris, we walked from the river Seine to the northern neighborhoods and visited a venue organized by the French photographer Claude Iverné, whose work on Sudan and on the history of Sudanese photography is of world renown.
The discussions about events that we could set up with Claude in Bergen were the last impressions from this visit to Paris. I was soon again in an airplane, returning home. But just for 24 hours, since on Sunday the whole family moved to Greece from where I am posting this. Soon it’s time for a Christmas break, but before that there are more things to do…