Launch of Ethiopic Studies Program at University of Toronto

A community public forum was held by Bikila Award for the establishment of an Ethiopic Studies program at the University of Toronto on Saturday December 19, 2015. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine

By Alpha Abebe

Published: Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Toronto — The Bikila Award organization in Toronto, Canada has launched a campaign to raise funds and support for a future Ethiopic Studies Program at the University of Toronto.

The initiative began when Dr. Michael Gervers, Professor of History at the University of Toronto, made an impassioned speech at the 2015 Bikila Awards about the importance of documenting, preserving, and teaching ancient Ethiopic history. Professor Gervers currently teaches a course entitled ‘Cultural History of Ethiopia,’ and has helped to digitize the contents of over 100,000 ancient Ethiopic manuscripts and books through an initiative called Mäzgäbä Se’elat—treasury of Ethiopian images.

Professor Gervers proposed that an endowment be established to fund a Chair and Program in Ethiopic Studies. He also made a generous offer to personally match donations made to the endowment up to $50,000. “The endowment will support courses in Ethiopic Studies for undergraduate and graduate students, with a particular focus on Ge’ez language and the rich cultural and intellectual history of Ethiopia,” states the University of Toronto campaign page. A group of Bikila Award organizers and past recipients began to mobilize the Ethiopian community to take up Professor Gervers’ challenge.

Both the Centre for Medieval Studies and Department in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto quickly threw their support behind the initiative and facilitated a $50,000 match contribution from the university. They will also help to design and implement the prospective program.

With the initial endowment established, the Bikila Award organized a community forum to launch an awareness and fundraising campaign within the Ethiopian community. The forum was held on December 19th, 2015 at the University of Toronto and was attended by over 200 people from across the province.

The event was held at the University of Toronto on Saturday December 19, 2015. (Courtesy photo)

Guest speakers at the forum included: Dr. Gelila Tilahun, who worked with Professor Gervers and others to develop statistical dating methods for historical documents; Professor Suzanne Akbari, Director of the Center for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto; Alpha Abebe, Doctoral Candidate at the University of Oxford; Dr. Fikre Germa, Family Physician at Brantford General Hospital; and Ato Tessema Mulugeta, President of Bikila Award, Inc. The foremost scholar of the Ge’ez language alive today, Professor Getatchew Haile, also joined the panel discussion via Skype.

Several people from the audience shared their enthusiasm and support for the initiative during the discussion period. There was a jubilant mood in the room, and a wide consensus that this was an exciting opportunity that the community wanted to support.

Over $20,000 was raised by the Ethiopian community at the forum and through online donations made by people from as far as France. While fundraising efforts will continue in order to achieve the larger vision of a full Ethiopic Studies Program, the university has announced that it will begin by offering a course in Ge’ez this coming academic year.

To learn more about the initiative and/or make a donation please visit:

About the Author:
Alpha Abebe is a doctoral candidate in International Development at Oxford University. Her research interests include African diasporas, diaspora engagement in development, the sociology of migration, and the politics of race and ethnicity.

2015 Bikila Award Ceremony in Toronto

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